Another Shute Shield Premiership title for the Students

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Sydney University Football Club secured their 33rd Shute Shield with a tense 26-19 grand final result over Gordon at a wet and slippery Leichhardt Oval on Saturday.

The result was in the balance until four minutes from full-time when replacement forward Mitch Ryan broke a 19-all deadlock with a try off a rolling maul. Ben Hughes added the conversion to seal the result.

Gordon, the reigning premiers from 2020 – Covid cancelled the 2021 title – had levelled the scores with seven minutes to play when Jack McGregor landed a penalty goal. They had won three sudden death matches to reach the season decider and looked on track to cap those efforts.

But the Students had other ideas. Having trailed 11-7 at halftime, their solid pack handled the muddy conditions better in the second half to post the four tries to two result.

As coach Sean Hedger said post-match: “The forwards were always going to determine who won the game. The backs determined by how much.”

The Students have appeared in 17 Shute Shield grand finals in the past 22 seasons and won a dozen titles. But as Blue and Gold captain Jack McCalman said, the 2022 Shute Shield season has been one of the most tightly contested he’s been involved in. 

“To come and play the hardest game of the year against Gordon at Leichhardt Oval and get a win was really, really rewarding,” he told The Sydney Morning Herald’s Tom Decent. “It feels amazing. I feel like this has been building since 2021, and we had our season cut short last year. It feels like it was an 18-month operation, and we’ve finally got the choccies.”

The Students had a tough start to the decider, forced to run into a strong wind and then losing hooker Ciaran Loh to concussion in the early minutes. His replacement, Pat O’Doherty, came on for his second grand final of the day, having played the full Second Grade decider, which Sydney University lost 25-21 to Eastern Suburbs.

Gordon took an early three-nil lead courtesy of fullback Reece MacDonald’s penalty goal. But the Students hit back via the forwards, who executed a pick and drive attack that resulted in five-eighth Ben Hughes darting over next to the posts. He converted the effort for a 7-3 lead that was quickly reduced 7-6 on the back of another MacDonald penalty.

Gordon brought their back line into play late in the opening stanza, creating an overlap for winger Ben Pollock to outpace the defence to the line for an 11-7 advantage and close out a closely contested 40 minutes.

With the wind at their back, the Students secured early field second-half field position and began a sustained attack on the Gordon line with some highly effective rucking and mauling. It resulted in loose head prop Charlie Hancock creating a lifetime memory with a barnstorming change to the line for the blue and gold’s second try. Hughes converted for a 14-11 scoreboard.

The Students repeated the successful strategy from the restart, gaining field position from a pick and drive attack, resulting in skipper McCalman scampering over from the back of a ruck to stretch the advantage to 19-11.

Not to be outdone, Gordon replied with a series of back line attacks that eventually resulted in Pollack scoring his second after beating several defenders on his way to the line for a 19-16 scoreline.

With the clock winding down, the tussle became keener, and when MacDonald landed his second penalty goal to level the scores, it was all hands on deck. The Students reverted to their tried and true attack through the forwards, resulting in Ryan scoring off the back of a ruck close to the line. Hughes converted with four minutes on the clock.

Gordon once again pressured, gaining field position and a scrum near the University quarter line. But their front row collapsed after the engagement, and Sydney University claimed a rare tight head ball which winger Angus Bell duly punted into the famous Leichhardt Oval hill occupied by delirious blue and gold supporters. 

Both sides had given it their all to create an epic Shute Shield decider.

Sydney University 26 (Charlie Hancock, Ben Hughes, Jack McCalman, Mitch Ryan tries; Ben Hughes three cons) defeated Gordon 19 (Ben Pollock 2 tries; MacDonald 2 pen goals; Jack McGregor pen goal).