By PETER CORNWALL
Double Blues’ dual premiership coach Martin Mattner has been talking about his young squad’s development and playing a style of footy that will set his club up for long-term finals success. But the goalposts seem to have moved. And why not?
Seventh-placed Sturt has won four of its past five games – three of them against higher-ranked teams – and Mattner is right to reckon his side now has a sniff.
“We keep talking about improving but we are still in the hunt,” he said after Sturt beat Central at Elizabeth three weeks ago.
The Blues have been hard to score against, Sam Wundke having strengthened their defence since his return six games ago from a ribs injury while Will Coomblas has been stepping up as a player of huge potential.
If the Blues follow the lead of inspirational skipper James Battersby, who celebrated his 150th game with the win against the Dogs, they can’t be written off.
Sturt may end up paying the price for four losses by less than two goals but the Bloods, who are on the bottom, have had four defeats by 13 points or less.
They may have lost nine in a row but their most recent game was a 13-point loss to Port when they strung together some impressive passages of play to lead in the third quarter.
But poor decision making at crucial times mixed with critical skill errors were costly. Injuries to key men Jono Beech and last year’s Neil Kerley Medallist Isaac Johnson haven’t helped but there have been positives and 18-year-old Bailey Chamberlain and Tom Murphy showed good signs against Port, while key forward Harry Lemmey, 17, looked promising on debut, snaring seven marks.
It’s time! The Bulldogs and Panthers will be desperate for their hard work to translate into a win when the SANFL season gets back on track.
The Doggies are second-bottom after four successive losses and South is feeling the heat after four losses in the past five games, the finals spot that seemed so certain when it was second with seven wins after Round 9 now on the line.
South also will be looking to make the most of its chances after not quite taking them in pushing Glenelg hard into time-on of the last quarter in its last game that seems an eternity ago.
But if you look at it from a different angle the Panthers are still fighting for the finals double-chance and are only percentage off it. Bryce Gibbs, Matthew Broadbent and Joseph Haines showed their class against the Tigers and with just one win everything can look completely different.
Central’s inexperienced line-up also was in with a chance late in its most recent game, just six points down against Sturt at the final break, but again there were portions of the game the Bulldogs lacked any potency. Just one goal in the first half and one behind in the final quarter clearly won’t win many games.
But the Doggies won the clearances – highly-promising Harry Grant, Jarrod and Travis Schiller, Ethan East and Jonathan Marsh all snaring their share – and finished level with the Blues for inside-50s at 32-each. It’s time to make the most of their chances.
Glenelg is thriving on its winning culture. The Tigers lifted to the challenge again when South closed within five points with five minutes to go at the Bay, inspirational midfielder Matthew Snook and hard-running left-footer Luke Reynolds booting the last two goals of the game.
This side continues to answer every challenge and keeps creating its own history in the club’s historic centenary year, now it faces another test in regaining its momentum from the covid-induced two-week break.
And it’s not just the challenge of the disruption to the season, the team the Tigers face is the one that’s come closest to beating them.
In Round 9 Brett Hand’s men trailed the rampant Redlegs by 47 points early in the third quarter but stormed over the top to snatch the lead by the 12-minute-mark of the last term.
Even more impressive than their eight-goal barrage was the way they held on to win by a point as Norwood threw everything it had at them.
If the Legs can replicate their desperation and apply as much pressure – they had 113 tackles to Glenelg’s 87 – while also providing a similar number of chances – they had 52 inside-50s to the Tigers’ 40 – this will be a ripping return for SANFL footy.
The fifth-placed Redlegs are just one win ahead of sixth side Port but they still are level with third side North on eight wins – that’s how close it is.
And they were close for much of their last game against the Eagles, leading into time-on of the third quarter only for the reigning premiers to bang on four goals in five minutes and take the game away from them.
Mitch Grigg led the way with nine clearances and 29 disposals, while Nik Rokahr was performing strongly when the season took an unexpected break. Norwood has tended to be on-again, off-again this season. It needs to be on-again right now.
While the last Glenelg-Norwood clash gives us hope of a thrilling repeat, the most recent Roosters-Eagles clash was befitting the modern rivalry between these sides and also provides a mouth-watering prospect at Prospect.
In Round 4 at Woodville last year’s grand finalists fought out a thriller, North leading narrowly for most of the last quarter before Joseph Sinor snatched a three-point win for the premiers.
Wins weren’t easy to find for the Roosters as they suffered four losses by less than two goals in the first seven rounds. But Jacob Surjan’s men have won six of their past seven and jumped to third with a big win against the Crows.
And dangermen Campbell Combe, Andrew Moore, Alex Spina, Harrison Wigg, Tom Schwarz and Lewis Hender are pretty hard to stop.
But they know they are in for a huge challenge in this rescheduled fixture between second and third.
The Eagles are in great shape with a 10-4 record, two wins clear of North. They have the meanest defence in the league.
And Sheedy has plenty of experience to call on, Angus Poole turning it on when it was needed to inspire a win against Norwood.
They also have a dynamic midfield, led by James Tsitas, SANFL’s biggest possession winner, and just happen to have plenty of quality in attack as well, led by No. 1 contested mark Jack Hayes.
While the season has been on hiatus there’s been an injury with big ramifications for the SANFL Showdown.
The two leaders in hit-outs in the local league have been Adelaide’s Kieran Strachan and Port’s Sam Hayes and they have been instrumental in kickstarting their sides’ best footy.
Adelaide’s Kieran Strachan has recorded 513 hit-outs in 14 games, averaging an impressive 36.7 per game, and Port’s Sam Hayes has 484 (34.6) – the next highest is Glenelg’s Jack Hannath with 356.
But Port will suffer with the loss of Hayes, who required surgery to repair a dislocated finger he suffered in a competitive training session involving players from the Power, Melbourne and Western Bulldogs.
But Port, with two wins in its past three games, will still feel it can claim the two premiership points it needs to keep pushing for a place in the five against the Crows, who have lost three in a row.
They were never really in their most recent game against North, coach Michael Godden saying it was one of his most frustrating days in charge at Adelaide. He will be looking for something different against the Crows’ biggest rivals.
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