By ZAC MILBANK
Norwood’s Nik Rokahr nudged his side across the line to edge out Sturt by just three points in a thrilling match at The Parade.
Trailing by three points deep into time-on of the fourth quarter, the Redlegs’ recruit bobbed up to make the most of his second opportunity in front of goal within four minutes.
The Geelong VFL signing had his 45m set shot punched through for a behind 21 minutes into the final term, putting the hosts within three points entering time-on.
And when the creative Dom Barry shuffled around one opponent to centre a neat pass to a wide-open Rokahr, the nuggety 25-year-old wasn’t going to make the most of his second chance.
Rokahr coolly slotted his set shot from 35m directly in front, allowing Norwood to take control of the play for the dying minutes as it locked the ball inside its attacking 50m arc until the final siren sounded.
The Redlegs controlled general play after quarter-time but were unable to put the Double Blues out of the contest due to their poor finishing in front of goal.
Jarrod Cotton’s charges had 54 more kicks, 53 more marks and a staggering 25 more inside 50s and until Rokahr’s calm finish, still nearly blew their chance to stay in the finals hunt with eight more scoring shots.
Rokahr had earlier set Barry up with the opening goal of the fourth term to start a see-sawing final half-an-hour in which the eastern rivals traded blows in a tense finish.
Former Redleg Mark Evans slotted a lovely set shot from a tough angle to get things moving for Sturt after three-quarter time as star recruit Abe Davis loomed as a difference-maker for the visitors inside the centre square.
The ex-South utility made his presence felt around the stoppages and in front of goal, setting up Jordan Houlahan for a goal from a centre clearance before finishing from 35m after accepting a handball from strong Sturt midfielder Tom Lewis.
But the spirit from Sturt wasn’t enough as the youthful Blues were unable to take enough time off the clock before Rokahr struck with around three minutes left to play.
Norwood midfielder Ryan Bastinac stepped up in the absence of skipper Matt Panos, racking up massive numbers in the midfield to finish with 29 disposals, ten tackles, ten clearances and two goals in his best performance for his new club.
Barry was clever with the ball to tally 20 disposals and three goals while the experience of Richard Douglas, Cam Shenton and Brad McKenzie was also vital.
Ruckman Sam Baulderstone was again influential with his 19 disposals and seven clearances, often moving the ball forward for his side or creating a path for his midfielders late in the final term.
Davis was one of Sturt’s best with 24 disposals and nine clearances to go with his fourth quarter goal while captain James Battersby was again his hard-working self with 28 touches and seven clearances.
Premiership defender Guy Page provided plenty of rebound with 27 possessions while Sam Wundke defended extremely well under immense pressure on the last line of defence for the visitors.
But it wasn’t enough for Sturt which all but had its finals chances ended with two games to play in the minor round.
By ZAC MILBANK
South Adelaide reaffirmed its place in the top four with a convincing 60-point win against West Adelaide at Hisense Stadium.
Seeking to atone for last round’s shock loss to Sturt at Unley, the Panthers did exactly that after overcoming early inaccuracy at goal to boot a commanding 17.13 (115) after having just 1.5 (11) on the board at quarter time.
Gaining valuable percentage as they edge closer to sewing up a place in the major round, Jarrad Wright’s side made its move in the second stanza as it booted 5.3 to West’s 2.2 to take a handy 17-point lead into half-time.
South turned the screws in the third quarter when it piled on another six goals including five of the first six after the main break.
Unheralded Nic Schwarz booted two of the five in this flurry for the visitors, the strong utility putting his side 35 points up when he spun out of traffic to kick truly on a left-foot snap from 30m.
West captain Tom Keough was quick to keep his side in it though, making the most of earning a free kick for holding the ball when he booted his 40m set shot from directly in front.
But any thoughts of a Bloods comeback were short-lived when creative forward Eamon Wilkinson created a goal assist handball to captain Joel Cross who bounced through one of his three goals for the night from 30m.
Impressive wingman Reece Milsom soon followed up with a goal on the run from 40m, opening up a 40-point margin for South 17 minutes into the third term.
The Panthers were then able to pile on the pain throughout the rest of the match as they made the most of a 50-30 inside 50m differential in their favour.
Cross was outstanding with 25 possessions, nine marks, four tackles and three goals for South as Matthew Broadbent (22 disposals) and Ben Heaslip (20 disposals) also lent valuable support.
Milsom continued his impressive season with 20 disposals and two goals while ruck recruit Paul Hunter was again a presence with 18 touches, nine marks, six clearances and a goal for the Panthers.
West only had Brett Turner and Kaine Stevens reach the 20-disposal mark while Patrick Fairlie had 18 touches after being recalled from the Reserves last round.
Captain Keough finished with 17 disposals while also laying 12 tackles and having six clearances to go with his third term goal but it wasn’t enough for the Bloods, who remain at the foot of the Statewide Super League table.