Australia: Great Southern Bowl Reignites A Heated Rivalry


You don’t need to introduce Adelaide University and the UniSA Eagles to each other. They know who each other are.

After speaking with a few players from AU, they wanted nothing more than the Eagles to win the semi-final and face them for a shot at yet another three-peat. The Eagles players are revelling in the chance to face the old enemy on the big stage.

It’s the rivalry that spans back deep past name changes and decades alike. However, as the old adage goes, it’s not much of a rivalry if it’s one-sided.

Australia - Adelaide U v Eagles

Adelaide University has not lost to the Eagles for three years, taking with it the three meetings between the two this year. A shootout on opening day and two low-scoring trench-fights along the way have all gone to AU, and in all of these games it’s easy to see that the Eagles are fighting a mental battle with themselves along with the physical battle against their opponents. In the first two games, UniSA started strong and held a lead going into the halftime break but gave it away.

However, the mental barrier seems to be the only consistency as these two have had a carousel of personnel guiding them through different points of this season series.

In Round 1, both teams sported mostly full-strength sides with flash in the pan receivers; AU had Nick Ward, an electric speedster who now is playing in Western Australia for the Rockingham Vipers and the Eagles had Thomas Seager, a deep threat who looked like an assuring target amongst an inexperienced receiving core. Furthermore, sophomore receiver Jake Sutcliffe was playing before he went down with a dislocated elbow. The match had multiple 50+ yard passes, most of them TD’s in a firefight.

Round 5 was vastly different. Lewis Wyten injures his ankle early in the contest, and with Brett Gray under centre, the match’s complexion changed completely. All match neither team could protect against the blitzes, and Welbourn couldn’t find a target without Ward. Both defences took charge, and with the rushing game stopped after an initial lapse, AU scraped home on a 4th quarter TD pass to Berrington.

Australia - Adelaide U v Eagles-2

Round 11 was as fascinating as it was gritty. Whilst the most memorable play of the game is Carlisle Jones’ 84-yard punt, it took a 96-yard interception for AU to finally gain some resemblance of a lead despite dominating the match for three quarters. The reason? UniSA’s defence held firm multiple times against an AU attack which was depleted to say the least.

So where does this leave us now? The last time we saw AU was three weeks ago, losing a thriller to the South City Chiefs. As the case with most supremely talented teams, the key to success is health and a refreshed attitude, both of which should have been helped by their extended break. All year AU has given off the illusion of falling back into the mix with every other side thanks to injuries; portions of both lines have been missing, Welbourn has been battling niggling injuries, Andrew Riley has been out for a while with back issues. Depth has never been a problem for the Hogs, but whether the health of their starters is up to scratch is another question.

As for the Eagles, there’s a high level of confidence around Mawson Lakes. Lewis Wyten’s highly anticipated return took a little while to get going last week in the semi-final but certainly didn’t disappoint the masses at the end, saving the day in overtime thanks to his scrambling. His pocket passing will improve once the rust is fully gone, but they’ll take even this version of Wyten right now after his heroics last week. Ian Naulty rushed for all three scores in regulation last week, and whilst they were all inside the red zone, it shows the Eagles can convert in the most important section of the field. The defensive line continues to be dominant, so much so that it’s easy to look past their superb play simply because it’s so commonplace.

Australia - Adelaide U v Eagles-3-2

To differentiate the two, it’s important to see how they work against each other. Both teams like to establish a running game early on, something that the Eagles have been good at against AU. Between Naulty and Damien Volar, UniSA has a good attack prepared. As for AU, Channo Yun has been serviceable as the starting running back as of late, but a healthy Riley would be very helpful. Advantage UniSA.

The Eagles’ problem comes from being adjusted against. Once AU manages to slow down the rushing attack, it not only gives their offence more time on the field but also limits the options of UniSA’s offence. Since this has happened routinely, you could well expect it to happen again. However, with Lewis Wyten back in the picture suddenly the Eagles are not as one-dimensional, meaning that there’s much more needed now for Tom Etherton and the defence to handle. Don’t underestimate AU’s defence though, it’s what has gotten them this far. Advantage AU.

The passing offence of AU then tends to lift and become more effective as the game progresses, so this match could come down to how the Eagles defend Welbourn and the aerial attack. UniSA has two recently crowned All-Star defensive backs in Todd Blackford and Defensive Player of the Year Jesse Wyten, plus stalwarts Michael Bates and Leroy Wyten, so this is a well-equipped unit. However, Hugo Pedler has stepped up as a replacement receiver to compliment experienced targets Taylor Berrington and Matt Simounds, leaving Welbourn with a very good group of players to aim for as he guides the offence. If UniSA’s pass rush can get going this could be a key win for the Eagles.

After all that analysis it’s clear that these two are evenly matched and that there’s little advantage to be seen. Their three meetings have been close, and when they met in the Great Southern Bowl two years ago, that match came down to the wire as well. And there’s of course the season itself, throwing thrilling results and upsets around like they’re going out of fashion.

UniSA has been the better team this year despite being minus their star quarterback for half of it. There are times in which streaks must come to a close, and the 2015 edition of the Great Southern Bowl will see one end.

Photos: Alexander Furtado.

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Chris is an Australian gridiron journalist who has just started covering the sport at local, state and international levels within his home country. He's passionate about the growth of the sport in Australia as well as around the world.