Canberra’s premier rugby competition, the John I Dent Cup, returns for its 83rd year in 2021 with a new format that includes a full finals series, meaning all six teams will play knock-out rugby come September. Back-to-back Champions, Royals, will be the team to beat but nothing is guaranteed after last year’s competition was one of the closest in recent memory.
Every Premier 1st Grade game will be livestreamed through BarTV, with the Game of the Week shown live on the Brumbies Facebook page as well.
In case you’ve been out of the rugby loop, we have put together a complete preview for this year’s competition.
2020 Result: Defeated by Royals 14-27 in semi-final – The Owls finished an impressive 2020 season in second place on the ladder but were disappointingly knocked out in their home semi-final by eventual champions Canberra Royals 14-27. Uni-Norths were one of only three teams with a positive record, finishing the season with 6 wins and 4 losses.
Player to Watch: Dynamic outside back Callum Richardson is one of the competition’s best finishers and he is set for another outstanding season at fullback. Expect him to be on the end of some great team efforts once again as the Owls will have a strong backline that is set to excite the competition all year round.
2021 Prediction: 2nd – The team, led by Head Coach Sam Rolfe, has a lot to build on in 2021. Fans of the Club will be optimistic of their chances after the team made their third consecutive finals series following a 17-year playoff drought. While there is a considerable chance of improvement from Wests and Queanbeyan, we expect to see the Owls make a deep run into the finals and with a little bit of luck on their side they could certainly make it all the way.
What We Know After Round 1: A resounding 34-26 win over back-to-back champions, Royals, had fans at The Barn going crazy on Saturday afternoon. The win will surely give the team confidence that they could go all the way this year to claim their first Championship since merging.
2020 Result: Grand final winners 32-22 – Royals scraped into the semi-finals just two competition points ahead of 5th-placed Wests before beating the Owls and Gungahlin to claim victory in the grand final, crowning them back-to-back champions. Once again, it was Royals’ main man Pedro Rolando who steered his team to grand final victory, bagging two meat pies and maintaining his radar-like accuracy with the boot to hold a comfortable lead for most of the match.
Player to Watch: Pedro Rolando is one of the competition’s most highly rated players and it’s hard to argue against his value to the team. The Argentinian halfback distributes the ball excellently from the base of the ruck, always seems to know when to run, kick or pass, and his accuracy from the tee means his team is always in the contest during the final stages of a match. In 2020, Rolando went back-to-back in being named as MacDougall Medallist (the competition’s Player of the Year), as well as being crowned Champion.
2021 Prediction: 1st – It’s hard to look past the back-to-back champions when you consider how successful the team has been in recent years. 2020’s Coach of the Year Wayne Southwell will lead the Blue Baggers again this year, and you can almost guarantee we’ll be seeing them at the pointy end of the season once again.
What We Know After Round 1: Uni-Norths were always going to be tough opposition, but it was still a surprise to see the Owls come out on top in their round one clash. Scoring tries was no issue for Royals, however they will need to improve their defence if they want to contain teams such as Gungahlin and Vikings.
2020 Result: Defeated 10-17 by Gungahlin in semi-final – Competition heavyweights Tuggeranong Vikings led the competition standings for the majority of the season, only losing twice in 10 games, but could only manage to score one try late in the match during their semi-final loss to the Gungahlin Eagles.
Player to Watch: Max Ravouvou is back for the Vikings in 2021, and one thing he always brings to the John I Dent Cup is a ferocious intent to score tries. The electrifying winger is a spectacle to behold with ball in hand, and he will surely be giving his opposite number nightmares all season long.
2021 Prediction: 3rd – The Vikings will be fuming after their early exit from the competition last year, but their John I Dent Cup dominance could be coming to an end as we see Wests, Owls and Gungahlin improving drastically every season.
What We Know After Round 1: A convincing 36-7 victory over the Queanbeyan Whites will have left Head Coach Nick Scrivener in a good mood, but not many people would have been surprised considering both teams’ positions on the ladder in 2020. The comfortable win was all but assured in the first 15 minutes when Whites player Sefo Kauti was red carded for foul play.
2020 Result: Grand final runners up – Off the back of some key additions to the team, including Wallabies centurion Matt Giteau, the Gungahlin Eagles again found themselves in the John I Dent Cup finals. The Eagles actually finished on the same amount of competition points as Wests, however they finished with a better win/loss record and a positive points difference. An Issak Fines masterclass in Gungahlin’s 17-10 semi-final against the Vikings steered the team to their first grand final appearance since 2007.
Player to Watch: High-flyingwinger Corey Toole is once again set to have a fantastic season with the Eagles. In round one of 2021, Toole scored two amazing tries, including a fantastic cross-field kick from flyhalf Joe Caputo that allowed him to take an AFL-like mark before dotting down in the corner.
2021 Prediction: 5th – This year is set to be another close competition, with a full finals series ensuring all six clubs will play knock out rugby. Gungahlin’s fate will ultimately be decided by how their squad shapes up after more off-season player movements. If the Eagles can gel as a team in the opening rounds, they could be one of the contenders come September.
What We Know After Round 1: Errors and a lack of discipline riddled the Eagles’ first match of the year and Wests capitalised on their mistakes with an impressive win, beating the home side 22-39 after leading 10-15 at half time. Gungahlin must be better this week when they host Royals at The Nest.
2020 Result: 5th – Wests missed out on finals football last year by the slimmest of margins. Picking up a handy collection of bonus points throughout the season, Wests finished on equal competition points with Gungahlin and only 2 points behind Royals, but their 4-6 record and negative points differential ensured they would have to watch the 2020 playoffs from the sidelines. Fans of the Club will have been pleased to see the evolution of young gun Declan Meredith; the star fullback cemented his place as one of the competition’s most influential players, claiming the title of highest point scorer and try scorer with 128 points and 7 tries respectively.
Player to Watch: While Declan Meredith certainly makes his impressive impact every game, watch out for Wests Club Co-Captain Ryan Kiely. The physically imposing lock was named as one of the joint recipients of the MacDougall Medal for being the competition’s Player of the Year, and who could forget his 2020 hat-trick!
2021 Prediction: 4th – After a strong 2020, we’re expecting improvement from Wests. As every team is guaranteed a match in this year’s finals series, the competition for positions on the ladder will be hotly contested. A home semi-final could be all it takes for Wests to really push for a spot in the grand final.
What We Know After Round 1: Wests were fantastic in their first win of the season, beating last year’s runners up Gungahlin by a score of 22-39. They seem to be able to score from anywhere on the field, and last year’s top point scorer Declan Meredith’s boot will again cause headaches for teams that can’t control their discipline.
2020 Result: 6th – 2020 was a disappointing season for the Mighty Whites, finishing with just one win and one draw in their 10 matches. There’s a lot of room for improvement for the competition’s only NSW team, who were valiant in many of their defeats in 2020.
Player to Watch: Zeph Tuinona has been Queanbeyan’s shining light in recent seasons. The young Fijian lock is currently part of the Brumbies academy and was recently named in the 2021 Junior Wallabies training squad. Zeph adds some much-needed size to the Whites’ pack and he seems to have players hanging off him every time he runs the ball.
2021 Prediction: 6th – It would be brave of us to predict the Whities finishing above any other team, but luckily for Queanbeyan they have already booked their spot in this year’s finals series. The team showed they could match it with the competition’s best last year, fighting their way to a draw with eventual champions Canberra Royals.
What We Know After Round 1: Considering some of their thrashings last year, a 36-7 loss away from home to Tuggeranong Vikings will give the Whites some hope of being a competitive force in this year’s competition, especially after Sefo Kauti was red carded for foul play in the first 15 minutes of the game. Queanbeyan host Uni-Norths in round two and will have to be at their very best to contain the high-flying Owls.