By JESS WEBSTER
Plenty of star power and the emergence of new young talent, but once again Sydney University was left wanting more.
Here is the Students’ season in review.
By the Numbers
Ladder position: 5th
Last year: 3rd
Tim Driscoll Medal Winner
Top 5 NEAFL MVP votes
76: Craig Bird
50: Tom Young
31: Ryan Hebron
26: Adam Gulden
26: Lewis Stevenson
Snapshot: Sydney University did what everyone expected them to in the early stages of the season, bursting out of the blocks to remain undefeated up until Round 9. Wins over NT Thunder in Darwin, Southport on their home deck and Aspley at Graham Rd solidified their premiership credentials, but the wheels fell off when they lost five of their next six until a breakthrough win over Southport in Round 16. The Students remained in the hunt for the minor premiership, but finished third on percentage, and were knocked out of the race in a shock defeat to Canberra in the Elimination Final.
Highlight: Sydney Uni desperately needed to resurrect their early-season form approaching the business end of the year, and a mouth-watering clash against Southport at Fankhauser Reserve brought the Students back to life. They trailed the entire match until an Austin Lucy goal seven minutes in to the final term gave the Students the lead. The held on for a thrilling 14-point victory, and most importantly, gave the side a timely confidence boost.
Lowlight: The Students suffered a disappointing 51-point loss against Sydney to end their unbeaten run in Round 9, but it got worst for the club the following week when they fell apart against Southport. Not only was it a heavy 110-point loss, but the Students recorded their lowest ever score in the NEAFL (1.7 (13)) on a dark day for the club.
Star Power: This season will be remembered for the midfield dominance of Craig Bird and the rise of defender Ryan Hebron into genuine star status. Bird was a colossus in the midfield – ranking second in the comp for total clearances despite playing only 14 games, including a record 20 clearances against Canberra in Round 20. Meanwhile, Hebron claimed his first Driscoll Medal after a season where the 21-year-old averaged 20 disposals, 8.5 marks and 4.5 rebound 50s – all career-highs – per game. Fellow defender Adam Gulden joined Bird and hebron in the NEAFL Team of the Year, whilst ruckman Sam Tagliabue and leading goalkicker Jacob Derickx were other strong performers in 2018.
What’s Next: It will be a changing of the guard of sorts for Sydney University in 2019. Derickx, Damien Bonney, Aaron Day and Mitch Thompson are all confirmed outs – taking with them a combined 386 games of NEAFL experience. But waiting in the wings are several youngsters ready to take the next step. Among them are NEAFL Rising Star nominees Jake Batholomaues, one of their success stories of the season after several outstanding performances, and Sam Barkley who cemented his spot in the backline.
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