21.04.2008 – Graham Croker

A Jon Burnett try with four minutes remaining edged Sydney University to a 17-15 win in their Round 4 Shute Shield clash with Northern Suburbs at the Sydney Football Stadium on Saturday.

The committed Shoremen held Sydney University to a 5-nil lead at the break and dominated the second half only to be snuffed out in the dying minutes when number eight Tim Davidson, playing a captain’s knock, produced two incisive runs in a three-phase build-up to send Burnett over in the corner for the match-winner.

Played as a curtain-raiser to the NSW v Lions Super 14 fixture, the game provided contrasting halves, with Sydney University dominating territory in the first stanza and Norths returning favour on the back of a solid kicking game in the second half.

The Students went into the game without form fullback Nathan Trist, and when his replacement Daniel Halangahu succumbed to a leg injury after 30 minutes, the Norths kicking game suddenly became more potent.

Norths five-eighth Todd Sly missed with a penalty goal attempt during one of their few forays over halfway in the first half, and his counterpart Dan Kelly suffered the same fate in the 15th minute.

The Students continually stretched the ball to the perimeters but solid Norths defence, a string of penalties at crucial times and some poor handling prevented any scoring until three minutes before the break when centre Mitch Inman cracked the defence with second-rower Ben McCalman in support.

When his strong run was ended and a penalty ensued, the Students opted for a kick to the corner, a lineout and a rolling maul which resulted in prop Laurie Weeks collecting the five points.

They were the only points in a keenly contested 40 minutes during which Norths lost hooker Al Manning to the sin bin for a 10-minute spell.

With Burnett having replaced Halangahu, the University backline was reshuffled again after the break when Nick Haydon replaced winger Hayden Bushell.

Norths took advantage through some judicious kicking from Sly and fullback Andrew Smith, and some adventurous backline play and set up camp in the University half for most of the next half hour.

Manning levelled the score with a try off the back of a rolling maul after Norths had opted to kick for touch rather than take three points from a penalty in front of the posts. When the next offering came up, Sly opted for a shot at goal and put the Shoremen ahead 8-5.

The Students introduced Jone Tawake for Pat McCutcheon on the side of the scrum and later – to everyone’s delight – Dan Lewinski as a flanker.

But the Students couldn’t maintain enough possession to threaten Norths, who went further ahead when Smith finished off a smart backline move to score wide out. After Sly’s conversion took the score to 15-5, Davidson rallied the University troops and the tempo and intensity lifted.

A jinking incision from centre Lachlan Mitchell and a barnstorming run from prop Jerry Yanuyanutawa resulted in McCalman and hooker Nathan Charles combining to send Weeks over for his second try of the day.

Kelly added the extras and, at 15-12 with 15 minutes on the clock, the tension mounted. Could the premiers keep the momentum going or would Norths repeat their first round effort of 2007 when they inflicted University’s only defeat of the season?

That question was eventually answered with four minutes remaining when Davidson made a surge up the midfield. While another phase was being mounted, he positioned himself to the right and made another decisive charge before unloading to Burnett to score in the corner. The Students held on for a nervous three minutes to take the competition points in a close-run affair.

Norths were served well at the lineout by Chris Thompson and Adam Clayton, Sly directed traffic with confidence and centre Chris Burnett and fullback Smith provided some thrust.

The Students were once again served well by the tight five at scrum-time, flanker Jono Jenkins was prominent throughout, McCalman was an assassin at the tackle, Kelly was his usual tidy self and Mitchell and Inman were dangerous with the ball in hand. It would have been nice to see them stay paired in the centres, but injuries conspired to thwart that scenario.

The lower grade matches were postponed with North Sydney No.2 deemed unplayable, but the Colts matches went ahead at St John’s Oval where Sydney University maintained their unbeaten streak in three grades, with the Firsts rattling up 11 tries in a 73-6 win; the Seconds scoring 13 tries in a 79-0 shut-out; and the Thirds scoring four tries in a 25-0 win.

The juggernaut moves back to University Oval this Saturday when Sydney University take on Easts. The visitors will have their backs up, having lost 19-12 to Warringah at the weekend.