Sydney University’s push for a Sydney Premier Division grand final berth ended an agonising three points short when Balmain prevailed in an epic preliminary final at Blacktown Olympic Park on Sunday.

With the lead changing four times in the final term, Balmain triumphed 13.7 (85) to 12.10 (82) thanks to a James Howard goal in time on.

The Dockers will now meet East Coast Eagles, who are chasing a third consecutive title, in the grand final at Blacktown Olympic Park at 3.30pm on Saturday. The Students had hoped to progress to the decider to avenge their 2010 grand final loss to the Eagles.

Balmain were impressive physically and off the boot in the opening stages on Sunday, kicking six goals to two in the first quarter. Jason Saddington, who goaled inside 20 seconds and again in the 10th minute, and Nick Davis, who kicked a super goal from outside the boundary on the right forward flank, led the way.

Howard and late inclusion, Nic Fosdike also goaled for the Dockers in the opening term, while Adam Campbell made the most of limited opportunities for the Students, with two goals before the first break.

Sydney University upped the ante to dominate the second quarter. Midfielders Mitchell Thompson and Tom Elkington made their presence felt and Adam McConnochie kicked truly on the 17-minute mark as the Students kicked six goals to Balmain’s one behind to go into the main break with a two-goal advantage.

But Balmain wiped off the deficit within two minutes of the third term and as the scores tightened, so did the contest, with neither side giving an inch.

Saddington’s 50-metre bomb and Daniel Brian’s acute-angled goal from a similar distance highlighted the Dockers’ scoring, while Craig Moller kept the Students within seven points at the three-quarter time break with a strong contested mark and goal.

Befitting the contest for a grand final berth, the final quarter produced a great finish with the lead changing four times. Troy Osland goaled for Balmain and McConnochie replied to put Sydney University back in front. Stevens was accurate from in front for the Dockers before Tim Barrett produced a snap on his non-preferred left foot to put the Students back in front in time on. It was that tight.

With the seconds ticking down Howard ended Sydney University’s season and gave the Dockers a tilt at the title.


Premier Division: Balmain 13.7: 85 (Jason Saddington 3, Troy Osland 2, Nic Fosdike 2, Travis Stevens 2, James Howard 2, Nicholas Davis, Daniel Brian) d Sydney University 12.10: 82 (Adam Campbell 2, Adam McConnochie 2, Mitchell Thompson 2, Anton Turco, Christopher Clarebrough, Tim Barton, Joshua Cole, Craig Moller, Tom Elkington) at Blacktown Olympic Park.

Best players; Balmain: Benjamin Taggart, Travis Stevens, John Maniscalco, James Howard, Rohan Lilly, Chris Bolt.

Sydney University: Christopher Clarebrough, Joshua Cole, Michael Higgins, Matthew Clarke, Tom Elkington, Clinton Wells.

Grand final: East Coast Eagles v Balmain at Blacktown Olympic Park, 3.30pm, Saturday, September 17.

Division Three: Sydney University 6.10: 46 (Anthony Herring 2, John Huxtable, Jack Walker, Stephen Lloyd, Riordan Lee) d UTS 5.6: 36 (Andrew Cohen 2, Scott Robertson, Curtis Doherty, Daniel Lazarus).

Grand final: Sydney University v UNSW-Eastern Suburbs at Blacktown Olympic Park, 8.45am, Saturday, September 17.