By Ian Hanson
SYDNEY, April 26. THE stage is set for an exciting finale to the Men’s Australian National Water Polo League tomorrow after a drama-charged opening grand final match between the Fremantle Mariners and the Sydney University Lions at the Peter Montgomery Olympic Pool today.
The Lions were forced to play a man short for 13 minutes and 23 seconds of the opening grand final game, losing 14-13 in a dramatic and towards the end a heated second-half.
Sydney University were reduced to five players after Ryan Moar was sent-off for alleged attempted brutality following an incident with Fremantle’s Peter Petrov with four minutes 23 seconds left in the third quarter.
At the time the Lions had opened up a 10-5 lead and were coasting along to what looked like being a goal scoring avalanche.
The exclusion meant the Mariners played the remainder of the game with an extra-man.
There were times during the second-half when the Lions were reduced to four players, but they produced what many water polo stalwarts described as one of the gutsiest ever performances by a Sydney University team.
The Mariners did not hit the lead until three minutes from the end of the game when their US import Corey Dolley took advantage of a “double extra man” play to give Fremantle the lead 13-12.
But the spirited Lions, with their home pool fans in their corner, were far from finished and produced some amazing saves as the Fremantle offence peppered the Sydney University goal mouth.
Sydney University’s national team player Trent Franklin was a stand-out scoring six of the Lions 13 goals.
But with 20 seconds left on the clock, Fremantle’s Bulgarian born Australian 2000 Olympian Peter Petrov’s rocket-like shot hit the cross bar.
The ball went to Sydney University’s 2000 Olympic captain Daniel Marsden who broke away to beat Mariners goalie James Stanton and level the scores at 13-13.
The Mariners now had another chance to snatch a last gasp victory and the experienced duo of Petrov and goal scoring machine Andrei Kovalenko exchanged passes before Petrov rammed home the winning goal with five seconds left on the clock.
Sydney University coach Damien Fanning then called a time-out to set up the final play for the courageous Lions.
With feelings running hot, the ball went to Australian captain, Nathan Thomas, at centre-forward with the Lions international dunked by Mariners opponents.
Players from both teams swam in as a melee broke out and referees and rival coaches Hoad and Fanning worked overtime to calm the situation down.
The grand final deciders will be played at the Sydney Aquatic Centre tomorrow, starting at 1:25pm.
In the earlier game, the Balmain Tigers went one up in the bronze medal series, defeating the KFC Queensland Breakers 10-7.
AUSTRALIAN NATIONAL WATER POLO LEAGUE
Peter Montgomery Olympic Pool:
Bronze medal play-off, game one:
BALMAIN TIGERS 10 (J Falzon 2, G Woods 2, D Sanders 2, D Semmens 2, G Simms, T Hamill) d KFC QUEENSLAND BREAKERS 7 (G Griffith 2, M Birch 2, C Corbin, P Figlioli, C Votan). Game Two, 9:50am, Sunday, Sydney Aquatic Centre.
Gold medal play-off, game one:
FREMANTLE MARINERS 14 (C Dolley 4, J Neesham 3, A Kovalenko 3, T Cleland 2, P Tresize, P Petrov) d SYDNEY UNIVERSITY LIONS 13 (T Franklin 6, T Whalan 2, D Marsden 2, N Thomas, J Moar, R Owen-Jones). Game two: 1:25pm Sunday, Sydney Aquatic Centre.