A CONTROVERSIAL pass in the lead-up to the match-winning try overshadowed Sydney University's brave comeback from an 11-point deficit to dash Southern Districts' hopes of an inaugural Shute Shield premiership at Concord Oval this afternoon.
Southern Districts led for most of the game but a late try – from a suspect pass – and conversion to University fullback Angus Roberts gave the Students an unlikely one-point victory.
The St Ignatius' College, Riverview, graduate who stormed on to a pass from teammate Tom Carter to surge past the Rebels right-hand-side defence, said the final pass was legal. "It was fine by me," Roberts, 21, said. "It looked two metres backwards from where I was."
Southern Districts coach Cameron Blades wasn't so sure. "It looked like it was borderline," Blades said.
"There's nothing much I can do about that but it is obviously something I'll look at and if [the officials] have got it horribly wrong, I'll put it in my match review report. But at the end of the day, University have just held the Shute Shield."
It was in the second half that University stamped their class. In their eighth consecutive grand final, University started the match as heavy favourites but were met by a spirited Southern Districts side not awed by the occasion.
The grand final marked a significant turnaround for the club which formed as a joint venture of StGeorge and Port Hacking in 1989, and was handed a wooden spoon just seven season ago.
University bumbled their way through an uncharacteristic first half plagued by a lack of ball control with handling errors and errant kicking – highlighted by two out-on-the-full kicks – handing over easy possessions.
Roberts opened the scoring with a penalty goal before Wallabies hopeful Nick Cummins scored the only try of the first half for the Rebels to take an 11-3 lead into the break.
"We knew in the first half we went away from what we should have done," Roberts said. "In the second half, we came out firing and just played tight footy and we grinded and grinded and eventually it came off for us. Our aim was to control possession and bash them in attack and defence and we did that in the second half."
A missed conversion from Souths fullback Ben Volavola cost his side a chance to build its lead but he didn't miss on his next attempt five minutes later to extend his team's lead to 11. This is where the joy ended for the Rebels as University dominated the remaining 30 minutes of the match.
University went close to scoring on a number of occasions only for a desperate Rebels defence to snuff out the scoring plays. A no-try awarded to Ollie Atkins by the television match official again left University unable to register a try but they kept their composure.
A landslide of possession eventually took its toll on a tiring Rebels side when University hooker Nathan Charles powered across the line to bring the scores to 14-8.
Blades said the experience of University showed. "To be so close yet so far is gut-wrenching," he said. "There were some moments in the game when we could have closed it out but it was a good life lesson for these young men.'
SYDNEY UNIVERSITY 15 (T Carter A Roberts tries A Roberts goal pen goal) bt SOUTHERN DISTRICTS 14 (N Cummins try B Volavola 3 pen goals) at Concord Oval.