01.09.2008 – Graham Croker
Sydney University wrapped up the season proper with a 40-nil disposal of Southern Districts at Forshaw Rugby Park on Saturday and now have a fourth consecutive premiership in their sights.
In a match that Mt Isa mayor John Molony would describe as “beauty disadvantaged”, the Students led 21-nil at the break and overcame a 21-12 penalty count from referee Stuart Dickinson to run out six-try winners.
With the minor premiers up against the wooden-spooners, it wasn’t an ideal preparation for the finals campaign ahead, but there were some positives to come out of the game for the Students.
Peter Playford made a welcome return, having missed the season with a neck injury. He slotted in at fullback to cover for the injured Nathan Trist.
Second-rower Will Caldwell also made a welcome return, coming off the bench for the final 20 minutes.
And five-eighth Daniel Halangahu maintained his good form with the boot, landing five conversions from difficult angles to take his points tally for the season to 166.
But it was at the scrum where the Students excelled. Up against a Super 14 front-row in Nic Henderson, James McCormack and Guy Shepherdson, the young Sydney University front three of Laurie Weeks, Nathan Charles and Jerry Yanuyanutawa more than held their own. Indeed, several first-half shunts would have done justice to a 186 steam locomotive pulling out of Eveleigh railway yards.
With 33 stoppages, the Students found it hard to build much rhythm, but when they did put some phases together, tries resulted.
The first came in the 10th minute when a long, cut-out ball from Halangahu found straight-running outside-centre Mitch Inman, who stormed through a huge defensive hole and ran 40 metres to score untouched.
Halangahu and Inman combined again in the 17th minute to send winger Nick Edwards on a 30-metre run to the line.
And, with time running out in the first half, Halangahu sent another long ball to winger Ed Jenkins, who drew the last line of defence to send Playford over in the corner.
Interspersing the tries, both sides engaged in some fierce play at the breakdowns, some fine lineout work and some well-contested scrummaging.
With the penalty count running 13-4 Southern District’s way in the second half, the Students defended stoutly for most of the 40 minutes. But when they did secure some possession, they were able to post another three tries.
They sought the perimeters in the 50th minute with a surge down the left flank taking play into Souths’ quarter, before the ball was shifted to the right, where the busy Charles sent Weeks over in the corner.
The game turned into a dog-fight for much of the half before replacement winger Jeremy Atkin posted back-to-back tries at the death.
The first came off the back of a tap penalty, with halfback Nick Haydon taking the blindside option to send the young winger over in the corner.
From the restart, Halangahu made a big surge through the middle of the park before linking with inside-centre Leo Afeaki. He found support in Inman, who sent a great pass to Atkin for his second try in as many minutes.
The hosts were well-served by flanker Isreal Stephens, centre Michael Black, Henderson, who almost put them on the board with a try, and McCormack, the popular rake who played his last game and was given a guard of honour by the visitors at the end.
Sydney University second-rowers Al Campbell and Lachlan McCutcheon and flanker Jono Jenkins relished the close quarters combat, Haydon and Halangahu fine-tuned their combination, and Inman made the most of limited opportunities.
Having taken out the minor premiership with 20 wins from 22 rounds, the Students have a week off before beginning their finals campaign. They finished the competition on 96 points, ahead of Gordon (84), Randwick (76), Eastern Suburbs (73), West Harbour (69) and Warringah (68).
The preliminary finals will see Randwick doing battle with Warringah and West Harbour up against Eastern Suburbs.
For the record
To obviate confusion about Sydney University’s recent grand final appearances, readers should remember that two competitions operated in 2005 and 2006 – the Shute Shield in the first half of the season and the Tooheys New Cup in the second half.
In 2005, Warringah defeated Sydney University 29-23 in a controversial Shute Shield final under George Ayoub’s whistling at Rat Park. Sydney University went on to win the Tooheys New Cup with a 41-5 result over Eastern Suburbs.
In 2006, Eastwood defeated Sydney University 17-10 to take out the Shute Shield. Sydney University went on to win the Tooheys New Cup with a 16-10 result over Randwick.
In 2007, the competitions were reunited as the Tooheys New Shute Shield. Sydney University won the Shield with a 34-11 disposal of Eastern Suburbs.
Shute Shield – Round 22
First Grade: Sydney University 40 (Jeremy Atkin 2, Mitch Inman, Peter Playford, Laurie Weeks Nick Edwards tries; Daniel Halangahu 5 goals) d Southern Districts 0 at Forshaw Rugby Park.
Second Grade: Sydney University 71 d Southern Districts 14.
Third Grade: Sydney University 71 d Southern Districts 5.
Fourth Grade: Sydney University 33 d Southern Districts 10.
First Grade: Sydney University 102 d Southern Districts at St Paul’s College Oval.
Second Grade: Southern Districts 22 d Sydney University 8.
Third Grade: Sydney University 42 d Southern Districts 0.