Wests stalwart Harry Higgins will play in borrowed boots in the Australian Club Championship on Saturday after being coaxed out of retirement over a beer.
“One and done in what should be a cracker of a game. What better way to retire…for a second time,” backrower Higgins, 31, said with a wry smile.
The traditional precursor to the club season will pit his Bulldogs against Sydney University for interstate bragging rights at Brisbane’s Sci-Fleet Stadium.
The well-manicured field and festive trimmings at Wests Rugby Club will be an ideal setting for a bumper day of club rugby.
On the same menu, Gold Coast’s Bond University will face former Wallaroo Sarah Riordan and her new Sydney club Gordon in the inaugural women’s Australian Club Championship.
The women’s clash from 12.30pm (AEST) will be followed by the men’s championship bout at 2pm. Both will be telecast live by Stan Sport on a true Super Saturday of rugby before two matches from Super Round in Melbourne.
Higgins said he gave away his size 14 boots to eager youngsters in the euphoria of the Bulldogs’ drought-breaking premiership victory in Brisbane last September.
“The Sunday of the grand final was one of the best days of my life followed by one of the best nights,” Higgins said of celebrating Wests’ first title in 16 years.
“The singing with the boys on the bus back to our club and seeing ‘The Kennel’ absolutely activated with banners, cheering, beers and people everywhere was really special.
“All the years put in to finally win another premiership deserved a proper week of celebrations.”
Backrower Keynan Tauakipulu was still wearing his green match jersey and strapping tape four days later. Higgins made it to three days.
Higgins could reflect on a varied career that earned him a Test cap for the USA in 2016 as well as a future in investment sales with his two degrees in international business and marketing management from Arkansas State University.
Higgins might happily have been enjoying retirement right now but for stepping up as Wests’ Colts coach and getting too close to first grade coach Elwee Prinsloo.
During the club’s pre-season bonding and fitness camp at Tallebudgera on the Gold Coast, Prinsloo picked his moment after a day forging club spirit.
“We were in the coach’s room after a good day and it only took one Great Northern lager for Harry to answer the SOS,” Prinsloo said.
“We are short of some regulars. Harry’s ‘in’ and excited for the Australian Club Championship and what it means to the club.”
With brothers Carter (Melbourne Rebels) and Mason Gordon (Australian Under-20s camp) missing, new recruit Jack Evenden will be at flyhalf for the first time.
Evenden, with Tuggeranong Vikings last year, has followed former ACT Brumbies Super W coach Dan Hawke up from Canberra to join Wests.
Damien Hill has the reins as head coach at Sydney University where he guided Shute Shield titles in 2007-08-09 in his first stint at the famous club.
He won an Australian Club Championship against Sunnybank, lost one to Andrew Walker when he turned miracle worker for Easts (Brisbane) in 2009 and fell short again against Brothers.
He knows what the pinnacle club clash represents.
“It doesn’t matter that 17 of last year’s 23 players from the grand final have moved on to pro contracts or retirement,” Hill said.
“This match is really highly regarded. Not only are we representing our club and paying respect to the players of last year, we are representing NSW club rugby.”
Talisman Jack McCalman is being rested because of niggling soreness but Uni will have prop Darcy Breen, No.8 Hugh Bokenham and winger Sepesa Loga-Tarogi to lead the way.
Bond University won two sevens tournaments after their breakthrough 15-a-side club title last September.
It gives a hint at the fast, mobile style of the Bull Sharks with trump Mel Wilks, the Queensland Super W centre.
“We do have a sevens flavour but also plenty of ticker. As the new coach, striking that good balance with more ‘15s’ elements has been a part of our development,” coach Rob Baumann said.
“It probably will be a match of contrasting styles.”
Wallaroos legend Ash Hewson will give Gordon instant composure at flyhalf now she is playing on at 43.
“The girls are stoked with the opportunity to play in a game like this for the first Australian Club Championship for women,” Gordon Rugby Club General Manager Ace Naati said.
“You want to set a standard and win. Having someone like Ash with her composure, leadership and goalkicking is invaluable.”
Katalina Amosa, the younger sister of former Wallabies hooker Brandon Paenga-Amosa, will likely play as a hooker or backrower for Gordon.