NEWCASTLE Wildfires will make a long-awaited return to the Shute Shield against perennial powerhouse Randwick at Coogee Oval on July 18 in a draw released by the Sydney Rugby Union on Friday.
It has been 20 years since the Wildfires last played in the premier competition, upsetting Eastwood 20-17 in the final round in 1999, before being axed along with Canberra, Parramatta and West Harbour. The two Sydney club were later reinstated.
The Wildfires' reinclusion, though approved by the Newcastle and Hunter Rugby Union (NHRU) board, is awaiting endorsement by the local clubs.
The early response has been mixed, but NHRU president Bill Clifton is hopeful the clubs will give their full backing for the men, colts (under-20s) and women representative teams to compete in the abbreviated season.
"Our submission was subject to approval of the local clubs which have until this afternoon to provide feedback," Clifton said. "We will collate their responses over the weekend and have a board hook-up on Monday.
"We are really hopeful it's unanimous. Most of the divisional clubs have been supportive, most of the premier clubs have been supportive. There are a couple of key points that people are wanting us to shore up, which we have given commitments to.
"Let's face it. The credibility of the board is on the line here. We are going to do everything we can to make sure we deliver with interest."
If given the final tick, coach Scott Coleman will have less that four weeks to prepare the Wildfires for the season opener against a Galloping Greens outfit boasting former Merewether-Carlton lock Alex Hills.
The Wildfires squad, which beat Illawarra in March, have been following a conditioning program but have only had a handful of modified sessions in the past three weeks.
Prop Nic Dobson, who joined Merewether this season, played for the Canberra Vikings in the National Rugby Championships last year. Chris Ale (hooker), Brendan Holliday (fly-half), Phil Bradford (hhoker), Rob Buaserau (centre), Marcus Christiensen (lock) and Alec Donald-Corcoran (lock) have played first grade in Sydney. Seva Rokobaro (lock) and Marlon Solofuti (No.8) were regulars earlier in their careers.
Coleman, who has stood down from his role at Hamilton after leading the Hawks to five straight premierhsips, has held talks with several players from outside the area to improve the depth of the squad.
After Randwick, the Wildfires host Eastwood at No.2 Sportsground, potentially as a triple header with the women and colts. In a tough start to the 12-game competition, they host defending premiers Sydney Uni in round three and travel to Manly to take on the Marlins in round four.