SURLFC down, but in no way out

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Sydney Uni returned to the field, if not the winner’s circle, on Saturday with UTS running out 36-26 victors at Leichhardt’s Blackmore Oval. After washout rounds in both Reconciliation and Naidoc Weeks, Uni were delighted with the chance to finally don their Indigenous-themed strip as a tribute to elders past, present and emerging of Gadigal country, the land on which the University and the club is situated.

In a see-sawing affair, 11 tries certainly kept supporters entertained, and both sides are to be applauded for their attacking approach to the contest.

UTS were in first after only five minutes when their left winger latched onto a seemingly innocuous midfield bomb and set up his support for an untroubled run to the line. It certainly wasn’t the start a buoyant Uni were after. 

They composed themselves and hit back 14 minutes into the game when left centre Owen Anderson showed dazzling footwork close to the line. At 6-4 down, Uni obviously felt back in control, and their composure showed. 

But UTS scored from 50 metres out 22 minutes in with a prop running wide and throwing a sympathetic pass to his gap-running lock. At 10-4 down, Uni had to dig deep. They were too enthusiastic and were pinged for being offside at the kick-off. 

Fortunately, UTS knocked on over the line at the end of their set, and it was the sort of break-hardened Uni supporters thought might be a harbinger of better fortune for the Lions. On the 28-minute mark, player-coach Jake Vrahnos put up a pinpoint-accurate bomb to the corner, and UTS’s right winger did his best cash register demonstration – ching ching. Five-eighth Zachary Rokuru was on hand to pick up the crumbs and scoot over, and Uni were trailing 10-8 but with all the momentum.

Soon after, right centre Christian Maini and backrower “Mr Perpetual Motion” John Downes teamed up for a bellringer that became a possession changer. Newcastle Express Harry Croker made a beautiful long scything run and went oh so close. UTS stayed on too long and lost a man to the bin. 

Croker was at it again in the next set when he drew the defence and threw a peach of a pass to a barnstorming fellow Novocastrian Angus Bowen, who happily planted the pigskin under the dot. Max Linden-Smith converted, and Uni went to the break 14-10 up.

Blackmore Oval runs east-west and downhill into the sun. Uni were running in the right direction and were playing with great spirit early in the second stanza. But then it became an uphill battle. 

Winger Ashley Johnson was harshly binned eight minutes into the second half when he and Vrahnos combined to save a try. It was not the fault of the big flankman that everything turned to gold for Leichhardt for the next 15 minutes. 

They ran in four converted tries, one after a 40-20, another converted from the sideline, and the final one from a kick-off. Their ruck speed was impressive, but no doubt Uni were gun-shy given their treatment from the man with the whistle. Certainly sporting the smallest forwards in the comp, it’s inspiring to watch the defensive resolve of hooker Storm Burazer and backrower Oscar Linden-Smith week in and week out regardless of the opposition’s apparent rub of the green when momentum shifts.

Trailing 34-14 with 17 minutes to go, Uni were up against it, but maintained their determination and played some cracking football. Downes was held up over the line, but finally winger Samuel Younan scored after an impressive shape play that released Max Linden-Smith on a storming run. At 34-18 with seven minutes to go it was an enticing prospect.

Uni responded and took the ball 105 metres in a five-tackle set from the kick-off for Downes to score a well-deserved try. He was fouled after scoring, resulting in an eight-point try with Max Linden-Smith’s conversion and penalty.

It was champagne rugby league and a boost to a side that has copped their share of bad luck on and off the field this year.

At 34-26 with five minutes to go, could Uni pull off an incredible comeback? No is the answer, but it was a testament to the way they were playing at the end that UTS opted to kick for penalty rather than go for one last try themselves.   

Vrahnos was obviously disappointed.

“I thought it was ours at halftime,” he said. “UTS just seemed to grow a leg.”

They did, but Uni can also take a great deal of belief from their effort. And it is pleasing to see the club “staying tight” off the field. Noticeably there were more Uni supporters in attendance on Saturday. Things are building.

Uni man of the match: Kade Spear 

Uni players’ player points: Kade Spear 3, Storm Burazer 2, Max Linden-Smith 1.

 UTS 36 beat Sydney University 26 (Anderson, Rokuru, Bowen, Younan, Downes try; M Linden-Smith 2 conv, pen goal)

Report by Dac Croker, thanks to Halage Media.