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Matt Hawke times comeback perfectly to celebrate Gungahlin Eagles' 50th anniversary

Matt Hawke has the Gungahlin Eagles in his blood, so it's fitting he will lead the team on to the field in their 50th anniversary celebration after turning down another year of professional rugby in England.

The Eagles are expecting a bumper crowd at Gungahlin Enclosed on Saturday as players return to the club to celebrate a significant milestone.

A post-game dinner is a sell out, with all 350 tickets being snapped up and the Eagles' player ranks are booming this year with more than 150 registered for the season.

They will wear a replica jersey of Daramalan's first strip for the clash against Royals and they will be auctioned off to raise money for Brad Hyland, the son of club champion Justin, who was diagnosed with cancer this year.

But it's Hawke's return that looms as a potential John I Dent Cup premiership gamebreaker after finishing a two-year stint playing for London Scottish in the RFU championship.

Hawke, 30, decided it was time to come home this year and join Gungahlin's bid for the club's first premiership since 2003, following in the footsteps of his father and uncle who played for the Eagles.


"The club means everything to me. My family has always been part of the club. I was a ball boy with [teammate] Ben McGee when we were kids," Hawke said.

"It was a great experience playing at higher level over there, and being a professional was always a dream of mine.

"So to achieve that for a few years and to travel while I was doing it, was an awesome experience."

The Eagles have been benefited from Hawke's experience this season, passing on the lessons he learned as a professional to his teammates after taking on the Gungahlin captaincy duties.

His impact on the field is matched only by the respect he has off it.

Teammate and Daramalan College schoolmate McGee said everyone at the club was thrilled to have Hawke back.

"He's a player all the boys respect, he demands that with his play on the field and he's true leader," McGee said.

"I think him taking a couple years off to play overseas gave him an opportunity to learn from another place, and bring those different rugby cultures back to Eagles".

The Eagles' culture is one that has been built over time. The club has its roots in Daramalan College and circumstances dictated that it move to Gungahlin.

Daramalan was a rugby powerhouse in the 1980s and early 1990s, playing in nine grand finals from 1982-90. However, they only managed two premierships in 1984 and 1986.

The club transformed to Gungahlin and won a grand final in 2003. Club legend Tim Davis spoke of the journey the Eagles have embarked on.

"I'm so proud. I've watched the club go through some good times and some tough times, and now seeing where it is, it's a vibrant exciting place to be," Davis said.

"This year we celebrate our 50th year, having maintained a close connection to our roots in Daramalan."

As a "Dara" boy growing up, Hawke fell in love with the Eagles. Not that he had much choice; his dad and uncle both played for the club.

Hawke makes no apologies for his blind loyalty. When asked if he thought about playing for another club in Canberra to boost his professional dream, the Eagles talisman was adamant it was never an option.

"Never crossed my mind. Not once. There was offers to go play league and stuff, but if I ever played rugby union in Canberra, it was going to be for the Gungahlin Eagles," Hawke said.

"To put it down to one word, it's friendship. You come back to a club, and you've got mates your age, then you've also got mates that are straight out of school, it's amazing.

"It's awesome to know you've instantly got 50 guys you can count on."

The Eagles play against the ladder-leading Royals on Saturday and it is hoped a crowd of close to 1000 will watch Gungahlin announce its finals credentials.

"They've shown they're the benchmark team. We didn't play well when we played them last, and they beat us comfortably. We all have to step up this week, especially with it being the 50th year anniversary," Hawke said.


Saturday: Easts v Uni-Norths Owls at Griffith Oval, 3.05pm; Gungahlin Eagles v Royals at Gungahlin Enclosed, 3.15pm; Tuggeranong Vikings v Wests at Viking Park, 3.25pm. Queanbeyan - bye.