Canberra's oldest rugby clubs are contenders for first time in years

The two oldest rugby clubs in Canberra have done it tough in recent years but a new dawn is approaching, with at least one of them set for a breakthrough finals appearance.

Easts and Uni-Norths Owls first played in 1938 and while they have the most history, they've earned the least silverware this century as both clubs faced "dark times" on and off the field.

Easts and Norths will square off this weekend 80 years after their first clash. Captains pictured: Tom Gilmore (Uni-Norths) and Jacob Abel (Easts).

Easts and Norths will square off this weekend 80 years after their first clash. Captains pictured: Tom Gilmore (Uni-Norths) and Jacob Abel (Easts).

The duo have struggled to be compete for a spot in the John I Dent Cup finals in recent years but have emerged as genuine contenders in 2018.

If Uni-Norths can avenge a round one loss to Easts and secure their third victory this season, they'll have equalled their win tally from last year with eight rounds to play.

But Easts in particular have reinvented themselves, after not winning a game for three years they've already posted four wins and draw to sit third on the ladder.

Easts president Ken Snell, who replaced Debbie Wauchop last month, said the club was never in danger of folding but admitted they've been through some dark times.

"The club did it pretty tough last year, getting belted around the paddock a fair bit, but it was a fight or flight sense and club chose to fight," Snell said.

"Tim [Cornforth] joined as a head coach and engendered a family feel, not just for the team but the whole community, he has been magnificent and the lads are enjoying their rugby.

"We won our first game this season and the boys had to sing the club song off pieces of paper, there were tears, you’d think we’d just a won a grand final.

"It was special and I’m going to make sure we celebrate those who stuck around the dark years, over the last few years, they're the heart of the club."

Easts and Norths meet for the first time in 1938 with Prime Minister Joe Lyons in attendance. 

Easts and Norths meet for the first time in 1938 with Prime Minister Joe Lyons in attendance. 

Snell emphasised the future was bright and said they're developing initiatives to build depth and give Cornforth selection headaches down the track.

"It was quite clear something had to change in the club and those changes have taken place," Cornforth said.

"The club has put in some hard years and the people who put in those hard years have provided the pathway to where we are now.

"The culture is strong. After some of the beltings the club had taken it had to be strong and resilient, but it's a far happier place now we're winning.

"We’re going to go from strength to strength and there's no reason that can't continue."

Easts captain Jacob Abel added: "We're just trying to put a bit of pride back into the club, there's so much history here and everyone just wants to lift the standard to the heights we know it can be."

Uni-Norths have largely struggled due to their ever-changing playing roster, with the life cycle of most players rarely lasting longer than their degree.

Owls skipper Dave Bennet, 27, has been with the club for nine years and has just two teammates who have been with him that entire time.

Bennett, Tom Gilmore and Sam Irwin played in the colts grand final together in 2009 but are now the veterans of the first-grade side.

"It’s always been the toughest thing about a university club because it's such a transient population," Bennett said.

"We always have good colts players with new students coming to town but it goes in cycles in line with degrees, every three or four years we tend to get a new batch.

"It’s tough because you feel like you have to start fresh ingraining the culture. When I arrived there there was a really good culture and then we had some lean years purely because of that lack of leadership.

"There had been no mainstayers but over the last couple of years we’ve had a really solid group stick through and have developed a fantastic culture on and off the park.

"Finals is the goal this year and we're really vying for fourth spot with Queanbeyan and Easts.

"It's going to be up to us, we won't be relying on other results and beating Easts this week will be huge come finals."

Meanwhile, Owls lock Nick Jones has been forced into an early retirement after the 25-year-old was severely concussed last week.

JOHN I DENT CUP ROUND 10

Saturday: Easts v Uni-Norths at Griffith Oval, 3:05pm.

Saturday: Royals v Wests at Phillip Enclosed oval, 3:05pm.

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