By Ian Hanson
SYDNE, April 27. THE Sydney University Lions successfully defended their Australian National Water Polo League premiership with a thrilling 2-0 victory over the Fremantle Mariners in today’s grand final tie-breaker at the Sydney Aquatic Centre.
The Lions went to a 1-0 lead early in the second-half with a goal to emerging star Sam McGregor after the scores were locked at nil-all at half-time.
Australian captain Nathan Thomas put the result beyond doubt when he rammed home a four-metre penalty with just three seconds remaining on the clock.
Earlier in the day the minor premiers won game two 16-6 to level the series at one-game all after the Mariners won game one 14-13 on Saturday night, despite having a player sent off for the match.
It was a sweet occasion for Thomas, who won his first title after 13 seasons in the National League and in his first season with Sydney University.
“I have played in seven finals series with Wests and today was the first one I have won,” said Thomas, who leaves in two weeks to lead the Australian Open Men’s Team on a tour of the USA and Russia.
“Sydney University have been fantastic to me and it’s now full steam ahead for the World Championships in Barcelona and he Athens Olympics next year,” Thomas said.
It was a big day for McGregor, who played a staring role in today’s opening grand final game, scoring three goals and the opening goal in the tie breaker.
“Sam is a super young talent who rose to the occasion in the grand final series, I think he’s got a very bright future,” said Thomas.
Sydney University’s Australian vice-captain Thomas Whalan was named as the most valuable player of the finals series with Mariners James Stanton the most valuable goal keeper.
Mariners goal scoring machine Andrei Kovalenko – who scored 105 goals in the season – was named the season’s most value player.
Kovalenko became the first player in National League history to score 100 goals in a season.
The bronze medal went to the Balmain Tigers who defeated the KFC Queensland Breakers 8-7 to win their series 2 games to nil.
The National Inter-club women’s grand-final went to Cronulla, which defeated the Balmain Tigers 3-2, while City Beach won the bronze medal.
AUSTRALIAN NATIONAL WATER POLO LEAGUE – Grand Final day, Sydney Aquatic Centre:
BRONZE MEDAL PLAY-OFF, GAME TWO (after the Balmain Tigers defeated the KFC Queensland Breakers 10-7 in game one): BALMAIN TIGERS 8 (D Semmens 4, T Hamill 3, G Woods) KFC QUEENSLAND BREAKERS 7 (C Corbin 3, G Griffith 2, D Will, J Boyd). Balmain won 2-0.
GOLD MEDAL PLAY-OFF, GAME TWO (after Fremantle defeated Sydney University Lions 14-13 in game one): SYDNEY UNIVERSITY LIONS 16 (S McGregor 3, R Maitland 3, T Franklin 2, R Owen-Jones 2, T Whalan 2, D Marsden, N Thomas, A Visch, J Moar)
FREMANTLE MARINERS 6 (C Dolley 2, A Kovalenko 2, J Neesham, T Cleland)
TIE-BREAKER: SYDNEY UNIVERSITY LIONS (S McGregor, N Thomas) d FREMANTLE MARINERS 0.
NATIONAL WATER POLO LEAGUE AWARDS
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER:Andrei Kovalenko (Fremantle Mariners)
MOST VALUABLE GOALKEEPER: Jamie Smyth (KFC Queensland Breakers)
ALL STAR TEAM: Jamie Smyth (KFC Queensland Breakers), Andrei Kovalenko (Fremantle Mariners), Dean Semmens (Balmain Tigers), Sean Boyd (Brisbane Sirromet Barracudas), Trent Birkett (Canberra/Hobart Dolphins), Jozsef Balczer (Perth Torpedoes), Adam Richardson (Brisbane Sirromet Barracudas).
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: Thomas Whalan (Sydney University Lions).
MOST VALUABLE GOALKEEPER: James Stanton (Fremantle Mariners)
HIGHEST GOAL SCORER: Andrei Kovalenko (10 goals)
500 NATIONAL WATER POLO LEAGUE GOALS: Daniel Marsden (Sydney University)
200 NATIONAL WATER POLO LEAGUE MATCHES: Trent Birkett, John Fox, Alan Taylor.
150 NATIONAL WATER POLO LEAGUE MATCHES: Nathan Portlock, Paul Oberman, Don Jon Ricci, Andrew Suttle, Simon Asher, Rod Owen-Jones.