This is it. This is where all the trash talk stops (lets be real, it mostly comes from me haha!) and the players let their skills do the talking. The 33rd Waratah Bowl will be contested this weekend at Leichhardt Oval to decide the 2017 GNSW Champions.
For all who aren’t aware, this is how the ladder looked at the end of the season and how it currently stands with the teams that were eliminated:
- West Sydney Pirates (10-0)
- Sydney University Lions (9-1)
- UTS Gators (6-4) ELIMINATED by Sydney Uni 27 – 21 week 2
- Northern Sydney Rebels (6-4) ELIMINATED by West Sydney 18 – 12 week 2
- UNSW Raiders (6-4) ELIMINATED by North Sydney 20 – 0 week 1
- Sutherland Seahawks (5-5) ELIMINATED by UTS 42 – 6 week 1
We now look towards the meeting between the top 2 seeds, the West Sydney Pirates and Sydney University Lions; which is also the 4th consecutive meeting between the two in the Waratah Bowl (with the last team facing the Lions in the final being the MIGHTY Northwestern Predators, YEAH THE BOYS!). This is also the 18th consecutive appearance in the Bowl game for the Lions, and they are looking to secure an unprecedented 15th title in a row with a win over the Pirates.
West Sydney Pirates (10-0) vs Sydney University Lions (9-1)
Regular Season Result: WST 18 – 7 SYD (Week 4)
It’s been a tumultuous season for both these teams but it all comes to a head this Saturday. The Pirates will look to cap off their perfect season with their first ever title win, whilst the Lions will be coming into this one wanting revenge from their regular season loss to the West Sydney Outfit; while also attempting to defend their 14th league title. First, we’ll look at the challenges, the West Sydney Pirates.
Coached by GNSW legendary coach, Ian Taylor, the Pirates have been slowly working towards a season like the one they had in 2017. Their performance over the last few years has truly cemented themselves as the #2 team in the GNSW. However, speaking with many of the Pirates, this is a stigma they’d like to drop ASAP. Always playing second fiddle to the Lions hurts many players, like DB Pete Goudie, who strongly believes that his guys are ready to take out the title this weekend, “Come December, there’ll be a new champion in NSW, believe that,” Goudie has exclaimed on his Facebook. A veteran player of many years, the stigma of being the “#2 team” burns a fire in the hearts of not only himself, but every single player that dons the black and silver.
The Pirates started the year (after having the bye in week 1) with a strong opening against the Sharks and backing that up with another 2 TD deficit over the Ducks in week 3. The biggest test came early this year, with a week 4 matchup against the Lions. The Pirates struck first through a TD run by RB Ray Saipele before the Lions struck back and brought the score to within 1 point. The Pirates came back in the second half and struck pay dirt twice more and brought their lead to 11 points, and a strong defensive showing kept the defending champions out of their endzone and another 0 on the Pirates Loss record for 2017. From here, the Pirates went on a run, beating every other team in the league. However, this was not done easily, with the Seahawks and Mustangs each scoring 20+ points against the Pirates. Their biggest scare came in the form of a week 10 matchup with the young and hungry Northern Sydney Rebels. The Rebels were able to capitalize on 2 fumbles by the Pirates and scored on both ensuing drives. The Pirates have thumped the Rebels when they have met every year, so a 3-point win probably put the fear of God into some of the hearts of the Pirates. It wouldn’t surprise me if Coach Taylor ran the Pirates into the ground at the following training session as they came back and put up 34 unanswered points against the Northwestern Predators. A clutch win over the Rebels in the semi-finals saw the Pirates go through to the Waratah Bowl full of momentum and ready to tangle with the defending champions.
Now, let’s take a look at the 14 time defending champions, the Sydney University Lions. Coached by another legend of the GNSW, Andrew Ogborne, the Lions have enjoyed 14 years of unchallenged success at the top of the GNSW mountain. We can only look at their performance against the UNSW Raiders in week 2 of the regular season. The Lions dominated on all fronts and shut out the once dangerous Raiders, 38-0. They looked as if their continuing dominance was going to reign over the rest of the GNSW again, hoewer the chinks in their proverbial armour weren’t evident until week 4.
I’ve already touched on it above but in case you weren’t reading (or you couldn’t care less), the Lions lost their first game ever, in at least 3 years, against the Pirates. It was a game marred by injuries but turned out to be an extremely defensive showing by both teams. Unfortunately for the Lions, the Pirates came out on top and made a huge statement for the rest of their season. Rumours within the Lions camp (I’m probably gonna cop heat for this) said that HC Ogborne was not impressed by his players performances in the Pirates game and kicked their asses at training. And his players listened, coming back in the following week and thumping the Ducks 53-14. The Lions really turned it on, with WR Harry Granger picking up 4 receptions for 107 yards and 2 TDs, while my new favourite player from the Lions, RB Godfred Agyemang, picked up 136 yards on the ground from 20 carries and 1 TD. This looked to be the spark the Lions needed to kick start their season again, as they came out of the bye week and put up dominant performances against the Predators and Sharks alike.
Their next test for the season didn’t come until week 10, with a showdown between cross-town university rivals, the UTS Gators. The Gators experienced a white-hot start to the season but suffered a few losses and were looking to make a statement by beating the Lions and securing second place on the ladder. However, it wasn’t meant to be, as the Lions came out and dismantled the UTS D, scoring 58 points against them. This test would rear its head again last week in the Semi-Final, with the clash between the two teams going down as one of the classics in GNSW history.
And now, for the 4th time in back to back years, the Lions will look to defend their championship against the Pirates. At the beginning of the season, my tip was the Pirates to win the Waratah Bowl, so I’m going to stick with that one. However, this one can go either way, so get down to Leichhardt Oval tomorrow and support the lads. And if you can’t, keep an eye out here on Gridiron DownUnder for the links to the livestream, hosted by yours truly! 😉
Photo Credit: Gridiron NSW