Sturt has grinded its way into another Macca’s League Grand Final after putting the squeeze on Woodville-West Torrens by 20 points in the Preliminary Final at Adelaide Oval.
Superior ball-use from the efficient Double Blues was a key catalyst behind the victory, with Marty Matner’s men having 54 fewer disposals than the Eagles, who appeared to get caught zig-zagging laterally across the field.
Leading at every change, the reigning premier was never able to truly shake the Eagles until late in the last quarter with the hard-fought performance taking on more merit given small forward Ben Hansen (back) was sidelined in the first term.
The Eagles – unable to avoid a straight sets exit despite winning the minor premiership – looked far more dangerous with 17-year-old wonder boy Jack Lukosius at the goal front, with the spring-heeled key forward kicking half of his team’s goals (four) on debut.
The highly-touted Lukosius, who was a late withdrawal from the U18 Torrens Uni Cup Grand Final, kicked his side’s first three goals of the contest but whenever the Eagles surged, Sturt continually had an answer whilst controlling the ball through the corridor.
Unheralded Matt Crocker played a fine game for the Double Blues, racking up 27 disposals, nine marks and a memorable checkside goal which sealed the result, ensuring Sturt would play in a title-decider against Port Adelaide for the first time since 1998.
2016 Jack Oatey Medallist Jack Stephens also had an important influence on the outcome, quelling Lukosius once given the task of standing him late in the first term while also collecting 18 disposals and taking 11 marks.
Captain Zane Kirkwood, James Battersby, Aidan Riley and Pat Wilson were all influential at the clearances while finding plenty of the ball to supply key forward Kory Beard, who continued his outstanding finals series.
A crucial avenue to goal, Beard took nine marks while also booting four goals with Jake Sutcliffe proving to be a handy foil with two goals after being included at the expense of the unlucky Mark Evans.
Goalsneak Josh Hone was again difficult to stop, booting three goals while assuming the prime forward crumbing role with Hansen off the ground.
It was a bitter end to what promised to be a successful season for the Eagles, who started the year with an 11-1 win-loss record.
Running defender Joe Sinor continued his rapid development, chalking up 33 disposals and 17 marks off half-back as he tried desperately to spark many attacks.
Lukosius’ debut was another major positive for coach Michael Godden, with the classy key forward suggesting he will start in the Macca’s League team in Round 1 next year as he builds up for the 2018 AFL Draft.
But aside from that, there will be many questions posed at Oval Avenue again this off-season after yet another promising minor round campaign came up short during September.
Sturt will now sweat on the health of small forward Hansen, who iced his back after coming from the field in the opening term. Should he not recover, Mark Evans looms as the logical replacement for next Sunday’s Grand Final at the Adelaide Oval against the Magpies.
PRELIMINARY FINAL SCOREBOARD
Sturt 3.1 5.2 7.4 11.7 (73)
Eagles 1.3 3.4 5.4 8.5 (53)
BEST – Sturt: Crocker, Stephens, Beard, P. Wilson, Kirkwood, Battersby, Hone.
Eagles: Sinor, Lukosius, Boyd, Johansen.
GOALS – Sturt: Beard 4, Hone 3, Sutcliffe 2, Crocker, F. Evans.
Eagles: Lukosius 4, Poole, McGregor, J. Hayes, N. Hayes.
INJURIES – Sturt: Hansen (back)
UMPIRES – Michael Schramm, Scott Hosking, Giles Lewis.
CROWD – 7332 at Adelaide Oval