Sydney University earned the chance to win a record seventh straight Sydney club rugby premiership when they defeated Manly 31-16 in their preliminary final at T.G. Millner Field on Sunday afternoon.
But they will have to overcome a red-hot Eastwood at Concord Oval next Saturday afternoon in they are to raise the Shute Shield – the Woodies accounted for Randwick 77-15 in the other preliminary final. Eastwood lost just one of their 22 round matches to wrap up the minor premiership.
Should Sydney University prevail next Saturday, skipper Tim Davidson will extend his record run at the helm to seven premierships – a Tooheys Cup when the competition was divided in 2005 and six Shute Shields.
The Students equalled Randwick’s run of six premierships, set between 1987 and 1992, when they accounted for the Wicks in the 2010 decider. They also closed in on Randwick’s 28 titles since 1900 – the Students have won 26.
After winning the title in 1972, Sydney University endured a 27-year drought before making another grand final appearance when they lost to Eastwood in 1999. They lost to Randwick – on the bell – in the 2000 decider before claiming the Shute Shield with a win over Eastwood in 2001.
Eastwood avenged that defeat in the controversial 2002 grand final when University’s Trevor Walsh and Jone Tawake had tries disallowed by referee Stuart Dickinson in the 19-15 loss.
Sydney University dipped out in the 2003 and 2004 finals before starting their run with a win over Eastwood in the 2005 Tooheys Cup.
Since then they have defeated Randwick in 2006, Eastern Suburbs in 2007, Randwick in 2008, Randwick in 2009 and Randwick in 2010 in Shute Shield deciders.
In a finish reminiscent of 2010, when the Students won 13 games on the trot – including three sudden-death finals matches – to collect a sixth successive premiership, the 2011 First XV have won 12 of their past 13 matches to earn a grand final appearance.
The streak includes wins over Warringah (50-12) and Parramatta (65-7), a loss to Eastwood (22-7) and wins over Eastern Suburbs (23-19), West Harbour (37-15), Penrith (62-7), Norths (57-20), Southern Districts (52-20), Gordon (81-12), Randwick (65-17), Manly (31-14) and Warringah (45-7) before Sunday’s preliminary final win.
Sydney University were pushing to have all seven teams contest grand finals this year but Second Grade, who finished minor premiers, suffered a 35-26 loss to Southern Districts in their preliminary final and Fourth Grade went down 17-15 to West Harbour in their preliminary final.
Third Grade earned a grand final berth with a 24-18 win over West Harbour, and the three Colts teams earned grand final appearances, with Firsts defeating Randwick 46-39, Seconds defeating West Harbour 36-7 and Thirds defeating West Harbour 49-7. The Colts grand finals will be contested at Forshaw Rugby Park on Sunday afternoon.
While Sydney University were never headed in Sunday’s preliminary final against Manly, the game was still in the balance going into the final 10 minutes.
After some tough early exchanges, winger Michael Hodge put the Students ahead with a try in the 18th minute which was converted by five-eighth Daniel Halangahu.
And four minutes later, fullback Bernard Foley delivered a showcase pass to send outside-centre Tom Kingston in for a try. Halangahu converted and Manly halfback Willie Ripia cut the margin to 14-3 with a penalty goal.
Manly were rewarded for a sustained attack on the Students’ line when Kotoni Ale crashed over under the posts in the 28th minute. Ripia converted and added another penalty goal just before the break to reduce the margin to 14-13 at half-time.
The Students muscled up in the opening exchanges of the second half and hooker Sam Roberson rumbled over off the back of a driving maul from a lineout five metres from the Marlins’ line.
Halangahu’s conversion was countered by a third penalty goal from to Ripia to peg the margin to five points going into the business end of the match.
Halangahu gave the Students some breathing space with another penalty in the 69th minute before Roberson wrapped up proceedings with a carbon copy of his first try and Halangahu landed his fourth conversion from as many attempts for a 31-16 scoreline.
Roll on the grand final.
Shute Shield Grand Final Day will be held at Concord Oval on Saturday, September 24.
The Colts grand finals will be played at Forshaw Rugby Park on Sunday, September, 25.
Sydney Grade competition – Preliminary finals
First Grade: Sydney University 31 (Sam Roberson 2, Michael Hodge, Tom Kingston tries; Daniel Halangahu 4 goals, pen goal) d Manly 16 (Kotonu Ale try; Willie Ripia goal, 3 pen goals) at T.G. Millner Field. Referee: Ian Smith. Grand final: Sydney University v Eastwood at Concord Oval on Saturday, September 24.
Second Grade: Southern Districts 35 (Ben Connelly, Rohan Saifolio, Twilla Tutuila, Ben Volavola tries; Dewet Roos 3 goals, 3 pen goals) d Sydney University 26 (Jack de Guingand, Nick Stirzaker tries, Angus Roberts 2 goals, 4 pen goals). Grand final: Eastwood v Southern Districts.
Third Grade: Sydney University 24 (Pen try, Oliver Atkins, Michael Gallinenti tries; Jack Macklin 3 goals, pen goal) d West Harbour 18 (Scott Ferris 2 tries; David Fong goal, 2 pen goals). Grand final: Sydney University v Eastern Suburbs.
Fourth Grade: West Harbour 17 (Pat Andrews, Bola Vanua tries; Alex Lavender 2 goals, pen goal) d Sydney University 15 (Oliver Gresham, Jack Marples tries; Cam Lawrence goal, pen goal). Grand final: Eastern Suburbs v West Harbour.
First Grade: Sydney University 46 (6 tries) d Randwick 39 (6 tries). Grand final: Sydney University v Eastwood at Forshaw Rugby Park on Sunday, September 25.
Second Grade: Sydney University 36 (5 tries) d West Harbour 7. Grand final: Sydney University v Eastwood.
Third Grade: Sydney University 49 d West Harbour 7. Grand final: Sydney University v Manly.