The new Eales-Wilson Shield unites the names of two great Wallabies who knew exactly where it all started...clubland.
The new symbol of supremacy between Brothers and Easts will add a fresh spike of purpose across all grades at Crosby Park on Saturday.
The club amassing the most competition points from wins across the grades will hold the trophy and earn hosting rights for next year’s challenge day.
Both John Eales and David Wilson gained a solid grounding in what club rugby meant in the 1980s before their careers took off towards the trophy glories of the ‘90s.
Eales was unsure of his future in the game when he landed at Brothers to play Colts in 1989 as a tall, lean lock.
That was changed by a premiership season, friends for life and meeting club men like the late Merv Hazell, registrar and team manager of Colts for more than 20 years.
Hazell welcomed Eales with the words “I’ve got this feeling you’ll be Brothers’ next Wallaby.” Eales didn’t realise it at the time but Hazell gave that shot of confidence to countless youngsters.
When the Colts title was won, Hazell presented Eales with the club tie-bar he had worn to every Brothers grand final since 1966. He knew he’d be right in this instance.
Eales went on to win the coveted Rothmans Medal on two occasions (1990 and 1995) just as flanker Wilson did (1989 and 1991) for club and Queensland excellence.
“Our clubs meant so much to each of us. They still do. Before livestreaming, I remember mates relaying me scores by phone to Sydney from a grand final (in 2009) when Brothers were trying to break a drought. I was so nervous I had to go for a walk,” Eales said.
“This shield is an honour and there’s a nice symmetry because Dave and I share a long friendship and many great memories from days with the Wallabies and Queensland.”
Like Eales, Wilson savoured a heady burst of early success because Easts went through 1986 as undefeated Colts premiers. That same team was a springboard for Queensland and Wallabies flyhalf Paul Kahl.
“Easts were always known as more of battling club in the early days before we got on the rise to the benchmark set by Brothers and University,” Wilson said.
“It’s a nice feeling to have my name on a trophy with ‘Ealsie’. We played so much rugby together but I can only remember once playing against him in club footy around that 1990 season.
“As a cleancut boy, he fitted the Brothers’ mould perfectly...not.”
Wilson’s late father Keith played as a centre in the Easts’ sides of the early 1950s when the club was new to the competition.
“I’ve always been a Tiger from those early days playing barefoot on cold, wet mornings in the Under-6s. Getting a mixed bag of lollies as a reward was a pretty big deal,” Wilson said with a smile.
The two clubs have enjoyed a healthy rivalry down the decades. Easts were still chasing their drought-breaking first premiership after Brothers got the better of them 17-3 in the 1971 grand final.
In 2008, emotions were reversed. The Tigers, led by captain Jade Ingham, triumphed 22-21 in a tense premiership-decider over a Brothers side jolted by the early send-off of Liam Shaw.
Easts have a knack for producing influential flankers. Shaun Hourigan, Luke Bertini, Michael Gunn, current captain Tom Milosevic and others have all excelled over the years.
Milosevic and the Tigers face a tough one on Saturday against a Brothers side which sacked premiers University of Queensland 21-14 at St Lucia two weeks ago. The Hospital Cup has gained a valuable new naming rights partner since then in StoreLocal, the Australian-owned self-storage company. New flyhalf Tayler Adams and former Brumbies forward Ben Hyne are important figures for Brothers.
Eales (1990) and Wilson (1995) only shared the sour taste of losing grand finals in Queensland Premier Rugby.
Sharing in bigger baubles became a habit in the late 1990s when the Bledisloe Cup, the Tri-Nations trophy and the World Cup were all in the hands of the Wallabies at the one time.
Together, the pair showed the scars of the triumphant 1999 World Cup final win over the French.
Wilson had a gashed chin and loosened teeth from a French boot. Eales showed his statesman qualities by not making a bigger issue of being a victim of eye gouging because the marks were clear around a weeping eye.
Eales’ respect for Wilson has never faded.
“How important he was to the best Wallabies sides of his time (1998-2000) is underrated but never by those who played with him,” Eales said.
“His back looked like a Sudoku board after most games (in the days of rucking). He was all over the ball and just went about his business.
“Openside flanker is one of the positions where the Wallabies have always been as strong as any team in the world. It’s always competitive for the No.7 jersey and they are always standouts.
“Dave was as good as any.”