While the NSW Country Rugby Union Championships were being played out at Warren earlier this year, Shaun McHugh was sitting in the crowd.
The chance to see the best in the bush do battle in the west is a rare thing and McHugh made the short trip to see the current Central West side attempt to claim the highly prestigious Caldwell Cup.
The side fell just short, but the competition stirred something in former Blue Bull, McHugh.
“My feet were itching and I couldn’t work out why I didn’t trial for the team,” the towering Dubbo Kangaroos back rower said.
“Central West had a really good team and I might have struggled to get in anyway but I still didn’t know why I didn’t try out.”
Despite being on what many players would consider the wrong side of 30, the towering Dubbo Kangaroos back-rower has continually been one of the best players in the region.
He hasn’t represented Central West since 2005 but the experience of seeing the current side in action, and the excitement around the game since Matt Tink’s appointment as Central West Rugby Union chief executive has brought the veteran back.
McHugh played for the Central West Barbarians in last month’s historic clash with the Classic Wallabies at Orange’s Wade Park and now he has been named as part of the Blue Bulls squad which will tour New Zealand in March of next year.
“I’m keen to put my hand up and have a good crack because I don’t have many years of football left, let alone rep footy,” he said.
“The last time I played for Central West was in 2005 and Matt Tink was coach. Then I left town and came back after a couple of years and with work it hasn’t been suitable to trial, or train, or travel.
I thought the representative football horse had bolted.Shaun McHugh
“I thought the representative football horse had bolted.”
Tink and the CWRU released a 35-strong men’s squad and women’s squad consisting of 25 players earlier this week.
Those two teams will base themselves in Christchurch during the tour, which will run from March 3-10.
The sides will play two games while across the Tasman, and the players will also learn from a Crusaders’ training session before watching the Super Rugby side clash with the Chiefs.
“It’s going to be good fun,” McHugh said.
“It’s been about 15 years since a Central West side went on tour but ‘Tinky’ is back and is cracking the whip and it’s good to see.
“New Zealand is rugby mad and we’ll be lucky enough to see a (Super Rugby) game … it will be good to step out of the square and get experience not only from a different region, but a different country.
“We’ll see how they go about things and we can bring that back and put it into our clubs and zones. We get the rewards.”
McHugh is the lone Dubbo-based player in the squad but there are Kangaroos connections in the coaching staff.
Former Roo Dan Armitage will be assistant to Bathurst-based coach Dean Oxley while Mark Baldwin, still on the comeback trail after an ACL injury last season, is the strength and conditioning coach.
Baldwin has started running again recently but isn’t expected to figure for the Roos early in 2019 after suffering the knee injury while on Central West duty earlier in the year.