By ZAC MILBANK
South Adelaide’s pursuit to break its 56-year premiership drought continues to gather steam after rolling over North Adelaide by 42 points at Flinders University Stadium on Sunday.
Now set to face reigning premier Glenelg in next Sunday’s First Semi-Final at Adelaide Oval, the Panthers will take in meaningful form having won their last three against West, Norwood and North by a combined margin of 176 points.
And while the Roosters were without key players – including leadership trio Alex Spina, Andrew Moore and Tom Schwarz – so too were the hosts, who chose to rest Malcolm Karpany, Alex Cailotto and Beau McCreery while Tyson Brown is still to return from a thigh complaint.
It is causing significant optimism to build at Noarlunga as South mounts its most significant premiership push since finishing third in 2014.
”It’s nice to build some momentum going into major round, we’ve got a good, young developing group so to put three wins together in a row gives us some confidence going into Glenelg next week,” South coach Jarrad Wright told Channel 7 after the match.
”It’s nice to secure a spot in the finals and we go into next week full of confidence.
”(Having a healthy list) is a good problem to have as we haven’t had that (selection) problem with the long injury list we’ve had this year but it will be a good problem to have next week.”
South went toe-to-toe with the visitors for the first half before brushing them aside while piling on 5.4 to just one behind in the third quarter.
Captain Joel Cross (27 disposals and nine marks) and Ben Heaslip (28 disposals, seven marks and eight clearances) were prime movers in the midfield along with Nic Schwarz and veteran Matt Broadbent, who opened the scoring with a long-running goal after two bounces.
Their dominance fuelled the stunning performance of key forward Sam Overall, who sprang to life in the final minor round with 4.3 from his seven scoring shots while controlling the air with nine marks.
Significantly, the Victor Harbor product hauled in a game-high five contested marks as he constantly showed great strength in pack situations inside the Panthers’ forward 50m arc.
Overall finished his day out with an eye-catching goal assist to Heaslip, soaring for a one-handed contested grab before feeding his teammate with a handball.
Heaslip then ran into an open goal from 30m much to the delight of the healthy blue-and-white faithful, who showed their appreciation with intense honking of their car horns.
Joseph Haines and Jake Summerton mopped up and were constructive from the back half, as did the returning Tom Highmore, who gained valuable match fitness after a minor ankle injury last round.
The only negative for South was a hamstring injury suffered by midfield inclusion Ben Sawford, with the Glenelg recruit leaving the field gingerly five minutes into the second term.
”It’s really tough as the boys love him but we will make sure we wrap our arms around him,” South ruckman Paul Hunter said of Sawford, who was unable to return after finishing the match on crutches.
Playing without their three leaders, premiership defender Tanner Smith and former Hawthorn speedster Billy Hartung, North started promisingly as Campbell Combe continued his red hot finish to the minor round with 31 disposals, 10 tackles and 12 clearances.
Lewis Hender started brightly with 2.2 in the first half for the Roosters, who didn’t score a major between Kym Lebois’ goal 27 minutes into the second and Mitch Harvey’s set shot four minutes into the fourth quarter.
Premiership wingman Jarred Allmond wasn’t risked after half-time due to a minor ankle strain as North started eyeing off its date with minor premier Woodville-West Torrens in next Sunday’s Second Semi-Final.
Spina, Moore, Schwarz, Smith, Hartung are all expected to be in the selection mix to confront the Eagles, who finished top of the table despite losing to Central by four points on Saturday.