In a repeat of last year’s corresponding game, Manly again narrowly edged out Sydney University to record a strong win in Round 2 of the Shute Shield at Manly Oval.
A 78th minute try to prop Eddie Aholelei and a pressure conversion from near the sideline from winger Sione Ala secured Manly a thrilling 28-26 victory in a game which was unfortunately a case of déjà vu for Sydney University.
Many club rugby fans would have remembered the heroic effort of the Marlins in 2011 when they denied a fast finishing University, with the game in the balance right up until the television match official ruled Sam Talakai short of the try line after the full-time siren.
Last weekend, Sydney University would rue poor discipline and an inability to close out the game when leading by 8 points with 10 minutes to play.
Aholelei’s try came on the back of a penalty at the breakdown for not rolling away, with the prop gaining possession after a lineout win to crash over from close range in the scoreboard corner.
Earlier, two entertaining second half Sydney University tries to fullback Stuart Dunbar and blindside breakaway Anthony Pohlen had the Students well on track.
Just before the three-quarter mark, Dunbar fielded a clearing kick on halfway and in a flash, set off down the left flank. After beating the first line of defence, he spun the ball wide to winger Angus Roberts who stepped back inside to find an unmarked Dunbar backing up in support. The boy from Wagga was able to beat the covering defence to register his first top grade career try.
Ten minutes later Queenslander Stephano Hunt, looking increasingly dangerous with every touch, jinked and served passed the Marlins right side defence to break the line 35 metres out. He found inside centre James McMahon in support and quick hands to Pohlen saw him score beside the posts.
Stephano Hunt, in his first season of Sydney Grade Rugby, had come on as a replacement for Stuart Dunbar who just minutes prior to the Pohlen try had quickly gone from hero to villain. Just inside his won half, Dunbar attempted an ambitious chip and chase, which unfortunately for the Students, didn’t clear the Manly defence. Suddenly, rather than the Students having field position down the Manly end, winger Sione Ala was diving over in the corner and brilliantly converting his own try to bring the Marlins back in the game.
The Students had dominated field position in the first half however both sides scored a try a piece. University outside centre Michael Hodge continued his early season try scoring run, kicking ahead and regathering in the 15th minute to notch his second 5 pointer of season 2012. Just before the half time break, Manly winger Richard Hooper showed great acceleration to dart down the left flank only to be well caught by Hodge. Quick recycling though saw Manly lock Cadeyrn Neville burst through the scrambling defence to charge over. The Students would have wished they had taken better advantage of the strong field position they enjoyed in the first 40 minutes.
In the end it was three tries a piece, with a single conversion proving the difference. Both University fly-half Dan Kelly and Sione Ala each kicked 3 penalty goals; however Ala’s late heroics with the boot to convert both the second half Marlin tries would prove significant.
For the Students, open-side breakaway David Hickey was again at his terrorising best, constantly in the thick of the action and played with plenty of heart and physicality. Lock Liam Winton backed up his strong performance from last week to again lead by example, with number 8 Trent Dyer also strong across the park. The Students were missing props Sam Talakai (ankle) and Jeremy Tilse (unexpected Waratah duties), with replacement props Dylan Evans and Pieter van der Merwe holding their own against a big Manly pack.
In the lower grades, Sydney University defeated Manly 29-20 in 2nd Grade; the Students were victorious by 15-6 in 3rd Grade and also had a strong 38-18 win in 4th Grade.
Despite the torrential Sydney rain during the week, it must be pointed out that the playing surface of Manly Oval was close to perfect.
Manly 28 (Cadeyrn Neville, Shaun Sione Ala, Eddie Aholelei tries; Sione Ala 2 cons, 3 pens) d Sydney University 26 (Michael Hodge, Stuart Dunbar, Anthony Pohlen tries; Dan Kelly con, 3 pens)