Anyone that has watched Stu Dunbar in the back half of the 2018 Shute Shield season will find it very hard to believe that the Sydney Uni flyhalf started the year in third grade.
But after picking up an injury during preseason that’s exactly where the 26-year old started.
“The two guys in front of me were playing really well so I just had to stick it out for a while and wait for my opportunity,” Dunbar said.
The former Scots College playmaker made his first grade debut as a 19-year old and spent the next few seasons coming in and out of the top grade.
After playing in Sydney Uni’s 2016 grand final loss to Northern Suburbs, Dunbar headed to Europe and played a season with Italian club Verona.
“I loved the experience and the lifestyle was fantastic but while I was over there I realised that there was still a lot I wanted to achieve back in Australia so I decided to come back and give it one last good crack.”
Dunbar sat in the stands and watched Warringah beat Norths at a packed North Sydney Oval last year and began an intense training program soon after.
The playmaker linked with specialist strength and conditioning coach Justin Lang and the pair began working to get Dunbar in the best shape of his career.
“Four extra strength sessions each week, speed work and some extra skill sessions, I think it’s really helped me get my body right for the week to week grind,” Dunbar said.
“This is the first season I think I’ve ever played where I haven’t missed a game through injury and I think that consistent training is probably the reason why.”
By midway through the season, Dunbar had played his way into first grade and quickly became a 26-year old veteran in a backline filled with 20-year olds playing their first year of grade rugby.
“It’s been really refreshing playing with the younger guys, they’re just always having fun. Whether it’s at training, or in the gym or in the game, they are out there having fun and I think you can see that in the way they play,” he said.
“To be playing the way they are playing at that age, its incredible and I think they’ve all got big futures ahead of them.
“A lot of the credit has to go to Rob Taylor though. He coached them for two years in colts and now in first grade and they all know what he expects of them. He’s got incredibly high standards and these boys seem to just thrive playing under him.”
The free spirited Students have averaged almost 40 points a match throughout 2018 and scored more points than any other side this year, despite playing with the least amount of ball.
While Dunbar said his backs have thrived playing under Taylor’s unique system, they understand they might need to alter those tactics this weekend against Warringah.
“We’ve been really lucky to play behind a big forward pack that’s been boosted by a few Waratahs. Playing with front foot ball makes my job a lot easier but we’ve prepared for a number of scenarios that might occur this weekend. If our pack isn’t going forward, quite a few of our backs have strong kicking games so we know we can create pressure that way as well,” Dunbar explained.
“Our mindset is to try and score on the first phase. When we get the ball, we want to score as quickly as possible and I’ve really enjoyed that style, particularly after spending last year in Italy playing the opposite style of rugby.”
The Students were at their brutal best in a 41-3 victory over Manly in last weekend’s preliminary final, but Dunbar said he expects things will be a lot tougher this weekend against a Warringah side looking to claim back to back title.
“They’re a great team from 1-15 and they’ve got a lot of experience. A lot of the guys were there last year and they know what it takes to win a grand final.”
Dunbar has tasted success at this of year before but after starting the year in third grade he admitted winning a premiership as part of a young Uni backline would be something special.
“I won a colts premiership and a few second grade premierships at Uni then lost a first grade grand final, so it’d be really special to win a first grade premiership,” he said.
“I’ve sat on the sidelines and watched them do it a couple times but to win one properly, the clubs been such a big part of my life over the last eight years and they’ve helped me in so many ways so it’d be great to be able to return the favour.”