By PETER CORNWALL
The Redlegs stood tall for a crucial win against Port at Alberton, pulling two wins clear of their rival when a loss would have had them locked together in a battle for fifth place.
And, while the result was critical, there was more to keep first-year coach Jade Rawlings happy than the fact his men had bounced back from an ordinary performance against Sturt.
It was obvious in the loss to the Blues, when the Legs kicked just three goals, the loss of strong-marking Jackson Callow to Hawthorn in the AFL mid-season rookie draft had been costly. But against Port Tristan Binder and Xavier Tranfa showed they can be dangerous around the goals. Improving Port Lincoln product Binder booted three goals – without a miss, something the inaccurate Legs would have been delighted about – while Tranfa, an under-18 premiership player, looked likely with 2.3.
The Eagles seem to be flying a bit under the radar, something coach Jade Sheedy will be more than happy with.
While Glenelg’s unbeaten run captures headlines and the Roosters’ winning run is seen as a finals warning, the reigning premiers actually are clear in second and their percentage is just 0.01 behind the Tigers, so they must be doing plenty right.
The only thing they didn’t do right against West was kick straight – a final tally of 9.21 giving them something to work on. But Jack Hayes’ remarkable 20 marks in a game that was pretty much all over by half-time makes it pretty clear the premiers are again around the mark.
When these sides clashed in Round 7 the Bulldogs produced probably their strongest four-quarter effort of the season to spoil Zane Kirkwood’s farewell match with an impressive 10-point win at Unley.
So now the Doggies are facing the Blues on their home patch, coach Paul Thomas will be looking for the same sort of consistent performance.
And, naturally, the same result. His inexperienced line-up has produced some outstanding patches of footy but too often they have been patchy.
He will be looking for a strong start – like when they kicked four of the first five goals at Unley – after North ran rampant last week with nine goals in the first quarter. But Thomas’s men continually show they have the fight in them and they outscored North in the second half.
And there were some highlights, none better than outstanding Travis Schiller gathering the ball on the wing, sprinting down it and, after three bounces, finishing off superbly. Connor McLean showed what he is capable of with two goals in three minutes – the second after a spectacular mark – and three for the second half. Now for four quarters!
The Blues have been improving as a work in progress but, after three outstanding wins on the trot, they were shown what it takes to be up the top by Glenelg, which kicked away in one quarter – the third. Martin Mattner will be looking for four strong quarters just as much as Thomas.
Is the final five set? Last week saw the top five sides beat the bottom five teams and the Roosters, seemingly the most vulnerable team in the five – simply because they are fifth, a win behind fourth-placed Norwood and a win above sixth side Port – are again facing a bottom-half side with the chance to show they have what it takes.
They issued a warning in storming away from Central with a 15-goal first half and they unearthed another possible star on the way.
Lachie Wilsdon, who kicked off the year as a defender, was playing just his fifth game and he started it without having kicked a league goal. By half-time he had seven! And his seventh, just before the main break, came from an ‘almost impossible’ angle on the boundary with a stunning banana kick. North has the ability to kick goals in a hurry and now it has another weapon, Wilsdon finishing with eight straight.
There have been times over their years in the SANFL the Crows have been criticised for putting ‘process’ or AFL aspirations ahead of winning games. But Michael Godden made it clear how much his men were hurting after a fighting loss against South. After successive wins against Sturt and West and pushing unbeaten Glenelg right to the final siren, this myth is being squashed, so North had better not be thinking this is just another clash with a bottom five side.
The Tigers just keep on stepping up. And now everyone is starting to wonder, could they actually go right through a season unbeaten?
Of course, it’s one game at a time. And this one traditionally is a tough one for the Bays, the neighboring Panthers giving them plenty of problems over the past decade.
They are actually the last team to have beaten Glenelg, by 25 points in last year’s first semi-final. That seems a long time ago but there is no doubt Brett Hand and his men will know how switched on they will need to be to make it 14 in a row.
Speaking of winning, star spearhead Liam McBean knows all about winning Ken Farmer Medals and he’s on target again – his six goals in last week’s strong 30-point win against Sturt has him nine goals above Central’s Aiden Grace at the top of the goalkicking list.
South warmed up for the Tigers challenge with a strong win of its own against the Crows in Victor Harbor. The Panthers’ win was all the more impressive considering dual Magarey Medallist Joel Cross hurt his ankle in the first quarter and that was ‘game over’ for him. Jarrad Wright’s men shouldn’t be discounted when discussing premiership hopes and there’s more to them than the superstars who everyone knows all about.
Pacy Hayden Sampson had 22 kicks, seven tackles and seven inside-50s against Adelaide, while hard-working big man Alex Cailotto earned 23 touches, 13 marks and 20 hit-outs.
Losses last week were a setback but there’s plenty on the line for these sides. West, one win behind Central on the bottom of the ladder, will be desperate to avoid a third successive wooden spoon.
And Port is still well-and-truly in the finals hunt, just one win behind fifth-placed North, so it’s pretty clear why it will be determined to bank its seventh win of the season.
When these sides met at Alberton in Round 8 the Magpies kicked away with a four-goal time-on blitz in the third quarter on the way to a 29-point win. So, like Thomas and Mattner, Bloods coach Brad Gotch will be looking for that all-too-elusive four-quarter performance from his inexperienced squad.
The Bloods have lost eight in a row but they clearly won the second half against the Eagles last week in a 19-point loss and Gotch was pleased “we kept coming”. The Fairlie brothers, Patrick and Connor, stood up to curb the influences of James Tsitas and Jimmy Toumpas and win some important touches.
Riley Bonner was outstanding for Port in its 36-point loss to Norwood but who knows where he will be playing this week? It’s hard for coach Matt Lokan to get any continuity in his side with a challenging injury list at AFL and SANFL levels – the Magpies seriously missing midfield ball magnet Sam Mayes, who has been playing with the Power, and injured skipper Cam Sutcliffe. But there’s no way they won’t be willing and able against the Bloods.
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