In the mid 1980’s, Parramatta were the dominant force in Sydney’s Shute Shield competition.
The Two Blues produced a number of Wallabies during this period and played in three consecutive grand finals against Randwick from 1984, winning the Shute Shield premiership in 1985 and 1986.
More recently though, things haven’t been quite so promising.
Situated right in the middle of Australia’s most competitive sporting market in Western Sydney, Parramatta’s juniors have been routinely raided by rival clubs and codes and the Two Blues have struggled both on and off the field.
But things appear to be improving for Sydney rugby’s sleeping giant.
Last year, the Two Blues beat reigning premiers Eastwood twice but lost six matches by less than a converted try and finished the season in 10th
In 2017, Parramatta have four players in the Waratahs training squad – Taqele Naiyaravoro, Senio Toleafoa, David Lolohea and Tyrone Viiga – and have recruited former Australian Schoolboy halfback Waldo Wessels from Southern Districts and talented back Regan Carr from Randwick.
Off the field, a promotional video on Parramatta’s Facebook page has been viewed more than 50,000 times and numbers at pre-season training have been strong.
“We’re trying to change the perception of the Parramatta Rugby Club in general,” newly appointed General Manager Craig Morgan told Rugby News.
“For too long we’ve been looked at as the stereotypical Western Suburbs based club that doesn’t perform well on the field and has its issues off the field. We’re trying to change the way we do things and that will hopefully change the way people think about our club.”
Morgan joined the club late last year and has a strong background in sports administration. He created and runs the annual Central Coast International Sevens tournament, one of the biggest of it’s kind in Australia.
While he understands the challenge ahead of him, he said he was confident the club was on the right track.
“We’re trying to become very community focussed, which is key for us because we want Parramatta to be the club of choice for players and sponsors from all backgrounds. To do that, we need to get our message out there. We have one of the most diverse playing groups in the competition and we want to show people that we welcome men, women, boys and girls from all backgrounds,” he said.
“We all know how much talent there is in Western Sydney, the key for us it to retain that talent. In the past, the more talented players have gone to clubs with more money and more profile and we need to stop that. Rugby league obviously has a lot of money to throw around as well, but we want players that want to be part of our club for the right reasons. We don’t have a lot of money but we have a fantastic culture and that’s what we’re driving at the moment.”
While Morgan’s top priority this year is to continue to improve the culture at Parramatta and increase depth in the club’s playing roster, he seems confident of his first grade side’s chances.
“We know it’s not going to be easy but it we get things right off the field we believe we can be a top six side this season. If we can get our Waratahs guys on the field at the same time, then we’ll have a very strong forward pack and we’ve got some exciting new backs as well.
“If we can go further, then that’s great but we don’t want to be a one hit wonder, we want to build success over a number of years and I think we can do that.”
With all sporting codes looking to win the hearts and minds of young people in Western Sydney, Morgan believes the success of clubs like Parramatta and Penrith is crucial for the future of the 15-man code.
“If you look at Australian rugby as a pyramid, if you want the top end to be successful, you need to have a massive participation rate at the bottom, that’s the foundation. The Shute Shield is obviously a key for that but it is also a pathway for players to progress through to the NRC, Super Rugby and international rugby.
“Last year David (Lolohea) went from playing well for Parramatta, to the NRC and ended up playing a midweek match on the Wallabies Spring Tour and now he’s training with the Waratahs, so that proves that the pathway exists and it can happen while playing at Parramatta.”
After a strong start to pre-season training, Morgan said he was confident that the Two Blues will be competitive in all grades this season.
“Our women’s teams were outstanding last year and our colts program is looking good so we’re confident that people will start to take a bit more notice of Parramatta this year and in the years to come.”
Parramatta have four trial games scheduled in February and March before an opening round clash against Eastwood on April 1.