By PETER CORNWALL
Explosive on-baller Mark Naley was a star with Carlton before winning a Magarey Medal with South in his early thirties. Now, 30 years later, could Bryce Gibbs achieve a similar feat?
Former Blues, Crows and Glenelg star Gibbs, 32, has been the boom recruit of the season for the high-flying Panthers, having the most disposals in the league, averaging 29 per game, and may have picked up three votes as best-on-ground in three of his side’s four wins.
Seeming to have a new lease on life, he was in the thick of it as South powered clear of Sturt, picking up 35 touches – one less than he started the season with against his previous club Adelaide. Strong in the packs and creative with the ball, Gibbs might be the difference-maker South has been craving for decades.
Even club favourite Naley, who tragically passed away last year aged 59, could not lift the Panthers into a grand final in two superb stints at the club. He was Magarey Medal runner-up in 1981-82 before starring with Carlton in the Blues’ 1987 premiership, then won the Medal in 1991. Under John Reid the Panthers won the minor premiership in ’91 but, even with Naley in the mix, they couldn’t earn a spot in the premiership decider.
South hasn’t made a grand final since 1979 but whenever the ball is in Gibbs’ hands, Panthers fans are daring to dream that long-awaited day just might be within sight.
Not that Jarrad Wright’s men will be thinking anything like that right now. Norwood will be all they are concerned about – and with good reason, because the Redlegs are bound to come out hard after disappointing losses to North and West. Skipper Matt Nunn continues to work hard at the coalface.
Despite the Bloods’ determination to shut him down, he earned a team-high 25 disposals and seven clearances while Jacob Kennerley, back at The Parade after two seasons at Geelong, showed how good he’s going to be with a stunning 10 clearances. But they need help.
There’s a fine line between pleasure and pain. The Roosters know that better than anyone in the SANFL. They are out of the five with a percentage of 56. The Crows’ percentage is 14 less than North’s but Adelaide is higher on the ladder.
Losses by nine points to Central, 11 points to South and three points to the Eagles have last year’s losing grand finalist under pressure. But, edged out in the dying minutes in the grand final rematch at Woodville, not much has to change for the wins to start coming. And Jacob Surjan’s men showed just how good they can be when they thumped Norwood by 92 points in Round 3.
Lewis Hender can be a barometer to the Roosters’ fortunes. When he’s up and about, he lifts the players around him and he can win a game off his own boot. He bagged six goals against the Legs but was goalless against the Eagles. What he does against his old side Glenelg could just about be decisive.
While there’s been pain at Prospect, there’s been pleasure at the Bay, Glenelg picking up four wins on the bounce. The Tigers have won their tight contests, by 11 points against West and 10 points against Port.
The success against Port in the long-awaited grand final rematch from 2019 showed how much Brett Hand’s men are up for the contest. Liam McBean was sensational up forward then in ruck when it really counted and he earned his club’s first Bob Quinn Medal. Michael Virgin, who leads the league for most marks with nine per game, sets up plenty of play. The feisty defender’s role in the ’19 flag was under-rated by some but he’s stepping his game up further again.
The Bloods set the bar high with their intensity, tackling pressure and ability to soak up pressure in a ripping breakthrough win against Norwood. Now they have to go again.
Coach Brad Gotch will be looking for the same consistency of effort against Central and will know, if there’s a let-up, his side could be in for a tough afternoon.
The Doggies lost the game against the Crows but lost no fans as they fought the odds after being two men short and 26 points down at half-time. They showed the sort of spirit coach Paul Thomas was famous for in Anzac Round clashes to get within two points in the final quarter before a lack of rotations proved costly.
Ed Allan showed how serious he was about having a big campaign when he started the year by dominating Westies’ gruelling running tests and 2km time trial. He’s been in there getting heaps of the footy, with second-most disposals in the league (113), second-most handballs (63) while averaging six tackles per game.
The Bloods’ tackling against Norwood was exceptional, while 201cm Stuart Taverner stood tall in his critical ruck battle with Michael Knoll. Central’s Tasmanian recruit Aiden Grace is loving it at Elizabeth and the fans are already feeling the same way about the quality sharpshooter, who bagged five goals against the Crows and looms as a matchwinner. These sides aren’t in the five right now but this clash looms as a beauty.
Four quarters. That’s what Sturt coach Martin Mattner will be looking for in a game that’s crucial to the Blues if they are to stay in touch with the top five. Sturt was found short in the final quarter against South at Noarlunga but the dual premiership coach will be looking for the consistent effort that saw his men overpower West the previous week.
After a breakthrough campaign last season when he won the Len Fitzgerald Award for most improved player, rebounding defender Casey Voss is continuing to step up. He earned 26 touches against the Panthers and, with 36 in four games, has the most rebound-50s in the league.
If Sturt players are looking for the sort of tenacity needed to lift them they only need look as far as Tom Lewis, who with 46 tackles in four games leads the SANFL by a whopping 14 from North Magarey Medallist Campbell Combe.
Kieran Strachan has been setting the Crows on their way in ruck, averaging a whopping 40 hit-outs per game, and Adelaide, which made the preliminary final in its last SANFL campaign in 2019, is looking every bit a finals contender.
When you have a Billy Frampton up forward marking everything that comes your way and booting seven goals – as he did at Elizabeth – that’s hardly surprising.
Eight players in the State squad shows the depth of talent at the reigning premiers. And there’s never a doubt about the quality at Alberton.
So you bet this game will be a ripper, especially with Port desperate for a win after just falling short in a quality Anzac Round clash at the Bay.
Last year’s club champion Joseph Sinor, who leads the way for clearances in the SANFL, showed his allround quality by sinking the last-gasp winning goal for the Eagles against North in the grand final rematch, while defender Sam Rowland gained recognition for his consistent hard work by winning the Bob Quinn Medal.
Sam Powell-Pepper could have won one of those himself as he dominated for Port against Glenelg with 34 disposals and eight clearances. And speaking of dominating, how good has Sam Hayes been this year? The ruck giant is coming on in leaps and bounds.