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11 September 2019
By Colin MacGillivray
While reigning premier Harrow-Balmoral rightfully enters Saturday’s Horsham District football grand final an unbackable favourite, it must take heed of a lesson other teams have learned the hard way: never underestimate Noradjuha-Quantong.
The Bombers have been the story of the finals, continuing a strong second half of the year to earn their first grand final berth since the merger of Noradjuha and Quantong in 1997.
On Saturday they overcame their toughest test of the season – a preliminary final against Edenhope-Apsley.
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Noradjuha-Quantong got a dream start when captain Dustin Cross intercepted a Saints kick out of defence and converted a set shot.
The Bombers had a 19-point lead at quarter time as Edenhope-Apsley failed to score a goal into a stiff breeze favouring the north-east end of Pimpinio Recreation Reserve.
The Saints responded in the second, two goals to Josh Clissold and another to ruckman Jak Ryan bringing the margin back to one straight kick.
With smaller midfielders Bart Nolan and Billy Finnigan finding space, Shayne Williams using the ball well across half forward and coach Chris Oliver working hard down back, Edenhope-Apsley threatened to take a lead into half-time. But every time the Saints landed a punch, the Bombers found a counterpunch.
Goals to forward Matt Walsh, playing his first game since June, and Jye Walter kept them ahead by 12 points at half time.
The Bombers made their move in the third quarter with four goals to none to take a stranglehold on the game.
Carving up Edenhope-Apsley on the wing was Ryan Stacey, who has elevated his game in the finals.
Less heralded young players like defender Wade Francis and half forward Josh Freeman also found plenty of the ball, while ruckman Jack Vague used his mobility to combat Ryan’s bulk.
The team’s younger players were far from the only stars, however.
Byrne showed his class and clean skills every time he was near the football, Tom Cooper added grunt and toughness and Cross typically great.
With Walsh booting three goals to add another dimension to an already dangerous Bombers forward line, Noradjuha-Quantong never looked like losing. The team and its supporters let out a resounding cheer when the siren sounded to cap a masterful 11.12 (78) to 6.9 (45) victory.
Bombers coach Gareth Hose was ecstatic with the win.
“That’s an unbelievable performance by our boys for four quarters – it was unreal,” he said.
“The effort we brought was relentless. With the pressure we applied to them and our swarming in numbers, I was expecting it to maybe drop off at some stage, but it didn’t.
“We played right to our potential and didn’t allow Edenhope-Apsley to play the way they like to play.”
The Saints carried several sore players into the game after a physical semi-final against Harrow-Balmoral, but Oliver refused to use it as an excuse.
“They played a harder game and they deserved it,” he said. “They were a lot cleaner and a lot harder at it around the stoppages than us.”
While Noradjuha-Quantong is basking in the glow of its first grand final berth, the next challenge will be its biggest yet. Harrow-Balmoral is gunning for back-to-back flags for the first time in its history and has not lost a match all season.
The team has stars on every line, with Ben Deutscher rucking to a star-studded midfield boasting the likes of Will Plush and Eric Guthrie, while Hamish Ellis and coach Nick Pekin will also rotate through.
Key defenders Angus Halliday and Mick Phelan will match up on Bombers Shane Oakley and Jordan Huff, while Scott Heath provides rebound.
The Roos’ forward line is the most dangerous in the game, with former AFL player Michael Close joining brother Simon and James Staude to add plenty of potency, while Pekin, Guthrie and Cody Deutscher can also hit the scoreboard. The only meeting between the sides this season resulted in a 73-point win to the Roos, although both sides were missing key players.
Pekin said that result would count for nothing on Saturday.
“I think it will come right down to the wire,” he said.
“There is a lot more pressure riding on us than there is on them, because we’re the hunted. They’ve got quality mids in Byrne, Cooper, Stacey and Cross. We’ve got a very handy midfield too, so if we can win it out of there and give our forwards first use, that will be a good start.”
While the Roo faithful are dreaming of back-to-back flags for the first time, Pekin said simply winning was the only thing on the players’ minds.
“We’ve got to make the most of this group while we’ve got it,” he said.
“The back-to-back scenario has not been spoken about too much because I’ve never split up our reserves and senior group. A premiership for both sides is my goal.”
Hose said his players would enjoy the experience.
“It’s like we’re coming up against an all-star team in a way,” he said.
“Really there is nothing to lose for us. We’ve just got to go out there and play similar to what we did in the preliminary final and see how far that takes us.”
The entire September 11, 2019 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!