Canterbury Rugby League’s influence is scattered throughout some high stakes matches in Australia this weekend. Matt McIlwrick will line up at hooker in Wentworthville Magpies’ Canterbury Cup NSW grand final tilt and Jalen Tangiiti-Turner is on the flank for Wynnum-Manly Seagulls Under-20s in the Hastings Deering Colts grand final. Jordan Riki is set to captain a Junior Kiwis side featuring Griffin Neame in the front-row against Australian Schoolboys in Redcliffe.

But arguably the most unlikely connection sees Canterbury stalwart Walter Wilson with the coach’s clipboard ahead of Ryde-Eastwood Hawks’ Sydney Shield grand final showdown with Cabramatta Two Blues. A former Canterbury provincial rep and Halswell great, Wilson has been a hardworking figure on the coaching scene for many years, including roles at the Hornets and campaigns with Canterbury and South Island Scorpions age-group teams.

Wilson moved to Sydney after son Reuben – another Halswell product – had a couple of trials with Wests Tigers in the 2019 pre-season and the NRL club encouraged the youngster to join one of its feeder teams.

“That’s what got me over here and I said I’d be interested in helping whatever team Rueben played for,” Wilson explains. “(The Hawks) said, ‘we’d like you to coach the team’. So it was all by chance really.”

Rueben managed one Sydney Shield game before having to undergo a shoulder reconstruction, but Walter has led the Hawks on a remarkable journey.

Ryde-Eastwood have a proud history, winning the inaugural Metropolitan Cup in 1990 with Kiwis legends Olsen Filipaina and Clayton Friend at the forefront. The Hawks won the competition again in 2000, but the western Sydney club endured difficult times thereafter. This season marks Ryde-Eastwood’s return to senior rugby league after an absence of almost two decades – and it’s safe to say Wilson’s charges have exceed expectations.

“At the start of the season they had us pegged for being in the bottom four of the competition. No one really saw us coming through to what we’ve done,” he said.

“The first three games, we had three losses. We won one, then lost our fifth game. From that point the boys have learnt what it’s like to play in a senior competition, they adapted and trained well, and went on to win 15 of their last 17 after that fifth-round loss.”

The Hawks finished the regular season fourth, knocked off minor premiers Cabramatta in a golden point thriller in the first week of the finals, then thumped St Mary’s 44-24 to secure a spot in Saturday afternoon’s decider.

Wilson praised his squad’s dedication to the cause throughout 2019.

“We’ve got guys from East Hills, guys that travel from Penrith, even some from Newcastle and Central Coast. We’ve drawn players from quite a big area and some are sacrificing a two-hour drive to training and two hours back for the games. They’re a committed group of men.

“We are a feeder to the Wests Tigers system and we’ve been able to draw on some really good players who played in the Tigers 20s team, however they’re not always available.

“What we’ve tried to do from early on is build our own club with club players. When we won the first finals match, there were no Tigers boys – it was all (Ryde-Eastwood) players.”

A crucial contributor to Halswell’s thrilling 20-19 CRL grand final win over Linwood in 1995, Wilson’s vast experience should prove a handy advantage for Ryde-Eastwood as the club prepares for a rematch with Cabramatta.

“Rugby league is the same all over the world isn’t it? But I guess these games are something you have to prepare for in your own way.

“I know it’ll go fast tomorrow, the whistle will blow for the kick-off and before they know it it’ll be halftime. So I think as long as we stay in the moment and just concentrate on what’s in front of us, we’ll go well.”

Meanwhile, Rueben has been given the surgeon’s all clear to return to training – and win or lose today, Walter has declared he will be coaching his son at the Hawks in 2020.



2.30pm (NZT), Saturday, September 28: Ryde-Eastwood Hawks v Cabramatta Two Blues @ Leichhardt Oval, Sydney

*Livestream available on NSWRL Facebook page

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