Sydney University earned a preliminary final berth in the Shute Shield with their nail-biting 25-23 win over Manly in their qualifying final at Manly Oval on Sunday.

Five-eighth Bernard Foley landed a drop goal as the final whistle sounded to cruel the hosts and give the Students a week off before the preliminary final, where they’ll meet the winner of the semi-final between Southern Districts and Randwick. Minor premiers Eastwood, who defeated Southern Districts 33-27 on Saturday, will meet the winner of the other semi-final between Eastern Suburbs and Manly.

Manly came within a whiff of toppling the premiers on Sunday when they led 17-nil until the shadow of half-time, and 23-22 until the final whistle when Foley worked his magic.

While the Students dominated the set piece, Manly dominated possession and position for much of the first half with journeyman fullback Marshall Milroy making the most of opportunities. He landed an early penalty and added a converted try soon after when he broke through some weak defence to score and set up a 10-nil lead.

Hooker Pat Leafa extended the margin when he cracked the midfield defence to score the Marlins’ second try, with Milroy’s conversion extending the margin to 17-nil in as many minutes.

When Manly’s blindside flanker Jordy Reid earned a yellow card for the final 10 minutes of the half, the Students stretched Manly’s defence to send fullback Tom Kingston over in the corner. And just before the break, halfback Nick Phipps finished off a counter-attack to score and send the Students into halftime down 17-10.

Milroy missed two penalty goal attempts soon after the break, but landed his third attempt to push the margin to 20-10 with 25 minutes on the clock.

With their scrum really dominating, Sydney University began to apply some real pressure. And after being denied a TMO decision, they were eventually rewarded after several huge scrums which resulted in second-rower Tom Boidin collecting the visitor’s third try which was converted by Foley.

Marshall slotted another penalty for a 23-17 scoreline and with 10 minutes on the clock Sydney University coach Chris Malone looked to his bench for some fresh legs. Two of them belonged to centre James Dargaville, who scored in the corner with his first touch to put the Students within a point – 23-22.

Sydney University dominated possession in the closing minutes to work themselves into striking distance and as the final siren sounded, Foley coolly stole the show with his drop goal.

While both sides live to fight another day in NSW Rugby Union’s strange, new eight-team finals series, Sydney University will have a week off to heal their wounds and wonder what might have been, while Manly learnt that winning premierships is like earning university degrees – they’re not handed out without some effort. And that might stand them in good stead when they meet Eastern Suburbs at Coogee Oval on Sunday. The winner will meet Eastwood in the preliminary final. Southern Districts will meet Randwick in the other semi-final at the same venue on Saturday, with the winner to meet Sydney University in the other preliminary final.

Sydney University also won Fourth Grade, who accounted for Northern Suburbs 37-3, but will have to do it the hard way in Second and Third grades. Seconds went down 44-31 to Eastwood, while Thirds lost 19-17 to Randwick. Bothe teams are on their final chance this weekend.

Third Grade Colts earned a final berth with a 74-5 win over West Harbour. A win next week will see them join First and Second grades in the Colts grand finals.

Meanwhile, it was not to be for Sydney University women’s team who lost 34-29 to Warringah in their semi-final at the weekend and with it the chance to push for a third consecutive title.


Sydney Men’s Grade competition – Qualifying Finals

First Grade: Sydney University 25 (Tom Boidin, Nick Phipps, Tom Kingston, James Dargaville tries; Bernard Foley goal, field goal) d Manly 23 (Pat Leafa, Marshall Milroy tries; Marshall Milroy 2 goals, 3 pen goals) at Manly Oval.

Second Grade: Eastwood 44 (Tim Williams 2, Nathan Powyer, Shanin Proctor, Kyle Shewan, James Neale tries; Jai Ayoub 4 goals, 2 pen goals) d Sydney University 31 (pen try, Sam Talaki, Benn Melrose, Alex Rokobaro tries; Byron Hodge 4 goals, pen goal).

Third Grade: Randwick 19 (Ben Allard 2, James White tries; Thomas Hiddleston 2 goals) d Sydney University 17 (Rhys Brodie, John Rudd, Ben Cannon tries; Jack Macklin goal) at Manly Oval.

Fourth Grade: Sydney University 37 (David Pohlen 2, Tim Reid, Michael Pollastri, Sam English, Jack O’Connor tries; David Fong, Cameron Mason goal) d Northern Suburbs 3 (Joe Jenkins pen goal).

Colts (Semi-Finals)

Third Grade: Sydney University 74 d West Harbour 5.

Sydney Women’s Grade competition

First Grade: Warringah 34 d Sydney University 29 at Granville Park. Parramatta 34 d Rockdale 10. Grand Final: Parramatta v Warringah at Pittwater Rugby Park at 2pm on August 31.