The final score didn’t indicate the close battle that took place for a Grand Final spot against UTS next week.
It was an arm-wrestle for the opening few sets until the Lions took control with a disciplined approach to the game plan. The game plan was to get away from the big Polecats pack, playing wider from the ruck taking advantage of the more agile forward pack and support play from the halves and outside backs, which paid off throughout the first half.
The recent move to 5/8 of James Vanisi saw the Lions breaking tackles and tiring out the big Polecats pack, but it wasn’t long before penalties crept in to remove all momentum. Down 18-8 at halftime after opening the scoring, the Lions were dominant for most of the first half until the penalty count began to turn momentum.
The final became a symbol for the story of the Lions season.
A young and often undersized team across the park played above their weight, running around a heavier and more experienced pack, seriously threatening when in control of the game. In speaking to one of the Polecats vets after the game, he said “Your boys are much tougher up the middle than UTS.”
It was quite the compliment given the size and age differential between the sides. The youth (all under 25) of captain Myles Fowler, Adam Vrahnos and Elite Athlete scholar Marcus Pappas has stood up all year through Fowler’s continued cutting in half of ball carriers alongside the tackle busting of Pappas and Vrahnos who threatened with line breaks and offloads throughout the season and into this final match. Each player has represented beyond the University level, bringing their high standards to every game they’ve played.
However, it was also reminiscent of the Lions season with the raft of penalties that turned the possession and momentum. It was a frustrating final with some often controversial and questionable penalties in the ruck near the end of sets that changed field position. Ultimately, the grinding work of players like ‘Teli’ Taktikos and SU alumni Kurt Lewis up front was punished, rather than rewarded, leading to another game where the ball was rarely in the Lions paws.
Despite the disappointing end to the season, the Lions showed class amidst tough decisions and at times taunting, arrogant opposition. More importantly, the pieces are in place to build with a young side growing in maturity and talent across the board.
Halfback and Chadwick Scholar Jake Vrahnos has another year of experience under his belt with mentoring from Coach Luke Srama, another international representative. The team gained some young, talented forwards in Teli Taktikos, Toby Lei and Pappas to build an impressive forward pack while SU student Christian Maini and Max Linden-Smith brought signs of grit and a spark in the backs for the future.
Fittingly, the players voted Elite Athlete Scholar, Marcus Pappas as Man of the Match in the Grand Final Qualifier. Marcus has been the quiet giant, epitomising the student-athlete that SURLFC has a long history of maintaining, from Doc Evatt to David Chadwick and David Hill through to Stephen Norrish.
His modesty on and off the field as a Sydney University Applied Science (Diagnostic Radiography) student has made him a model athlete for the growing culture of Rugby League. However, his quiet, respectful demeanour hasn’t hindered him from being one of the most consistently damaging players in both attack and defence. Marcus has been tough and self-sacrificing in his efforts on the field, fighting through injuries and wearing the Lion proud. Congratulations on an inspiring and admirable debut season, Marcus.
The future is bright at SURLFC and a great thanks must go out to Luke Srama who has brought many players together in a communal culture.
Thank you to all volunteers and sponsors throughout the year, especially to our major sponsor Rent Fleet whose ongoing support has helped maintain the club’s continued growth.
Of course thank you to all the supporters who have come out to games throughout the year and congratulations and many thanks to all the players who build this club on and off the field.
NSW Tertiary Cup competition – Grand Final Qualifier
Sydney University 18 (Try: Ashley Johnson 2, Thomas McCarthy, Jake Vrahnos. Goal: Thomas McCarthy) defeated by Norwest Polecats 42.