Roos and Bombers bat­tle for glory

The Weekly Advertiser Horsham - - Classified­s - BY COLIN MACGILLIVR­AY

While reign­ing premier Har­row-bal­moral right­fully en­ters Saturday’s Hor­sham Dis­trict foot­ball grand fi­nal an un­back­able favourite, it must take heed of a les­son other teams have learned the hard way: never un­der­es­ti­mate No­rad­juha-quan­tong.

The Bombers have been the story of the fi­nals, con­tin­u­ing a strong sec­ond half of the year to earn their first grand fi­nal berth since the merger of No­rad­juha and Quan­tong in 1997.

On Saturday they over­came their tough­est test of the sea­son – a pre­lim­i­nary fi­nal against Eden­hope-ap­s­ley.

No­rad­juha-quan­tong got a dream start when cap­tain Dustin Cross in­ter­cepted a Saints kick out of de­fence and con­verted a set shot.

The Bombers had a 19-point lead at quar­ter time as Eden­hope-ap­s­ley failed to score a goal into a stiff breeze favour­ing the north-east end of Pimpinio Recre­ation Re­serve.

The Saints re­sponded in the sec­ond, two goals to Josh Clis­sold and another to ruck­man Jak Ryan bring­ing the mar­gin back to one straight kick.

With smaller mid­field­ers Bart Nolan and Billy Fin­ni­gan find­ing space, Shayne Wil­liams us­ing the ball well across half for­ward and coach Chris Oliver work­ing hard down back, Eden­hope-ap­s­ley threat­ened to take a

lead into half-time. But ev­ery time the Saints landed a punch, the Bombers found a coun­ter­punch.

Goals to for­ward Matt Walsh, play­ing his first game since June, and Jye Wal­ter kept them ahead by 12 points at half time.

The Bombers made their move in the third quar­ter with four goals to none to take a stran­gle­hold on the game.

Carv­ing up Eden­hope-ap­s­ley on the wing was Ryan Stacey, who has elevated his game in the fi­nals.

Less her­alded young play­ers like de­fender Wade Fran­cis and half for­ward Josh Free­man also found plenty of the ball, while ruck­man Jack Vague used his mo­bil­ity to com­bat Ryan’s bulk.

The team’s younger play­ers were far from the only stars, how­ever.

Byrne showed his class and clean skills ev­ery time he was near the foot­ball, Tom Cooper added grunt and toughness and Cross typ­i­cally great.

With Walsh boot­ing three goals to add another di­men­sion to an al­ready dan­ger­ous Bombers for­ward line, No­rad­juha-quan­tong never looked like los­ing. The team and its sup­port­ers let out a re­sound­ing cheer when the siren sounded to cap a mas­ter­ful 11.12 (78) to 6.9 (45) vic­tory.

Bombers coach Gareth Hose was ec­static with the win.

“That’s an un­be­liev­able per­for­mance by our boys for four quar­ters – it was un­real,” he said.

“The ef­fort we brought was re­lent­less. With the pres­sure we ap­plied to them and our swarm­ing in num­bers, I was ex­pect­ing it to maybe drop off at some stage, but it didn’t.

“We played right to our po­ten­tial and didn’t al­low Eden­hope-ap­s­ley to play the way they like to play.”

The Saints car­ried sev­eral sore play­ers into the game af­ter a phys­i­cal semi-fi­nal against Har­row-bal­moral, but Oliver refused to use it as an ex­cuse.

“They played a harder game and they de­served it,” he said. “They were a lot cleaner and a lot harder at it around the stop­pages than us.”

While No­rad­juha-quan­tong is bask­ing in the glow of its first grand fi­nal berth, the next chal­lenge will be its big­gest yet. Har­row-bal­moral is gun­ning for back-to-back flags for the first time in its his­tory and has not lost a match all sea­son.

The team has stars on ev­ery line, with Ben Deutscher ruck­ing to a star-stud­ded mid­field boast­ing the likes of Will Plush and Eric Guthrie, while Hamish El­lis and coach Nick Pekin will also rotate through.

Key de­fend­ers An­gus Hal­l­i­day and Mick Phelan will match up on Bombers Shane Oak­ley and Jordan Huff, while Scott Heath pro­vides re­bound.

The Roos’ for­ward line is the most dan­ger­ous in the game, with for­mer AFL player Michael Close join­ing brother Si­mon and James Staude to add plenty of po­tency, while Pekin, Guthrie and Cody Deutscher can also hit the score­board. The only meet­ing be­tween the sides this sea­son re­sulted in a 73-point win to the Roos, although both sides were miss­ing key play­ers.

Pekin said that re­sult would for noth­ing on Saturday.

“I think it will come right down to the wire,” he said.

“There is a lot more pres­sure rid­ing on us than there is on them, be­cause we’re the hunted. They’ve got qual­ity mids in Byrne, Cooper, Stacey and Cross. We’ve got a very handy mid­field too, so if we can win it out of there and give our for­wards first use, that will be a good start.”

While the Roo faith­ful are dream­ing of back-to-back flags for the first time, Pekin said sim­ply win­ning was the only thing on the play­ers’ minds.

“We’ve got to make the most of this group while we’ve got it,” he said.

“The back-to-back sce­nario has not been spo­ken about too much be­cause I’ve never split up our re­serves and se­nior group. A premiershi­p for both sides is my goal.”

Hose said his play­ers would en­joy the ex­pe­ri­ence.

“It’s like we’re com­ing up against an all-star team in a way,” he said.

“Re­ally there is noth­ing to lose for us. We’ve just got to go out there and play sim­i­lar to what we did in the pre­lim­i­nary fi­nal and see how far that takes us.” count

coach Gareth Hose revs his play­ers up at three-quar­ter time of their pre­lim­i­nary fi­nal win against Eden­ho­peap­s­ley. Pic­ture: COLIN MACGILLIVR­AY

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