Triple Sinclair: Norths’ band of brothers in search of further glory
Photo: Clay Cross / SPORTSPICS
As if the rarity of seeing three brothers running out for one team wasn’t enough, last weekend’s Intrust Super Shute Shield saw two sets of sibling trios take the field. But while the achievements of Robbie, Charlie and Jacob Abel in turning out together for their new side Gordon are an equally worthy milestone, the path travelled by the Sinclair brothers – Angus, Hugh and Hamish, in order to achieve their dream in the colours of Northern Suburbs, is one that encompasses a tad more groundwork and history.
28-year-old Angus actually started his club career at Eastern Suburbs, but couldn’t wait to head to Norths in 2016 when Hugh came of age and was a 1st Grade fixture. Given there is just two years between them, that was always a probable scenario at some point. But with Hamish another five years younger than Hugh, the chances of all three featuring in the same line-up seemed far less likely.
However, a stellar off-season for Hamish and a few key injuries fast-tracked his ascension to top grade, and opened the door for the dream to become reality against Eastwood at TG Millner Field last Saturday. Better still, they all played their part in an impressive 44-14 victory over the previously unbeaten Woodies, that was a clear indication of the Shoremen’s title credentials in 2019.
“It’s the first time we’ve played together at all,” reveals Hamish, 21. “I didn’t think it would come this quickly, I thought if it did it might be one of Angus’s or Hugh’s last few years that I might have snuck in there. But it’s always been a dream of mine. While we definitely felt it during the week, we just said that we’d think about it afterwards, but it was hard not to get excited about it.”
“We’ve played cricket together, but never rugby,” confirms Hugh, 26. “Hamish is five years younger than me, so it’s always been too much of an age gap most of the way through, so to have all three of us on the same field together is pretty epic. It’s probably not something I’ll really think about until after I’ve finished playing – ‘I played with both my brothers’. But it’s definitely a pretty special experience.”
Hamish actually made his 1st Grade debut alongside Hugh in round one against Warringah, where he came on for almost an hour in place of the injured David Henaway. But it wasn’t until last weekend that Angus was fit and ready to go as well after suffering a head knock in the trials.
While Hugh and Angus are now old hands in the Intrust Super Shute Shield, for the newest member of the family to graduate in the competition, it has just been a case of getting used to the extra exertions required to compete in Australia’s Premier club competition.
“I was lucky enough to play in the 3rd Grade winning team for Norths in the grand final last year, and I still think that was probably the most physical game I’ve played in just because it being a grand final, everyone was up for it, but this is definitely on par,” says Hamish.
“I think the speed is the thing that gets you the most, everyone runs faster and the rucks are quicker. Also, every hit is just as hard as the last one, there’s not much fade-off in the last 20 minutes. The fitness levels have to be a lot higher because there are a lot less stoppages, a lot more open play, and everyone is faster.”
Being the youngest of three boys is a tough school to learn in, but one that may have helped Hamish’s progression in the physicality stakes. You certainly have to learn how to look after yourself.
“I think because Angus and I were so close growing up with only a couple of years between us, we were always concerned with either beating each other up, or beating each other at sport,” recalls Hugh. “We used to play wrestle rugby on the bedroom floor, in the hallway, or in the garage.
“It was harder for Hamish because two-on-one is not very fair, so it used to be those two versus me a lot of the time, because I started to get a bit bigger in the teenage years. Then we had a neighbour who was the same age as Hamo, so it ended up being two-on-two in the backyard. But he definitely came off worst a lot of the time. There was always tears, but it was alright!”
“We’ve always played at home together at every sport under the sun, but with them being older, I was always on the attacking team because I was so much smaller,” says Hamish. “There was definitely some early-age bullying going on there but it hardened me up and made me mature a lot faster, having to wrestle someone double my weight!”
Now all in their 20’s and finally on the same side, that sibling rivalry has abated. Well, almost.
“We still love a wrestle every now and again but definitely prefer playing in the same team now,” laughs Angus. “Having said that, we are ultra competitive away from rugby with things like backyard cricket and board games getting very fiery at times!”
Born and raised in Lindfield, north Sydney, the Sinclair boys and elder sister Camilla spent plenty of time holidaying with their parents in the country town of Cowra, some 300kms west of the city.
Dad Malcolm was of country stock and trained as a jackaroo and overseer in his twenties, before heading to the city to make his money as a stockbroker, while Mum Prue hailed from Walgett in the north west of the state. They bought a farm in Cowra some 16 years ago which Malcolm used to help run at weekends, and when the time was right, they moved lock, stock and barrel to the country in 2009.
But rugby was always a passion that was inevitably going to be handed down to his young proteges. A former no.8 himself, Malcolm had played bush rugby for both Warren and Quirindi, before going onto win a couple of Kentwell Cups as captain of Colleagues during his time in Sydney. So the footy pathway of his three son’s from Lindfield Juniors through Shore School, and now onto Northern Suburbs is no great surprise.
Neither is the major topic of discussion at meal time in the Sinclair family home, a state of affairs that is not always universally popular.
“The three of us are really tight and are always discussing rugby together with Dad as well,” says Angus. “Mum, Camilla and our girlfriends are always asking us to talk about something else, but rugby always gets brought up at the dinner table!”
But for every individual success story in rugby, there is usually a necessary network in place behind them of family and friends, and the Sinclair boys are quick to point out the love and support they have gratefully received over the years, no more so than at the weekend.
“My old man was a no.8 too so there’s probably a bit of favour on that side in terms of chat!” laughs Hugh. “But as the controller of the team, Angus gets most of the attention from all of us. Mum and Dad are pretty proud of the achievement at the weekend and proud of Hamish being there especially. We had quite a big family group and contingent there cheering us on, it was very special.”
“We’re very lucky to have a family that loves getting around us and supporting us, and it’s definitely made Dad’s life easier not having to come and watch a couple of games at different spots, as has always been the case in our childhood,” says Hamish. “I think it’s the first time ever he’s only had to watch one game in a weekend!”
Having watched his elder brothers do their thing for a few years and bided his time behind them, Hamish has had the opportunity to take in as much as he can and sponge all the rugby experience and nous he can muster out of them to assist his own learning curve. But while Angus and Hugh form an integral part of the leadership group at Norths, with Hugh current 1st Grade captain, Hamish is content to take a backseat and just enjoy his footy – for now.
“I’m definitely as hard on myself as those two are, but I’m definitely happy being an Indian not a chief,” he confirms. “I’m just happy to run around and do as I’m told. Maybe when they are nearly finished though…!”
But for Hugh in particular, given their similar roles – Hamish played lock against Eastwood but has also played 6 and 8 – he is keen to impart as much knowledge as he can to his younger brother in order to help him take his game as far as possible. Having had an all-too brief taste of the next level with the Melbourne Rebels in 2017, he knows what it takes to reach those heights, and although it’s still early days in his club career, he thinks Hamish might have what it takes to go even further.
“He had a really good pre-season and his skills are really good, he doesn’t look out of place,” says Hugh. “He’s still learning, he’s still only 22 in a month, and I look back to when I was that age and I was nowhere him in terms of the skill set or the stuff I’d been taught.
“I’ve got a fair bit to owe to [Waratahs assistant coach and former Norths head coach] Simon Cron for my rugby career, and to get the chance to go down to Melbourne and play a few games for the Rebels. Under Crono I had all this learning in just two or three years, so you never know. Hamo was a bit of a late bloomer in terms of rugby, and those guys can sometimes end up being the best because they’ve always had to work hard for it, it hasn’t just been given to them.
“We’re in a similar position on the field and I think he’ll probably migrate to the backrow at some stage, so I’ve been trying to help him as much as I can. Trying to pass on running lines and lineout stuff, little bits and pieces that will help his game because when I was that age I didn’t get that information. I was lucky enough to play at a higher level and hopefully he’ll develop into an even better player and do the same.”
Given his talents at flyhalf as a game manager, Angus should also have been afforded the same professional experience as Hugh. But a history of injury and ill health have conspired against him at all the wrong moments in his rugby career.
He was all set to play rep footy when he broke his leg in Year 12, and after time with Easts and overseas with English club Cornish Pirates, he developed chronic fatigue syndrome, a debilitating disease that left him struggling to even take the dog for a walk, let alone play a game of rugby.
The fact that he even made it back onto the field is testament to his strength of character and resolve, and to the support of those closest to him through the toughest of times. But not only did he return, he did so alongside Hugh in Norths’ run to their first Premiership in 41 years in 2016.
Three years later he reckons he’s in the best shape of his life thanks to a gruelling off-season under a new fitness regime at Norths that saw him add a couple of kilos of muscle, and he isn’t ready to give up on that Super Rugby dream just yet.
“I’m fitter than ever,” he beams. “That’s down to the influence Aaron Sculli has already had as the new S&C at the club. His professionalism and passion to help everyone get better has been massive in helping us get better as individuals, and as a team.
“I would love a shot at the next level. Seeing guys like Hugh, Will Miller and Nick Palmer succeed at that level has definitely given me confidence I can do it. I feel like I’m ready and would jump at the chance if given the opportunity. But if it doesn’t come I’ll keep working to get better and do everything I can to help Norths win more trophies.
“The coaching changes and new players that have come onboard this year have definitely been a great refresher for the squad. We have a really tight group, love playing together and are hungry for success. Our goal is definitely to win the comp but we are certainly not getting ahead of ourselves. This competition is really tight and we have already seen in the first three rounds how quickly things can change.
“It honestly doesn’t get any better than winning this comp. And the feeling of winning it and then the disappointment of the last two years really drives us towards the top. To win alongside Hamo and Hugh and all our Norths brothers would be unbeatable.”
But before they can even look that far ahead, there’s the small matter of whether Hamish continues to play a role in 1st Grade as the season continues. He’s back on the bench for this afternoon’s clash with Manly at North Sydney Oval after the welcome return of Nick Palmer, and is all too aware that his chances could be limited when everyone is back on deck. But in true Sinclair spirit, he’s not going to let it go without a fight.
“There’s 15 more rounds before we even get to the finals so there’s a long way to go and the next game is obviously more important than the last one,” he reasons. “It’s always been a goal to win a comp with them together, whether that was here or at home in the country. We always thought that was probably going to be more likely the case, but luckily I’ve come of age a bit more this year and got my chance.
“I’m sure I’ll get relegated soon when some of the boys come back but that’s alright, it’s a long season and I’m sure I’ll get another chance. I’ll just ply my trade and try and earn a starting spot. It’s going to make me better if I have to try and beat someone else.”
But the last word has to go to captain Hugh, who puts all the excitement of the last few days into context in a manner that should send a message to the rest of the competition.
“Everyone says that it’s pretty special to play together, and it is. But we’re here to win comps aren’t we really? So that’s the goal.”