Six teams remain in the race for the Belvidere Cup with the finals series of the McDonald’s NSW Premier Cricket competition starting on Saturday.
Sydney University finished the competition as minor premiers and host sixth-placed Sutherland in the first of three two-day qualifying finals.
Penrith trailed Sydney University by four points at the end of 15 rounds and its second-placed finish earned it hosting rights against local rivals, and defending premiers, Parramatta. UTS North Sydney, who finished third, are at home to reigning First Grade Limited-Overs Cup champions Sydney.
The three winners and the highest placed loser advance to the semi-finals. In the case of a draw, the higher placed team goes through to the semis.
Five Blues will be involved in the three qualifying finals. Those players are Sheffield Shield and Sydney University opening batter, Nick Larkin, Parramatta captain Nick Bertus, Penrith batsmen Ryan Gibson and Ryan Hackney, as well as Sutherland leg-spinner Daniel Fallins.
Larkin is experiencing his best Shield season to date with 581 runs at 38.7 and will be a big boost for Sydney University over the weekend.
The qualifying final at University Oval is a rematch of the Kingsgrove Sports T20 Cup Final at the SCG in December that Sutherland won by five wickets.
However, Sydney University pose a different proposition in the longer format having made the last two Grand Finals of the Belvidere Cup and winning the title in 2016/17.
The students have lost only two matches all season in the NSW Premier Cricket competition.
Despite their success across all formats, Sydney University are yet to claim any silverware in 2018/19 after losing the T20 decider and final of the Limited-Overs Cup to Sydney by four wickets.
The first qualifying final matches the two leading leg spinners in First Grade this season.
Fallins is the fourth leading wicket taker in Premier Cricket this season with 47 scalps at an average of 20.23, but at the top of that list is Devlin Malone.
The Sydney University leg-spinner has 57 wickets to his name, at a tick under 19, including no less than five five-wicket hauls.
Bertus will be crucial to the title defence of Parramatta. In round 15, he passed 1,000 runs for the second consecutive season, despite missing a month due to a groin injury.
The 25-year-old left-hander is the second leading run-scorer in First Grade with 1,052 at 75.14. Bertus trails former South Australian and Victorian wicketkeeper-batsman, Adam Crosthwaite, by 92 runs.
Crosthwaite has scored 1,144 runs at 63.56 for UTS North Sydney this season.
Opening batsman Ryan Hackney, 19, enters the qualifying final against Parramatta in good form after his second century of the season last Saturday in a limited-overs win over Randwick Petersham at Coogee Oval.
He made 127 from 144 balls in that innings. Hackney missed two months of Premier Cricket due to an elbow injury but has still amassed 521 runs this season at 43.42.
Cameron Weir is the leading run-scorer for Penrith this season with 716 runs at 35.8. Parramatta will be keen to dismiss the No. 4 given his ability to destroy a bowling attack.
One of his two centuries this season was the highest scored by any player during the campaign thus far. He made 180 from 204 balls against St George, in round four, including 24 boundaries and five sixes.
Hard-hitting top order batsman for the Sydney Sixers and ACT/NSW Country, Justin Avendano, will captain North Sydney in its qualifying final against Sydney.
In the opposing side will be Sixers off-spinner Ben Manenti. Both players made their debut in magenta during the Big Bash League this season.
Sydney wicketkeeper Beau McClintock is the leading gloveman in terms of dismissals completed in Premier Cricket this season.
He has claimed 45 dismissals including 35 catches and 10 stumpings but has also shown some good form with the bat in recent times.
McClintock has scored 212 runs during his last four visits to the crease and has been dismissed just once. Among those innings included a dynamic 36 not out from just 19 balls that guided Sydney to victory in the Limited-Overs Cup Grand Final at Drummoyne Oval.
MCDONALD’S NSW PREMIER CRICKET
FIRST GRADE TEAMS:
10.00AM Saturday 16 March & Sunday 17 March 2019.
Sydney University v Sutherland at University Oval.
Sydney University: Liam Robertson (c), Tim Cummins, Ryan McElduff, Damien Mortimer, Ben Trevor-Jones, Timothy Ley, Devlin Malone, Hayden Kerr, Joe Kershaw, Dugald Holloway, Varun George, Nick Larkin.
Sutherland: Chris Williams (c), Jarryd Biviano, Jamie Brown, Tom Doyle, Aiden Bariol, Austin Waugh, Luke Hawksworth, Daniel Fallins, Tom Pinson, Jake Wilson, Jayden Brown, Nicholas Amos.
Umpires: Berend du Plessis, Andrew Hamilton.
Penrith v Parramatta at Howell Oval.
Penrith: Ryan Smith (c), Brent Williams, Ryan Gibson, Luke Hodges, Ryan Fletcher, Tyran Liddiard, Ryan Hackney, Trent Weir, Brent Atherton, Cameron Weir, Henry Railz, Michael Collins.
Parramatta: Nicholas Bertus (c), Timothy Ward, Ben Abbott, Brenton Cherry, Trent Crittenden, Luke Dempsey, Liam O'Farrell, Adam Turrell, Scott Copperfield, Ben Martin, Liam Lofts, Bradley Taylor, Shane Cassel.
Umpires: Darren Goodger, Marc Nickl.
UTS North Sydney v Sydney at North Sydney Oval.
UTS North Sydney: Justin Avendano (c), Adam Crosthwaite, James Crosthwaite, Robert Aitken, Benjamin Bryant, William Graham, Matthew Alexander, Thomas Jagot, Declan Hoare, James Campbell, Oliver Knight, Tim Reynolds.
Sydney: Daniel Smith (c), Ryan Felsch, Beau McClintock, Benjamin Manenti, Anthony Mosca, Nicholas Bills, Liam Scott, Hugh Sherriff, Alex Glendenning, Matthew Rodgers, Suffan Hassan, Justin Felsch.
Umpires: Ryan Nelson, Anthony Wilds.