HAWICK head coach Matty Douglas has described Ethan Reilly as the missing piece of the jigsaw, with the Australian centre’s arrival at Mansfield Park in late October the point when his team’s Premiership challenge really kicked into overdrive.
“He’s just brought a different dynamic to the backline,” said Douglas prior to Hawick’s Premiership play-off final success against Currie Chieftains back in March. “That’s not taking away from boys like Grant Huggan, who have played a really important role in our season, but sometimes you just need that class act who can spark things for you when the going is tough. Every successful team has got a few guys like that, and Ethan has definitely done it for us this season.
“He picked up straight off,” Douglas added. “We knew at Selkirk when he made his debut off the bench as a winger that there was something about him, and I’d say he has brought Andrew Mitchell on as well in that centre partnership. So, he has been a bit of a revelation, producing some top performances for us.”
In truth, that jigsaw will only really be completed if the Greens finish what they have started, by beating Marr at Murrayfield tomorrow [Saturday] night, to complete an unbeaten season and add the Scottish Cup to that Premiership title they already have in the bag.
For his part, Reilly is every bit the prototype unruffled Australian as he contemplates his last game in Hawick colours before flying out of Scotland on Tuesday – having recruited Greens prop Ruaridh Macleod as his wingman – to link back up with Wanneroo Rugby Union Club for the remainder of Western Australia Premiers League campaign.
“I feel right now like it is just another game – but it is a big occasion so I do appreciate the opportunity I have been given here,” he says. “Playing at Murrayfield will be pretty cool. But, to be honest, playing at Mansfield was good enough for me. Having a grandstand to watch me play seems insane.
“Back in Western Australia, rugby isn’t a big sport,” he elaborates. “I’m from a high school of about 300 kids and I was one of maybe three kids there who played the game, because Australian Rules is just so dominant in that part of the world.
“But there’s boys from my club who have played overseas and they said it was just a great experience which they couldn’t recommend enough. Our club captain had played at Biggar [Andrew King] and spoke really highly of that experience so, when I saw on Facebook that Hawick was an option, I decided to send them some footage and it all developed from there. It took a while to get my visa sorted but was worth it in the end.”
Reilly’s impact with Hawick this season is an excellent example of how an individual import can add real value to a team and help raise the overall standard of the competition he is playing in (the key is not to misinterpret that as a player development strategy). Crucial to it all is the ability of the individual to assimilate into the environment he has landed up in.
“I’m definitely a bit of an outsider because all these boys grew up and went to high school together, so it’s a really tight-knit group, but I think they’re just a good bunch of lads, so as long as you don’t come in and behave like a prick then they’ll get along with you just fine,” chuckles Reilly.
“At the end of the day, you need that tightness,” he continues. “You need boys who are passionate about what you are trying to achieve and are willing to do things you ,maybe don’t want to have to do … to go those hard extra yards.
“The quality of play is definitely a lot higher here,” replies the chop-tackling midfielder, when asked to compare life in the top tier of the Scottish club game with playing back at Wanneroo. “It’s hard to compare because the conditions are so different, but I’d like to think Hawick could do a number on my team back home.
“It would have been cool to have played in the old Premiership before Super6. I’d have enjoyed that challenge, but it has been a great experience so far. I’ve really loved it.”
Reilly’s performances for Hawick this season inevitably caught the eye of the next level up, but the 24-year-old, who has worked remotely in his Australian job as an auditor for KPMG these last six months, doesn’t have the right visa to be registered for a Super Series club. He has, however, enjoyed guesting for Newcastle Falcons in a friendly against Ayrshire Bulls and at full-back for Edinburgh A during their recent match against Southern Knights
“Those were great experiences,” he says. “I never thought that would happen when I came over. I guess I played well in the games when the right people were watching, but being there with guys like Jae Linton and Dalton Redpath [his Hawick team-mates] was great as well. That definitely helped me feel more comfortable.
“It’s always a dream to be a professional rugby player, but I’m 24 now and not managed it yet, so I’m probably best off enjoying my club footie and working towards my career,” he says, when asked if those experiences of whetted his appetite for playing more regularly at a higher level.”
For the time being, his focus is centred in on Saturday’s challenge, and signing-off on his time in the Scottish Borders with a positive result.
“I’d imagine it has been hard for the coaches these last few weeks trying to keep us focussed and motivated, but I think the boys have shown all this season that the attitude is: ‘If we’re going to play a rugby game then we don’t want to lose’.
“So, maybe training dropped off a little bit immediately after the Premiership final, but it definitely picked up at the end of last week and into this week. That hunger is there to go out and get the job done.”
Win, lose or draw, Reilly will be on that flight back to Australia on Tuesday, and while he doesn’t rule out the possibility of playing for Hawick again in the future, he does suggest it is more likely that his next rugby adventure will be to another part of the world.
“I wouldn’t want to come back to Scotland to play for any other club than Hawick, and I’ve experienced it here, so at the moment I think I’d go elsewhere,” he explains.
He is sure of a warm welcome back to Mansfield whenever he does return, whether that is as a player or just an old friend passing through.