Underdogs no more
Karratha Kats have defied their underdog status once again, defeating the South Hedland Swans to claim the 2016 NPFL flag. The Karratha Falcons have something to smile about after beating the Wickham Wolves by six points in the reserves final.
The Karratha Kats defied their underdog tag and a parochial South Hedland crowd to claim the North Pilbara Football League premiership in an enthralling 34-point win over the Swans.
Surviving a momentum shift in favour of the Swans in last weekend’s third quarter, the Kats rebounded in the final term to record a 12.10 (82) to 7.6 (48) victory.
Kats coach David van Raalte admitted to having a near heart attack.
“The whole game was scary coming up against a team like South Hedland and especially with us being underdogs after finishing (the minor premiership) third on the ladder,” he said.
“It was only when we had about four minutes to go in the game that I could breathe again.
“It was an amazing feeling to get the win.”
In one of the most characterbuilding grand final victories in recent years, the Kats’ win helped cement their growing reputation as September specialists.
Two years ago, they upstaged a dominant Port Hedland Rovers to snatch the grand final victory and this year they came from even further behind.
Having knocked off minor premiers Wickham Wolves in a fierce encounter last week, most pundits expected the skilful and freeflowing Swans to claim the flag on their home deck. But the Kats had other ideas. Led by best-on-ground Kats midfielder James Kirkland, who was in everything, winning the hard ball and linking up with teammates, the Karratha side jumped out to an early lead.
Able to lock the ball in their forward 50 for almost the entire first term, the Kats kicked 3.6 to the Swans 1.1.
After Swans coach Troy Melville roasted his players for being lazy during the quarter-time break, the Swans slowly began to find their feet in the second as they intermittently linked passages of run and carry to deliver the footy into their forward half.
Despite this, both side’s defences still remained on top as the Swans could add only two goals to close the gap to 4.7 to 3.4 at half-time.
However, in a riveting third term the Swans finally seized the momentum and brought their vocal home crowd to life.
Breaking free from the Kats’ strangling defence for the first time, the Swans midfielders delivered better supply to their forwards to take a three-point lead into three-quarter time.
But with injuries taking their toll on both sides, it was the Kats who responded best in the last.
Fighting their way to a 10-point lead, the Kats forwards caught Swans defender Pauric Bannon in what appeared to be a high tackle, but was instead called holding the ball .
When the Kats converted the setshot goal, it appeared to break the Swans’ will as the Karratha side kicked away to a comfortable 34point win.
Coach Van Raalte hailed his players for executing a game plan based on stingy defence.
“We know they are a skilful side who will score quickly if you allow them,” he said.
“Our focus was to put midfield pressure on the ball so that their supply to their forwards was poor and we could get a second man up to help our defenders.”
Van Raalte especially praised full back Leon Silvio for keeping Swans forward Steele Viti goalless, while centre half back Vaughan Smith capped off an excellent season with his grand final performance.
At the other end of the ground, the retiring Michael Smith signed off with a bang as he kicked six goals, while midfielder Kirkland was rewarded for his play with the best on ground medal.
Joining Smith on the Kats score sheet was Lee Roser with two.
For the Swans, Kevin Geary kicked three and Angus Young two.
Swans coach Melville said the Kats deserved the win on the day, but he was proud of his team.
The Swans fly high for the mark but spill it under relentless Kats' pressure.
Swans forward Steele Viti is caught by a Kats tackler.
Swans player Angus Young prepares to snap at goal.