University ready to roll in Illawarra Rugby preliminary final

Crucial inclusion: University halfback Leon Mason will return to the side after missing last week's semi-final. Picture: Sylvia Liber.
Crucial inclusion: University halfback Leon Mason will return to the side after missing last week's semi-final. Picture: Sylvia Liber.

Dion Miller doesn’t have to cast his mind back far to remember the last time his side played Bowral in a crucial Illawarra Rugby Union clash. 

That match, played just two weeks ago, was a playoff for second position on the ladder and a second bite at the cherry in the finals. 

University lost by the slimmest of margins on that occasion, a barnstorming finish not enough to counteract a sloppy first half that saw the team fall behind 17-nil inside 30 minutes. 

It comes as no surprise, then, that Miller is confident his team can reverse the 30-29 defeat if they are able to improve just one area of their game during Saturday’s preliminary final. 

The opening 20 minutes.

“Our start is crucial,” Miller said. “We need to get rolling straight away. We’ll be going back to our standard pattern, which generally gives us a better start. 

“We’ve been holding back and letting opponents throw what they’ve got at us and then seeing how we can respond. We need to get points out of our start and be better than we have been lately.

“I do believe this week will be a better performance, the guys have realised their potential and they need to bring it out this week. We want to play Avondale and we think we can give it to Avondale if we get through this week.”

University’s team has been in a constant state of flux for most of the season, with the injury toll mounting on a weekly basis. This week it’s Lee Verrall who has been ruled out, suffering a torn pectoral that required surgery during last week’s last-gasp victory over Vikings. 

In more positive selection news, the side welcomes back halfback Leon Mason after he missed the Vikings win.

The move will see Tom Baker and Donovan Nepia return to their usual positions of five-eighth and fullback, respectively, and Miller is confident the team’s attack will be much more fluid as a result. 

“The last two games we’ve had an unconventional game-plan, based on our halves, but this week we’ll be back to our usual patterns. We’ve got one more game to get to WIN Stadium and we’re going to throw everything at it. 

“Leon’s return gives us a bit more control, we’ll be able to play our patterns that we normally play. We’ve got through the hard part of getting to this stage of the season and we’re going to get back into our normal patterns of play and throw everything at this game.”

Having defeated Uni a fortnight ago, Bowral suffered a reality check last Saturday, when they were blown off the park by Avondale. Coach Gene Fairbanks was disappointed with his team’s performance, but he’s confident they can turn it around at Shoalhaven Rugby Ground.

“There’s no shying away from it, we just didn’t turn up on the day,” Fairbanks said. “It was one of our worst performances of the season, we pride ourselves on energy and effort and we didn’t have any of that.

“We have done it a few times this season, we did it against Campbelltown and Shamrocks and we bounced back during the year quite well, so we’ll be okay.”