Sydney University’s 42-12 win over Manly in their qualifying final encounter at Coogee Oval on Saturday showed the hunger and confidence are there for an eighth successive grand final appearance and a possible seventh Shute Shield in that period.
The Students mostly let the ball do the talking to run in six tries to two, ridding themselves of the Manly hoodoo – the Marlins won both competition rounds – and showing their supporters that an expansive game is still in their arsenal.
And why wouldn’t it be, with centres Mitch Inman and Tom Carter running riot to feed wingers Michael Hodge and Tom Kingston and fullback Angus Roberts.
Hodge opened the scoring in the seventh minute after Roberts had created an overlap to send him over in the corner.
Hodge was in the action again soon after with another excursion down the left flank. When the defence converged he found Inman in support and the big outside-centre powered over. Both tries were unconverted.
Manly regrouped midway through the half and with 25 minutes on the clock halfback Chris Cottee sniped off the edge of a ruck to score next to the posts. Scott Daruda converted for a 10-7 scoreline.
Cottee’s counterpart, Nick Stirzaker, replied in kind minutes later on the back of an Inman break that had carried play into the Manly quarter. The University halfback had plenty of work to do when he went on his own from the ruck, but he bamboozled the Marlins defence to score. Five-eighth Dan Kelly found his range and extended the margin to 17-7.
With the halftime siren having sounded Manly kicked to the University quarter and the Students surprised followers and their opponents by counter-attacking. Inman made the initial foray, Carter kept the surge going and Hodge finished it off with his second try for the half. Kelly posted the extras and the Scholars went to the break 24-7 up.
Sydney University kept their expansive game going in the second half and an ensemble play resulted in Kingston making the break and off-loading to prop Paddy Ryan, who sent number eight Trent Dyer over for an entertaining five-pointer.
Kelly missed the conversion but landed two penalty goals on the back of University pressure to put the score out to 35-7.
Manly hit back with a try to flanker Jordy Reid off the back of a rolling maul, but the Students had the last say when Inman busted the line off a set play and sent Carter over near the posts for Kelly to add the extras.
Sydney University have had problems defeating Manly for the better part of a decade and this was a salient win at the start of the finals campaign. Hopefully the running – and counter-attacking – game might filter up from club land to state and national levels.
In the other results in the eight-team finals campaign, Northern Suburbs accounted for Warringah 75-17 in the B Qualifying final at Woolhara Oval; Southern Districts upset premiers Eastwood 34-28 in the C Qualifying final at T.G. Millner Field; and Parramatta squeaked home 18-17 over West Harbour in the A Qualifying final at Merrylands RSL Rugby Park.
Week two of the finals will see Northern Suburbs take on Eastwood in a semi-final at Manly Oval, kicking off at 3pm on Saturday, with Parramatta up against Manly in the other semi-final, to be staged at Manly Oval from 3pm on Sunday.
The following weekend, Southern Districts will take on the winner of the Norths-Eastwood encounter, and Sydney University will take on the winner of the Parramatta-Manly match.
Having won the Colts Club Championship and the overall Club Championship for 2012, Sydney University added the Fifth Grade title to the trophy cabinet on Saturday, when they defeated Northern Suburbs 29-10 in the season decider at University Oval.
And after the weekend’s round of finals football the Students are still alive in Second, Third and Fourth grades and the three Colts grades along with back-to-back titles in the women’s competition.
Sydney Grade competition – Qualifying finals
First Grade – Shute Shield: Sydney University 42 (Michael Hodge 2, Tom Carter, Trent Dyer, Mitch Inman, Nick Stirzaker tries; Dan Kelly 3 goals, 2 pen goals) d Manly 12 (Chris Cottee, Jordy Reid tries; Scott Daruda goal) at Coogee Oval.
Second Grade – Colin Caird Shield: Sydney University 44 (Nathan Trist 3, James McMahon, Byron Hodge, Sam Roberson tries, David Fong 2 pen goals) d Randwick 26 (Chris Barron, Jack Tovey tries; Brenden Davies 2 goals, Andrew Wing 4 pen goals) .
Third Grade – Henderson Shield: Manly 20 (Adam Crerar 2 tries; Marty McNamara 2 goals, 2 pen goals) d Sydney University 17 (pen try, Alex Rokobaro try; Jack Macklin goal, pen goal; Jason Hofmeyr goal).
Fourth Grade – Henderson Cup: Sydney University 43 (Cam Lawrence 2, Ollie L’Estrange, Ned Mulvaney, Hamish King, Geordie McSullea, Sione Kaivelata tries; Cam Lawrence 3 goals, Jason Hofmeyr goal) d Randwick 20 (Andrew Waite 2, Andrew Ryan tries; Michael Gibson goal, pen goal).
Fifth Grade – Grand Final: Sydney University 29 d Northern Suburbs 10 at Sydney University.
Colts – Preliminary final
Third Grade: Sydney University 25 d Randwick 8.
Sydney Women’s competition – Major semi-final
First Grade: Sydney University 48 d Waverley 0.