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New Waratah grateful shield has helped him Shute for the top

Players' player ... Michael Hodge.

Players' player ... Michael Hodge. Photo: Supplied

IT'S been a big week for Waratahs recruit Michael Hodge.

On Tuesday he was unveiled as one of three fresh young faces in the province's 2013 line-up and tomorrow he takes the field for Sydney University in the Shute Shield grand final against Southern Districts.

The 23-year-old versatile back is yet another example, alongside Sydney Uni and now-Waratahs teammates Paddy Ryan, Tom Kingston, Jeremy Tilse and Tom Carter, of the value of a strong club competition.

It was the Shute Shield that kept Hodge in rugby between stints in the ARU's national training squad as a teenager, a Sevens call-up two years ago and an introduction to the Waratahs during the 2012 pre-season.

''It's really difficult for a kid to go from out of school to playing professional rugby, so I think Shute Shield is a really good step in that development,'' he said. ''There are obviously exceptions - look at Kurtley [Beale], James O'Connor, they're great players who were probably ready at that age - but I think a lot of kids probably have to play at that [club] level before they go to professional rugby.''

Hodge's Waratahs audition came after an exceptional 2011 season with Sydney Uni, marred only by the club's grand final loss to Eastwood.

He was voted the club's players' player of the year and was later invited to spend the pre-season at Moore Park, playing in the Waratahs' trial matches against Samoa and Tonga in February this year.

Hodge said the few months he spent in a professional set-up helped him to rediscover his hunger.

''I worked a lot with [assistant coach Scott Bowen] and they just said keep going at it, go back to club footy, keep playing,'' he said.

''I learnt so much and I loved it, I think that's when I realised that this was something I wanted to pursue and have a crack at.''

Another year with Uni also allowed Hodge to all but finish his education degree and have another crack at a grand final.

''To [lose to Eastwood] was pretty tough but it's made us so much more hungry this year, it drives you to try harder,'' he said.

''We maybe mightn't have done things the way we should have towards the end of last year so we're making sure we prepare properly so everything's ready to go.''

Intent on spoiling the team's second-chance fairytale is a Southern Districts side that is also stacked with Waratahs.

John Ulugia, Lopeti Timani, Grayson Hart and Atieli Pakalani will run on for the Rebels' first grand final after a season that cemented their reputation as a squad on the rise.

''From one to 15 they're really strong … any loose balls and they'll make you pay, and they're a big pack with a really strong set piece,'' Hodge said.

The clubs are a win each after playing each other twice this season. It is shaping as a battle between the established elders and the upstarts with a point to prove.

''[Southern Districts] are going to have a lot of passion and really want it, but we're definitely prepared … both games were really exciting and expansive so we're in for a good game,'' Hodge said.

Rugby Internationals 2014

Round 1
Sat, 07 JunTimes shown AEST
SAM 18 vs TGA 18 Report Stats
FJI 25 vs ITA 14 Report Stats
NZL 20 vs ENG 15 Report Stats
AUS 50 vs FRA 23 Report Stats
Sun, 08 JunTimes shown AEST
RSA 47 vs WXV 13 Report Stats
ARG 17 vs IRE 29 Report Stats
USA 6 vs SCO 24 Report Stats
CAN 25 vs JPN 34 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 2
Sat, 14 JunTimes shown AEST
SAM 15 vs ITA Report Stats
FJI 45 vs TGA 17 Report Stats
NZL 28 vs ENG 27 Report Stats
AUS 6 vs FRA Report Stats
Sun, 15 JunTimes shown AEST
RSA 38 vs WAL 16 Report Stats
CAN 17 vs SCO 19 Report Stats
ARG 17 vs IRE 23 Report Stats
USA 29 vs JPN 37 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 3
Sat, 21 JunTimes shown AEST
ARG 19 vs SCO 21 Report Stats
FJI 13 vs SAM 18 Report Stats
JPN 26 vs ITA 23 Report Stats
AUS 39 vs FRA 13 Stats
NZL 36 vs ENG 13 Report Stats
Sun, 22 JunTimes shown AEST
RSA 31 vs WAL 30 Report Stats
USA 38 vs CAN 35 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 4
Sun, 29 JunTimes shown AEST
RSA 55 vs SCO 6 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 5
Sun, 02 NovTimes shown AEDT
BAR 36 vs AUS 40 Report Stats
USA 6 vs NZL 74 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 6
Sun, 09 NovTimes shown AEDT
ITA 24 vs SAM 13 Report Stats
ENG 21 vs NZL 24 Report Stats
WAL 28 vs AUS 33 Report Stats
FRA 40 vs FJI 14 Report Stats
IRE 29 vs RSA 15 Report Stats
SCO 41 vs ARG 31 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 7
Sun, 16 NovTimes shown AEDT
ITA 18 vs ARG 20 Report Stats
ENG 28 vs RSA 31 Report Stats
WAL 17 vs FJI 13 Report Stats
SCO 16 vs NZL 24 Report Stats
FRA 29 vs AUS 26 Report Stats
Mon, 17 NovTimes shown AEDT
IRE 49 vs GEO 7 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 8
Sun, 23 NovTimes shown AEDT
ITA 6 vs RSA 22 Report Stats
SCO 37 vs TGA 12 Report Stats
IRE 26 vs AUS 23 Report Stats
WAL 16 vs NZL 34 Report Stats
ENG 28 vs SAM 9 Report Stats
FRA 13 vs ARG 18 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 9
Sun, 30 NovTimes shown AEDT
ENG 26 vs AUS 17 Report Stats
WAL 12 vs RSA 6 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
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