Un­der­dogs no more

Pilbara News - - Front Page - Ben Leahy

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.

Pic­ture: Pam Har­ris

Pic­tures: Ben Leahy

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.

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