By ZAC MILBANK
Norwood was forced to fend off a persistent Sturt outfit before earning a 14-point win in a pulsating Elimination Final at Adelaide Oval on Saturday.
After it took nearly 10 minutes to get the opening score of the game, the contest suddenly opened up, with the Redlegs managing to outlast the Double Blues as 31 goals were kicked in an extremely entertaining encounter.
Jarrod Cotton’s charges could have easily led by more at the first change if not for inaccuracy but it was the run and carry, coupled with the fine finishing, of indigenous Redlegs Dom Barry and Anthony Wilson which proved decisive.
Not only did both of the speedsters kick three goals each, they gave their side invaluable speed on the outside of the contest as they streaked to the Legs’ fourth successive win against their neighbourhood rivals.
Barry, who could have kicked six straight, finished with a team-high 28 disposals, with 21 of them damaging kicks which more often than not, hit their target or created scoreboard pressure.
The former Glenelg and Port Adelaide wingman kicked pivotal majors late in the third term and the sealing goal in the fourth after he finished off some nice link play from team-mates Zac Richards and Dylan Stephens.
And if he wasn’t kicking them himself, he was setting them up for Wilson, as evidenced in the clip below where he took a bounce before putting an immaculate pass into the path of the fastest player in the competition.
Stephens and Zac Richards also did their bit in terms of distributing the ball across lines, with Stephens showing why he’s a highly touted AFL Draft prospect with a fine finish midway through the fourth quarter as Sturt was charging.
Along with strong midfield contributions from Lewis Johnston (28 disposals and a 55m long bomb goal) and Cole Gerloff (25 disposals), Norwood was able to get by with its superstar pair Mitch Grigg and Matt Panos having just 11 disposals between them midway through the third quarter.
The Redlegs were also boosted by the return of triple premiership bigman Brady Dawe.
After overcoming a quad strain, Dawe proved a handful deep in attack for the Redlegs as he booted three goals and laid four tackles to provide his side with vital structure inside 50m.
The Legs will now progress to the First Semi-Final as the Double Blues begin preparations for season 2020 without retiring premiership hero Jack Stephens.
Dealt a major blow when fellow Jack Oatey Medallist Fraser Evans was a late withdrawal after straining his hamstring at training, the Double Blues showed plenty of heart as they continued to claw their way into the contest at multiple junctures.
Inside midfielders James Battersby, Zane Kirkwood and Aidan Riley threw themselves into it at the stoppages for 22 clearances between them while Sam Colquhoun and Danyle Pearce distributed the ball to positive affect.
And then there was the X-factor in Sturt’s attacking 50m – Jake Sutcliffe.
The premiership high-flier took multiple eye-catching marks en route to finishing with 4.2 as he provided invaluable spark and vibrancy for his team in mounting several comebacks.
But ultimately, it wasn’t enough as the boys from Unley were forced to settle for a fifth-placed finish under first-year coach Nathan Grima.
NORWOOD 2.4 7.6 13.11 16.14 (110)
STURT 2.0 5.4 9.5 15.6 (96)
LEADING DISPOSALS – Norwood: Barry 26, L. Johnston 25, Gerloff 24, Shenton 20, Hamilton, J. Richards 17, McKenzie 16.
Sturt: Colquhoun 31, Battersby 22, Harms 20, Pearce, Riley 19, Kirkwood 18, Penfold 16.
GOALS – Norwood: Barry, Dawe, A. Wilson 3, Bampton 2, Grigg, Hamilton, L. Johnston, Panos, Stephens.
Sturt: Sutcliffe 4, J. Hone 3, Battersby, Crocker, M. Evans, Fahey-Sparks, Greenslade, Patullo, Read, Sumner.
UMPIRES – Corey Bowen, Rowan Hundertmark, Giles Lewis