After an enthralling round of semi-finals, Sydney University has advanced to the Grand Final in each of First, Second and Third Grade. All three University sides are unchanged from last week’s semi-finals.
University meets Penrith in the grand final at Bankstown - the third time in as many seasons that the Students have appeared in a decider at Bankstown Oval. Penrith hasn’t reached the grand final since 2002-03, when they lost a gripping match at Hurstville Oval by only 15 runs to… Sydney University. University is aiming for its tenth First Grade premiership. Penrith, who only joined the competition in 1973-74 (when the club was known as Nepean) have won twice, in 1978-79 and 1982-83.
If you listen closely, you can hear a few grumbles from Sydney and UTS North Sydney, both of whom feel frustrated that their semi-finals were curtailed by the weather. But the competition rules favour the sides who finish highest after 15 rounds, and there’s no obvious injustice about the fact that first plays second in the grand final.
The sides have already played each other four times this season. They last met in the qualifying final of the 50 over competition, in which University recorded a convincing win. In Round 12, University won outright: but it was a tight, low-scoring game in which 38 wickets fell while only 553 runs were scored. The clubs met twice in the T20 Cup, Penrith winning the Round 3 clash with over nine overs to spare, while University won almost as comfortably in the Conference Final.
Finals cricket is attritional: the ability to bat for a long time is vital. Damien Mortimer scored an unbeaten hundred in the limited-overs qualifying final against the Panthers, and University will be hoping that he can play a similarly controlled innings this weekend. Ryan McElduff has emerged as a vital component of the University side, and captain Liam Robertson plays a key role in the middle order. If the Bankstown pitch is as true as usual, then Devlin Malone’s leg breaks will play a critical part in the game. Tim Cummins is in excellent form behind the stumps, adds stability to the late-order batting, and no doubt has some handy insights into his former team-mates. Penrith captain, Ryan Smith, has led from the front all season, snaring 57 wickets across the three formats. After scoring two centuries in the first three games, Ryan Gibson has been a touch below his best form, but he’s the only batsman on either side with first-class experience, and his unbeaten 78 in the semi-final saved the game for Penrith. His will be the wicket University’s bowlers prize the most.
Sydney University has a home ground advantage against Parramatta, who reached the grand final y outplaying a strong Sydney side.
This will be the first time the two sides meet this season.
Look for a special contribution from Steve Hobson, who has announced that this will be his last game for the club. His first was also against Parramatta (when he marked his debut by scoring 240). He was player of the match in the last grand final University’s Seconds won, four seasons ago. David Miller and Max Hope have made critical interventions with both bat and ball in recent weeks, while Ben Joy continues to demonstrate his knack for taking wickets at important moments. For Parramatta, Abishek Talwar has scored two hundreds in Seconds this year, and showed good form with 56 in the semi-final. Tim and Will Affleck add experience to the top order. Shane Cassel, who has played half a dozen First Grade games this season, is a former Australian Under-19 leg spinner and a genuine attacking threat.
Over the last few years, Sydney University and Easts have been consistently the two strongest sides in Third Grade, so it’s no surprise that they meet again in this year’s grand final at Coogee Oval.
Inconclusive. The teams did play each other in Round Two, but after University reached 8 for 293 on the first day, rain washed out the second.
University looks strong in all departments of the game, with Jack Hill, Ben Larkin and Charles Litchfield forming a powerful top order, while Matt Moran usually demoralises Third Grade bowlers. Josh Toyer and Lewis McMahon use the new ball well, and Tom Kierath approaches the last game of a stellar career in phenomenal form - his last three matches have produced 5-19, 54 not out and 4-7. Experienced Easts captain Mark Morley has powered his side through the finals, following his 5-75 against Parramatta with 115 not out and 3-22 against Manly. He’s the leading run-scorer in Thirds this season, with 584 (Jack Hill and Charles Litchfield have also passed 500) and also has more wickets (37) than anyone else. Tom Gallop, Jack Remond, Will Lawrance and Jonathon Smith are other players in the Dolphins’ side with First Grade experience.