Penrith finals-bound after overcoming batting collapse, injury
Penrith has qualified for it's third first grade finals series in four years with a comfortable 24 run win over arch-nemesis, Sydney Cricket Club in the final round of grade cricket, played at Drummoyne Oval.
The Black Cats, who entered the final round clinging onto sixth place and ahead of Manly by just one point, were confirmed as finalists after Hawkesbury triggered a batting collapse of their own to easily count for the home side in the end.
The win also sees Penrith remain in the hunt to achieve a rare double with the club now looking to add the Belvidere Cup, to their one-day title.
Opener John Di Bartolo gets Penrith off to a flyer. Credit: Michael Gibson
However the win was marred by the loss of leading wicket-taker Josh Lalor, who dislocated his left thumb in the process of taking a spectacular catch at short mid-wicket and is in doubt for next weekend's do-or-die (for Penrith anyway) finals clash with minor premiers, Sydney University.
Electing to bat first, John Di Bartolo (44 from 39 balls) got Penrith's innings off to a flyer before Ryan Gibson (75 off 66 balls) and Michael Castle (41 from 53 balls) saw the away team reach 2/179 and a score of 300 plus looked to be on the cards.
But Gibson's dismissal again exposed Penrith's at-times brittle batting, triggering an 8/38 collapse to be bowled out for just 217, with just under ten overs remaining in their innings.
Nonetheless despite coming up short of the preferred target given their start, Penrith skipper was confident of defending the total, adding that Sydney never really looked like winning after reducing the home side at one-point to 5/58.
"We should have probably got at least 270-280 but in saying that if we get around 220 in one-day cricket, we're usually pretty hard to beat," Halse told Nepean News.
"It was a shame not to bat out our fifty overs but we still got the six points after we bowled really well with the new ball and they didn't."
Halse admitted that it was good to get one back on Sydney, who defeated Penrith twice in 2015/16 including the semi-final, but conceded there's more to do if the club is wanting to go all the way in 2016/17.
"They knocked off in the semi-final last season so to get one back over them is satisfying even though they went through regardless of today's result," Halse declared.
"But there's probably some areas both teams will need to back up and improve before next week's finals."
Mick Castle once again produces an all-round game, taking two wickets and scoring 41. Credit: Michael Gibson
Wickets were evenly shared among the bowlers, with Ryan Smith, Jake Wholohan and Michael Castle leading the way with two wickets each.
But it was the contribution of from the Michael Bevan medalist to back-up a handy innings and take two wickets, that was particularly pleasing according to Halse.
"He was pretty good again (today), Mickey," Halse responded.
"He batted pretty well and bowled well again.
"He's a pretty good all-rounder cricketer. It's a shame he missed so much of the season but will be good to have him back at the business end of the season."
It wasn't all good news for the club as losses in seconds, thirds and fourths had a pro-found effect on their finals hopes and ultimately their club championship aspirations.
A shattering loss in seconds and a tough final-ball loss in fourths saw both teams just miss out on finals positions by the barest of margins and prevented the club from achieving a clean sweep of all grades making the finals for the first time in its history
The losses also ensured the club missed out on defending it's club championship, with Northern Districts storming home from fourth position to win all five matches against last-placed Campbelltown-Camden and claim the championship.
But despite the setbacks, club president Paul Goldsmith says there is much for everyone at the club to be proud of this season, adding that winning the club championship was going to be a tough task.
"It was always going to be a tough ask with four teams within thirty points of each other," Goldsmith conceded.
"But I think we've certainly got a top-four finish if not potentially a top-three which we can certainly be very proud of."