The two leading teams in McDonald’s NSW Premier Cricket this season, minor premiers Sydney University and Penrith, will battle to become Belvidere Cup champions over three days at Bankstown Oval starting on Friday.
Sydney University has progressed to its third final in as many seasons, while Penrith makes its first appearance since 2002/03 when the students defeated the Panthers by 15 runs.
It will also be the third final for the students this season, across all formats including T20 and Limited-Overs, but they are yet to claim any silverware.
A top two finish on the competition table guaranteed both clubs qualification for the final, courtesy of rain interrupted draws in all qualifying and semi-finals, over the past two weekends.
Sydney University finished four points, or just less than one win, clear of Penrith on the table after 15 preliminary rounds.
Penrith is seeking its first title since 1982/83 and the third in its history. The minor premiers have won the title six times in the last 16 years.
The two clubs have met four times this season, twice in the Kingsgrove Sports T20 Cup, once in round 12 of the Belvidere Cup and also in the qualifying finals, with the students leading the head-to-head 2-1 and one draw.
Sydney University captain Liam Robertson said the students are expecting a close contest.
“They got the better of us, quite convincingly out at Howell (Oval) the first time we played (this season in the T20 Cup), but even the outright (in round 12), both innings were really close,” Robertson said.
The students prevailed by two wickets in the second innings of that round 12 fixture and Penrith skipper Ryan Smith agreed with Robertson.
“Although the result says we lost … it was actually a lot closer than the scorecard reflected,” said Smith, who is the leading seamer in the competition with 57 wickets at an average of 17.89.
“We’ve taken a lot of confidence out of knowing that we can mix it with them.”
Six members of the Penrith squad were part of the Panthers team that claimed the Under 21 Poidevin-Gray Shield last season.
Those players include NSW Blues rookie Ryan Hackney, top-order batsmen Brent Atherton, Cameron Weir, his brother and allrounder Trent Weir, wicketkeeper Tyran Liddiard and seamer Ryan Fletcher.
Smith explained that exuberance of youth has helped his side tremendously.
“All of those six players have all come through the junior ranks together … they’re a really strong knit group,” he said.
“They’ve been able to lift the First Grade culture since they’ve been there and playing with the freedom that they’ve learnt to play with through their junior career, (brought that) to First Grade and it’s rubbed off on the older guys in the team.”
Sydney University leg-spinner Devlin Malone is the leading wicket taker for the competition and has taken 63 scalps at 18.87.
However, Robertson believes the 63 wickets do not tell the whole story of the impact Malone has had.
“I know 63 is a lot, but a lot of guys could have cleaned up the tail, whereas he hasn’t exactly done that,” Robertson said.
“There’s been games where he’s picked up the first couple of wickets in an innings and taken a lot of really big wickets for us.”
Blues top-order batsman Ryan Gibson has also been named in the Penrith squad.
National Panel umpire Greg Davidson will officiate his eighth successive First Grade Grand Final at Bankstown Oval. His partner for the match, Anthony Wilds, umpires his third Belvidere Cup final.
The top two teams in Second Grade, throughout the preliminary rounds, will also meet in the Final of that competition at University Oval.
Minor Premiers Sydney University meet Parramatta in that final starting on Friday. Like the First Grade Grand Final, Second Grade will be a three-day final.
The students will be captained by James Larkin, brother of NSW Blues opening batsman, Nick. They have lost just the one match all season in Second Grade.
Sydney University also finished on top of the table in Third Grade and will meet second-placed Eastern Suburbs in the Grand Final.
The Third, Fourth and Fifth Grade Grand Finals all start on Saturday and will be two-day fixtures.
In the Fourth Grade Grand Final, second-placed St George is at home to Manly-Warringah, who finished fourth. The deciding match in Fifth Grade features minor premiers Sutherland hosting UNSW.
MCDONALD’S NSW PREMIER CRICKET
GRAND FINAL TEAMS:
First Grade (Fri 29th – Sun 31st March)
Sydney University v Penrith at Bankstown Oval
Sydney University: Liam Robertson (c), Dugald Holloway, Tim Cummins, Ryan McElduff, Damien Mortimer, Ben Trevor-Jones, Nicholas Walker, Timothy Ley, Devlin Malone, Hayden Kerr, Lewis Ansell, Joe Kershaw.
Penrith: Ryan Smith (c), Brent Williams, Ryan Gibson, Luke Hodges, Ryan Fletcher, Tyran Liddiard, Ryan Hackney, Trent Weir, Brent Atherton, Cameron Weir, Henry Railz.
Umpires: Greg Davidson & Tony Wilds.
Play starts at 10:30am on Friday to Sunday.
Second Grade (Fri 29th – Sun 31st March)
Sydney University v Parramatta at University Oval.
Sydney University: James Larkin (c), Varun George, David Miller, Ben Joy, Max Hope, Nicky Craze, Kieran Tate, Ryan Danne, Charlie Cassell, Steven Hobson, Alexander Shaw.
Parramatta: Luke McNaught (c), William Affleck, Taj Brar, Tim Affleck, Abhishek Talwar, Liam O'Farrell, Hayden Goulstone, Owen Simonsen, Jacob Workman, Shane Cassel, Austin Philip, Andrew Calvert, Matthew Drinnan, Michael Sullivan.
Umpires: Marc Nickl & Ben Treloar.
Third Grade (Sat 30th – Sun 31st March).
Sydney University v Eastern Suburbs at Coogee Oval.
Sydney University: Jack Hill (c), Benjamin Larkin, Charles Litchfield, Matthew Moran, Matthew Powys, Hayden Storey, Tom Kierath, William Masojada, Lewis McMahon, Joshua Toyer, Murray Watts.
Eastern Suburbs: Mark Morley (c), Sam Smyth, Andy Coles, Nicholas Taylor, Thomas Gallop, William Lawrance, Matthew Sarkies, Samuel Hall, Jack Remond, Ryan O'Beirne, Jonathon Smith, Matthew Coles, Mitchell Sciberras.
Umpires: Andrew Hamilton & Ryan Nelson.
Fourth Grade (Sat 30th – Sun 31st March).
St George v Manly-Warringah at Hurstville Oval.
St George: Stephen Wark (c), Rodney Krause, Andrew Pandelis, Jarrod Brown, Blake Newport, Thomas Kennedy, Dean Cassar, Joshua Vella, Ethan Jamieson, Evasio MacMillan, Eric Serra, Declan Hart.
Manly-Warringah: Adam Gummer (c), Jordan Daly, Dominic Wheeler, Joshua Wigney, Jacob Graham, James Crombie, Nick Cohen, Joel Davies, Andrew Somerville, Oscar Lucius, Alec Duly, Joshua Seward, William Akhurst.
Umpires: Berend du Plessis & Darren Goodger.
Fifth Grade (Sat 30th – Sun 31st March)
Sutherland v UNSW at Glenn McGrath Oval
Sutherland: Nathan Whittingham (c), Fletcher Graham, Ben Letton, Brendon Piggott, Justin Green, Julian Dimas, Javed Mohammed, Ronak Bedi, Christian Bennett, Nick Wilson, Michael Holmes, Will Straker.
UNSW: Jack Roach (c), Charles Williams, Fionn Geraghty, Joshua Gavan, Danny Bhandari, Daniel Bowcock, Jake Greenberg, Jack Hardwicke-Owen, Adam Finkelstein, Dayle Carew, Mitchell Law, Rhys Burinaga.
Umpires: Roberto Howard & Sharad Patel.