It's been a busy few weeks for Ned Hanigan.
After travelling to Dubbo for the NSW Country Eagles opening-round National Rugby Championship clash with Sydney a week ago, he turned out for Randwick this past Saturday in the club's clash with Argentina.
And this weekend, the loose forward is preparing to travel to Wollongong for the Eagles clash with the Fijian Drua, before Shamrocks and Avondale take to WIN Stadium in the Illawarra Rugby Union grand final.
A proud Coonamble boy, Saturday's match at WIN Stadium comes as Hanigan and the Eagles attempt to rejuvenate rugby in regional NSW and help the sport return to its past glory.
"It's unreal to be coming to Wollongong," Hanigan said. "It's such a unique opportunity to be able to take games to the bush. Sometimes during the Super Rugby or Test season, we tend to stay in the bigger cities, but there's been a push in more recent times to bring games to the bush.
"We're pretty thankful to be able to play on the same field before the grand final, it's going to be a bloody good day."
With home matches in Dubbo, Wollongong and Port Macquarie this season, the Eagles are hoping to act as a team all of country NSW can be proud of.
For Hanigan, that involves providing the opportunity for battling farmers to get together and watch the football over a few beers, while the kids run around and engage with some of the country's top rugby players.
A crucial aspect of the mission, however, is to put on a good show on the football field and that is what Hanigan is hoping his Eagles will do when they take on the Drua on Saturday night.
"It's a massive thing growing the game in the bush. It's so important, for a number of reasons, particularly regional areas that are a little bit drier and need the rain now, if not sooner.
"It gives blokes that haven't seen each other for a while the opportunity to come in, have a few cans, yarn about their days playing, bring their families together.
"Rugby's such an important thing for regional areas, it's something the whole community can get behind and it's why the players and staff at the Eagles are so excited to be taking home games outside metro areas.
"Hopefully the Wollongong fans will come out on Saturday and really relish an expansive style of footy. Playing Fiji makes the match that bit more exciting, so the boys are keen to get stuck in."
NSW Country will enter Saturday's match full of confidence, with the Eagles winning their opening two games of the competition.
However, with the Drua set to present an expansive style of play, Hanigan said his side will have to be at their best to secure the win.
"It's great to go into this week 2-0, we'll take a lot of confidence into Fiji this week. But they're always a bloody good outfit, they're the reigning premiers and they play such an expansive style of game.
"That's something we'll need to work on this week and we'll also focus on improving areas of our game that we need to do better."
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