Sydney Uni Lions will be chasing their 14th consecutive Waratah Bowl for the Division I Gridiron NSW title when they meet West Sydney Pirates in the final at Leichhardt Oval on Saturday.
Sydney Uni won their way through to the decider with a 39-21 win over Northern Sydney Rebels in a semi-final at Neptune Park on Saturday, while West Sydney Pirates won their semi-final against UNSW Raiders 29-26.
Sydney Uni made the grand final in 2000, 2001 and 2002 before their run started with a win over UWS Outlaws in the 2003 decider. They’ve won every Waratah Bowl since, including the 2014 and 2015 titles over West Sydney Pirates.
The Lions took a while to settle into their semi-final game, falling behind after the Rebels took advantage of some early penalties against the Lions to drive the field and score on a rushing touchdown from close range.
The Lions answered back on their next possession, Andrew Ghaly (#89) holding a key third down catch to extend the drive and then Harry Granger (#5) holding a touchdown catch from Matthew Hilley (#14) on fourth down to get the Lions on the board. This was the start of a big day for Harry Granger, who would finish with eight catches for 89 yards and three touchdowns.
The Lions were now in their stride and took advantage of a fumble recovery by defensive end Martin Balada (#77) to drive in for another score and the lead, this time Sam Darcy (#84) threading his way through the defence on a screen pass from 22 yards out for the touchdown. In scoring the touchdown, Sam Darcy tied the Lions’ record for career touchdown receptions at 54 touchdowns, a record he now shares with Mat Freeman (2001, 2003-8).
The Lions piled on two further scores before halftime to hold a 26-7 lead at the break. The defence, led by a strong showing by linemen Fady Aoun (#79), Martin Balada (#77), Philip Loeffler (#92) and Bathuhan Tuylu (#90), smothered the Rebels’ running game, which was held to only 13 net yards in the first half. The linemen were also pressuring the Rebels’ quarterback, with Loeffler and Tuylu getting three sacks each and Balada making two tackles for loss. The secondary was also playing its part, deflecting away 9 intended passes and allowing the Rebels to complete only 28 per cent of its pass attempts in the game.
With the Lions getting the ball in good field position thanks to their defensive dominance, the offence took advantage, Charles Adams (#2) running in a touchdown from six yards and Harry Granger grabbing the second of his three touchdown receptions with barely seconds left on the clock to close out the half.
The Lions kept control of the game in the second half, scoring first on another touchdown throw to Harry Granger to push the lead out to 32-7. The Rebels did manage to break two big plays for long-range scores, but the Lions drove down methodically for Charles Adams to cross for his second rushing touchdown to close out the score at 39-21 and secure the win.
The Lions now move on to the Waratah Bowl against the West Sydney Pirates on Saturday, December 2, at Leichhardt Oval, with a 5pm kickoff. The Colts Final for the Kookaburra Bowl stars at 11am and the Women’s final for the Opal Bowl starts at 2pm.