Northern Conference Round 17 Review
By Peter Blucher
GOLD COAST SUNS v BRISBANE LIONS - METRICON STADIUM
The Gold Coast Suns Reserves kicked five goals in the last nine minutes to pull off a miraculous eight-point upset win over the Brisbane Lions Reserves at Metricon Stadium on Saturday and turn the NEAFL finals race upside down.
The Suns became the fourth team in the NEAFL Northern Conference this season to win after trailing at each change when they took the points 15-13 (103) to 14-11 (95).
It was a miracle which could have significant ramifications in the finals.
Late in the final term, when the Lions had a comfortable four-goal buffer, it looked almost certain that they would head the premiership ladder after 17 rounds with 52 points from Southport (48), NT Thunder (44), Redland (36), Suns and Labrador (32) and Broadbeach (30).
The Lions looked to have the minor premiership locked up, and the Suns, with a tough draw ahead of them, were going to struggle to sneak into the top five.
Instead, it’s a completely different situation.
The Brisbane Lions (48), Southport (48) and the Thunder (44) are now locked in a titanic struggle for the top three spots, and there’s little between Redland (38), Gold Coast Suns (36), Labrador (32) and Broadbeach (30) in a secondary battle for fourth and fifth.
To round out the ladder, Mt.Gravatt (16), Aspley (12) and Morningside (8) are doing battle to avoid the wooden-spoon.
It all swung on an exhilarating nine minutes of football from a Suns outfit which even coach Shaun Hart admitted had been outplayed through the first half.
“We were pretty sloppy with our ball use and our forward entries early, and we didn’t play smart. They (the Lions) were much the better side in the early stages,” he said.
But the Suns coach said he sensed something special was coming.
“I thought we controlled the third quarter for a fair amount of time without converting anything much. And then in the last quarter we got some good clearances, we were much smarter going forward and things started to happen for us,” Hart said
With his side 25 points down, Jacob Gilbee bounced one between the big sticks from about 35m out before regular defender Henry Schade, swung forward in a desperate search for a spark, kicked truly from wide out on his non-preferred side.
Then, after skipper Andrew McQualter had cleverly switched play, Jeremy Taylor cut the difference to a goal, and Taylor Hine locked it up with still two minutes to play.
Michael Coad, a regular key defender returning from a six-week layoff with a broken thumb, just missed from long range but his behind was enough to put the Suns in front.
The Lions, bringing the ball back into play, had one last chance as they pushed forward, but Jordan Lisle kicked the ball out of bounds.
The Suns only had to hang onto the ball to be safe, and Broadbeach State U18 representative Jared Ellis did that and more in his first game as a Suns top-up player.
He kicked a behind and then, after marking an ill-directed kick in, corrected his radar just slightly to bang home one more goal and make the final margin eight points.
“It a great win,” said Hart, suggesting his side had a lot of good contributors but saluting in particular Sam Iles and Steven May.
Fourth quarter goal-kickers Hine, Code and Taylor also ranked among the Suns’ best along with Horsley, while Hart was also encouraged by the contribution of top-up pair Dylan Grant and Jordon Bourke across half back in the second half.
The Suns’ stunning final quarter surge saw them follow Aspley, NT Thunder and Broadbeach as sides to win this year after trailing at every change,
Aspley had run over the top of Labrador at Graham Road in Round 4 before the Thunder did likewise to the Sydney Swans Reserves in Darwin in Round 6 and Broadbeach overpowered Aspley at H&A Oval in Round 14.
Disappointed Lions coach Nathan Clarke said his troops were “devastated” by the loss.
And when he explained in more detail some of the happenings in the lead-up to the match it was evident that it wasn’t really a ladder-leading side which had won seven on the trot against a fringe finals contender which had only just started to find some form, winning two in a row after a 2-6 stretch.
The Suns, whose entire playing group was buoyed by the remarkable AFL win over Richmond in Cairns a week earlier, had gone in with 19 listed players – their highest listed representation since Round 8.
The Lions could pick only 16 listed players, their lowest figure since Round 4 after a week in which Billy Longer had been ruled out early due to a minor knee strain, and James Hawksley and Sam Sheldon had followed with calf niggles suffered at training on Wednesday and Friday respectively.
Daniel Rich’s AFL suspension had also cost Clarke a player.
Then, 10 minutes into the game, the Lions lost Amon Buchanan, who had been listed as the player to drop out of the game at halftime to be the emergency player for the senior game that was to follow.
The former Sydney Swans premiership player, probably in his last season with the club, twisted his knee in such a fashion that suggested he might be in a bit of strife when scans reveal the extent of the damage.
To the Lions’ credit, the reduced number of senior players didn’t show on the scoreboard as the visitors led 6-2 to 4-1 at quarter-time and 11-4 to 6-4 at halftime.
But the effort was taking a toll.
Cal Bartlett and Jared O’Brien were clearly playing under difficulty, and too much was being asked of too few, especially after Claye Beams was taken out of game at halftime to fill the standby role that had Buchanan had been earmarked for.
The Suns kicked 4-4 to the Lions’ 2-4 in the third quarter to pull to within three goals, and then, after the visitors regrouped earlier in the final stanza, they cut loose to grab an improbable victory.
“We were six or seven minutes away from one of the really great victories,” Clarke said.
“I don’t want to take anything away from the Suns effort because they were fantastic at the finish, but the result shouldn’t mask what was a really incredible effort in the circumstances.
“It was 16 against 19 listed players and we had one key forward and no specialist ruckman. Our boys were out on their feet before three-quarter time and I didn’t expect to be anywhere near that close … let alone in front.”
Cheynee Stiller, swung into the middle after starting in defence, was judged best for the Lions ahead of Patrick Wearden, who was a standout in a young defensive group.
Bu if there was an award for pure heroics it would have gone to makeshift ruck fill-in Sam Michael. Up against Tom Hickey, Tom Nicholls and Josh Fraser, he provided a wonderful contest to earn huge praise from his coach.
Lisle, with five goals from 10 shos, stood out like a beacon up forward for the Lion, while top-up player Dave Cummins and Niall McKeever were solid in defence.
The Lions are still 38 percent ahead of second-placed Southport and a game and 48 percent up on third-placed NT Thunder, but suddenly they aren’t so comfortable on top of the ladder.
With a tough assignment against the Sydney Swans Reserves to finish the home-and-away season at Yeronga they cannot afford a slip-up in preceding games against Mt.Gravatt at Dittmer Park or Redland at Coorparoo (venue to be confirmed).
The Suns, facing a tightrope journey to the finals if they lost to the Lions, now find themselves needing only two wins from their last three qualifying games against the Sydney Swans Reserves (Metricon Stadium), GWS Giants (Metricon Stadium) and Mt.Gravatt (Dittmer Park).
NT THUNDER v LABRADOR - ALICE SPRINGS
NT Thunder coach Daniel Archer applauded the contribution of draft hopefuls Ben Rioli and Jed Anderson after his side beat Labrador by 37 points at Traegar Park on Saturday to dispel the dreaded Alice Springs curse.
Rioli and Anderson, playing their first NEAFL game since Rounds 6 and 7 respectively due to a hectic U18 representative campaign, were standouts as the Thunder cruised to a comfortable 11-20 (86) to 7-7 (49) win.
During everything they can to impress AFL recruiters, the 18-year-old pair were rated second and third best for the Thunder by their coach as they showed no signs of a letdown after the recent Australian U18 championships.
Rioli played in his customary spot in the back pocket and did so well that Labrador moved in-form forward pocket Adam Clarke up the ground in an effort to bring him into the game.
“I can’t remember him losing a contest to be honest,” said Archer.
Anderson, captain and MVP in the NT U18 side that pulled off a massive upset when they beat Vic Metro at the national carnival, was a similarly dominating figure playing through the midfield.
“They came back into our side with a lot of confidence to do at senior level what they do at U18 level, and they’ve given our entire group a real lift,” said Archer.
The Thunder trekked south for the fourth time this season conscious of the fact that they had an 0-3 record in the Red Centre and a combined 10-0 record at other NEAFL grounds.
But, after losing to Southport, Brisbane Lions Reserves and Broadbeach in Rounds 3-4-8, they weren’t about to fall foul of the curse again.
They had much the better of the first term to lead 4-4 to 1-3 at the opening break, and although the Tigers fought hard to win the second and fourth quarters they never seriously threatened.
Indeed, if the Thunder had kicked more accurately in the blustery conditions the margin would have been much greater because it was 31 scoring shots to 14.
“It would have been nice to kick 20-11 instead of 11-20 but overall I was pretty happy. We dominated the inside 50s and I was really pleased with the pressure we applied to get the ball back,” Archer said.
Matt Rosier, whose tackling pressure and composure in traffic matched his brilliant ball-winning ability, was chosen to head a ‘best players’ group which included six players all from the U23 category.
“It was a day when the younger guys and the kids got us the win,” said Archer.
While Rioli and Anderson grabbed the headlines, just as pleasing for the locals was the debut of 17-year-old Errin Wasley Black as he added another line to an already impressive representative CV.
A senior player with Rovers in Alice Springs from the age of 15, the athletic 192cm ruckman/utility won selection in the 2011 All-Australian schoolboys side that toured South Africa and had previously represented NT at U12, U15, U16 and U18 level.
Wasley-Black gave No.1 ruckman Kenrick Tyrrell and good chop out in the ruck and allowed Archer to play Jayden Prior at fullback on Trent Knobel.
Jack Lawler, Dean Staunton and Jack McEwin were others to play well for the Thunder, while Brad Vassal, returning from a six-week injury layoff, was quickly back into stride with three goals.
While Archer was pleasantly surprised when the Gold Coast Suns Reserves upset the Brisbane Lions Reserves on Saturday to clog up the top end of the NEAFL Northern Conference ladder, he insisted nothing had changed for his side.
“It (the Suns’ win) was a bit of a bonus but we know we just have to keep winning … if we do that everything else will look after itself,” he said, looking forward to hosting the GWS Giants Reserves in Darwin next week before what shapes as a season-defining clash with Southport in Darwin in Round 19.
Labrador coach Brad Moore, who took away a side hit hard by the continued absence of Ryan Davey and Tim Notting, was satisfied with his side’s work rate and pleased, after a string of poor fourth quarter efforts lately, they didn’t toss it in.
The home side had the game well under control when they led 9-14 to 4-3 at the final break, but were out-scored 2-6 to 3-4 in the final term.
“That’s something we can take away from the game. Our work-rate and endeavour was fantastic for most of the game but in the end the Thunder’s class and personnel were too strong.
“They are going to be very hard to beat again, especially if they can get a couple of home finals.”
Notting, who aggravated a shoulder injury at training on Tuesday night, will find out later this week if he’s finished for the season or will be available for three-game streak at home against Sydney-based Hills Eagles, Aspley and Redland which will determine Labrador’s finals hopes.
Tom Fields, returning from injury, was judged his side’s best player after returning to something like the outstanding form he’d shown earlier in the season.
State U18 player Jermaine Wardle did a fine job on Will Farrer, while Jarrod Shattock also won the plaudits of his coach for keeping NT Thunder Darren Ewing to one goal – his 50th of the season.
Josh Cavanagh did a fine shut-down job on Jake Dignan, who was best afield last time the sides met, while others included in a ‘best player’ list dominated by backmen were Mark Reilly and Todd Grayson.
SOUTHPORT v ASPLEY - FANKHAUSER RESERVE
Twelve months ago Jason Burge was playing predominantly Reserves football for Port Melbourne in the VFL.
He earned a couple of senior games in a side coached by ex-Hawthorn champion and Adelaide and Geelong AFL coach Gary Ayres, and was delighted when the ‘Borough’ claimed an undefeated VFL premiership.
This was a club with a long and proud history, and for a football fanatic like the pocket-sized rover it was a wonderful place to be.
Burge had taken himself south in the hope of catching the eye of AFL scouts.
It was a natural step after he’d seen 2004 Queensland U18 teammates Luke McGuane, Cheynee Stiller, Tom Williams, Wayde Mills, Scott Harding, Brad Moran, Will Hamill and Marcus Allan play at AFL level, and Michael West, Pat Garner and Austin Lucy get drafted.
Even at 25, as he was at the time, it wasn’t too late. He was hoping to do exactly what Lee Spurr, another member of the ’04 2004 State U18 side, has done this year by breaking into the Fremantle Dockers side after heading interstate.
But he’d chosen a tough destination. As Southport coach Norm Dare put it so nicely, Port Melbourne is a club where you don’t get an interview unless you’ve played AFL football.
Burge had played well enough in the Reserves to get a regular game in most VFL sides, and would certainly have acquitted himself at the level if he’d got the chance he hoped for.
But for a born-and-bred Gold Coaster kicking the dew off the grass at 11am on Saturdays in the middle of winter in Melbourne wasn’t exactly fun.
So, it wasn’t exactly a hard decision for him to return home this season. And aren’t the Sharks pleased.
Burge, realising there’s no place quite like home, has been among the most consistent players in the NEAFL and a key addition to a Southport side looking to bounce back after they missed the finals last year for the first time since joining the formerly named QAFL State League in 1983.
Denied selection in the Queensland/NT side by an untimely injury, he has played every game for the Sharks and 11 times in 15 weeks has been named among the club’s best, as listed on the NEAFL website.
On Saturday he continued a golden run of form, taking best afield honors as the Sharks did what they had to do to post a 19-12 (126) to 11-18 (84) win over Aspley at Fankhauser Reserve.
Burge was a standout despite the absence of well-performed roving partner Simon Seddon, who became yet another victim of the club’s mumps epidemic and lost 5kg after being confined to bed all week.
He helped set the game up with a brilliant first quarter in which the Sharks, kicking with what Dare labelled a six-goal win to the northern end, jumped to 7-4 to 0-3 lead.
That the home side were out-scored 11-15 to 12-8 from that point on didn’t really matter. The job was done.
And for rest of the afternoon Burge continued to do what he’s done all season, winning plenty of the ball, running the lines beautifully, and using it to good effect.
“He’s had a terrific year... he just does his job for us every week,” Dare said of the pocket-sized blonde, who is one of 10 Southport players to have played every game this season and has averaged a goal a game.
It was a Southport performance very good for two and even three quarters, according to the coach, but was marred by a poor final term in which the Hornets added 6-8 to 2-3.
“We stopped as if we’d been shot - they opened us right up in the final quarter and they just ran riot,” Dare said.
Still, the job was done. And the Sharks, now only percentage the ladder-leading Brisbane Lions Reserves and a game plus almost 10 percent clear of third-placed NT Thunder, have bigger things to achieve in the run to the finals.
After a welcome bye next week Southport will set themselves for the Round 19 clash with the Thunder in Darwin that will most likely determine the fate of both sides heading into the finals.
The bye has come at a good time. Not only will it allow Seddon to recover but it should be enough to ensure the fitness of Fraser Pope, who was put in cotton wool early on Saturday with calf tightness, and Brett Davis, who limped off with a bad ankle in the fourth quarter.
Davis had also been among his side’s best as they kicked three goals into the breeze in the second term to consolidate on their blistering start and kicked a further seven with the wind in the third term to put the issue beyond doubt.
Ben Headland, too, had done well down back, while Adam Flagg (four goals) and Josh Baxter (three goals) had been standouts up forward.
Aspley coach Russell Evans wasn’t too disappointed as he drove back up the Pacific Motorway, and with every justification. After all, they’d fared much better than they did against Southport at Graham Road in Round 6, when they posted their lowest State League score of 2-6 (18) in going down by 89 points.
“We fielded a much younger side today and it was pretty pleasing to watch them having a real crack against a pretty slick opposition,” he said.
“They (Southport) are much bigger physically than our boys so we tried to make them run and chase us. It worked for part of the day, although you can never really be sure how much they took the foot off the pedal at the end.”
Symbolic of Aspley’s strong youth-first focus was the appointment of 21-year-old Ryan Thomson to deputise for skipper Robbie Copeland, who was nursing the after-effects of a heavy concussion.
But Thomson, who became just the third player behind Copeland and 2010 fill-in Brent Evans to skipper the Hornets at State League level, immediately earned the wrath of his coach … albeit only in a joking fashion.
“He lost the toss,” Evans quipped before confirming that the in-and-under midfielder had done a pretty solid job in his first outing as captain.
“Southport really caught us on the hop kicking with a gale … they got the first half a dozen centre clearances and it was 10 or 15 minutes before we really stopped the onslaught. After that, to be honest, I thought we did OK.”
Rover Matty Payne, Southport B&F winner and joint Grogan Medalist last year, was much better than OK in his first visit back to Fankauser Reserve as a member of the opposition. He was outstanding.
“He’s a pretty competitive bloke Matty and it really showed,” said Evans.
“He fought really hard all day and he was in there ripping the ball out of bloke’s hands and running away with it.
“He’s handled himself really well all year … he’s got to play very well to be recognised as the best player because we rate him so highly but we couldn’t have asked any more of him.
“His support of some of the young fellas today was really terrific.”
Micah Buchanan, the other half of a midfield combination the equal of any in the competition, was another standout for the Hornets, who would have got even closer had they kicked straighter in the final term.
State U18 representative Scott Wagner, making his first senior appearance of the season after an injury-disrupted campaign, also earned high plaudits from his coach.
“He’s had a pretty tough run and hasn’t really been able to get going this year, but I thought he was really good.
“He started at half back and when we moved him up onto the wing to give us a bit of a lift he was really good. He’s so clean with his hands and he runs with the ball quite nicely.”
Fraser Eaton, deputising in the ruck for the injured Dylan Reid, competed well in the ruck and took some nice marks in the second half, while Jimmy Linton did a mountain of hard work and was rewarded with two goals.
Trent Manzone played well again across half back, Ben Bucovaz likewise rotating between half back and half forward, and Michael Hutchinson was solid at centre half back.
MORNINGSIDE v MT.GRAVATT - ESPLEN OVAL
Grogan Medallist Nathan Gilliland produced a vintage performance to spearhead Mt.Gravatt to a 36-point win over Morningside at Esplen Oval on Saturday and at least temporarily out of wooden-spoon territory.
Gilliland kicked a season-high four goals and dominated the game in all facets as the Vultures came from four goals down at quarter-time to beat a young and undermanned Panthers 20-12 (132) to 14-12 (96).
Mt.Gravatt’s fourth win of the season put them one win ahead of ninth-placed Aspley and two wins plus 2.2 percent ahead of 10th-placed Morningside in the fight to avoid the dreaded ‘spoon’.
And while there are still four rounds to play, form suggests it will be enough to ensure the beaten preliminary finalists of last year don’t finish on the bottom of the ladder.
Mt.Gravatt are still to play the Brisbane Lions Reserves at Dittmer Park, followed by a trip to Sydney to play the Hills Eagles, who sit fifth on the Eastern Conference ladder, and home games against seventh-placed Broadbeach and fifth-placed Gold Coast Suns.
Morningside will close out the season against fourth-placed Redland (Esplen Oval), Broadbeach (H&A Oval), third-placed NT Thunder (Esplen Oval) and Aspley (Graham Road).
And after a bye this week Aspley are still to play Labrador (Cooke-Murphy Oval), fourth-placed Eastern Conference side Ainslie (Graham Road) and Morningside (Graham Road).
Mt.Gravatt caught Morningside at an more opportune moment.
Already savaged by the absence of key forwards Kent Abey and Shaun Mugavin due to injury, they lost the experienced foursome of Ryan Holman, Tyson Upton, Nic Tomlinson and Sam Brown to the Queensland Country Championships, and had standout juniors Jackson Starcevich (Brisbane Lions) and Jordon Bourke (Gold Coast Suns) on top-up duty with the AFL clubs.
They fielded a side with an average age of 21 despite the presence of 31-year-old Jason Elliot and 28-year-old captain Paul Shelton, with four first-gamers – Josh Smith, Shaun Merkel, Andrew Bissett and Round 16 Suns top-up player Brian Coleman-Broome.
But, in an upset to the game plan of Mt.Gravatt coach Andrew Mellor, Morningside’s youthful exuberance helped spark the home side and at quarter-time they led 7-3 to 3-3 after kicking with the breeze
“We made it a real focus, knowing they had a lot of kids in, and wanted to assert ourselves from the outset. But I always had in the back of my mind that their kids would be up and about and to their credit they were really good early,” said Mellor.
“We didn’t take our opportunities and we didn’t work hard enough pushing forward and to keep the ball in our forward 50.
“We changed a few things up at quarter-time and thereafter things went according to plan. It was a workmanlike performance – nothing more than you’d expect from two sides desperate to stay off the bottom but at least we got the job done.”
Mt.Gravatt kicked 8-2 to 2-2 in the second quarter to take back the upper hand.
It was their second eight-goal quarter of the season, following on from a similar effort in the second quarter against Morningside in Round 11, and gave them a two-goal buffer at the long break.
But still the young Panthers refused to lie down. They out-scored the Vultures 4-5 to 3-2 with the breeze in the third term to get within three points at three-quarter time, and when they got the first goal of the final stanza it was game on.
But the bigger and stronger Mt.Gravatt boys finished the better and kicked the last six goals of the game for their biggest win of the year.
Gilliland was superb, taking as a personal affront the fact that he’d had his colors lowed by Morningside tagger Henry Joyce last time they met and making it a personal mission to turn the tables. He did.
“He was steeled to play well and I thought Gilly was fantastic. He kicked four, had two or three more shots, got the ball inside 50 a lot... he just cracked in all day and worked really hard,” said Mellor.
“It was probably his best game for the year.”
Rory Lake, celebrating his 150th senior game, was similarly good. His high possession-rate through the middle of the ground was a factor against his former club. Likewise the head over the ball effort of Troy Jamieson.
Captain Josh Vearing was another standout while Andrew Scott, swung to half forward in the second half, applied his relentless defensive focus in a different fashion with proved a real plus.
But just as pleasing for coach Mellor was a glimpse of the club’s future.
Seventeen-year-old Matt Fellow-Smith, who has played most of the season in the U18s, kicked three goals in an eye-catching debut.
“I think he’s a really exciting prospect for a bottom-age U18. He’s got massive hands, he can kick it and catch it, and he moves across the ground a bit like a cat – he’s very good at ground level.
“He’s a Coorparoo junior. From what I understand, Morningside tried pretty hard to get him this season but our U18s coach got him across and I’m pretty pleased he did.
“He’s very raw, of course, but if he works hard enough he’s going to be a good player,” said Mellor.
With Jayden Crawley continuing to impress, the Vultures are hopeful they have two key young position players with the capacity to serve the club well for a long time.
“They are two young fellas built like footballers who could hold down a key position for the club for the next 10 years if they don’t go higher … they are kids you could build your club around,” said Mellor.
Significantly, Mt.Gravatt had 13 different goal-kickers on Saturday. Only the Brisbane Lions, with 15 goal-kickers in a 41-goal 241-point slaughter of the GWS Giants Reserves in Round 9 have had more.
Sadly for the Vultures, Chris Murphy has played his last game for the season after the coach confirmed that a graft done during wrist surgery earlier in the season hadn’t taken. Although Murphy he got through the game on Saturday he’ll have it re-done to ensure he gets a full pre-season.
Morningside coach Aaron Rogers admitted it was “the same old story” as his side fell away in the closing stages, but admitted there was plenty to like about his side’s performance.
While senior regular Alastair Nash was judged his side’s best for an outstanding defensive effort at half forward on Mt.Gravatt set-up man Jake Furfaro, Josh Smith was youngster who really caught the eye.
The State U18 representative was a standout across half back, showing real composure and set up a lot of play in a very young back line.
“We’d been frustrated during the year that we hadn’t been able to play him due to injury and his U18 commitments, and he (Smith) was fantastic. He took the step up really comfortably,” said Rogers.
“Our backline group had Adam Spackman and Josh Brown, and five others who had played a total of eight senior games between them. Given that, I thought they did a pretty good job.”
Impressive again was Smith’s State U18 teammate and third-gamer Michael Wyld, who did a fine job restricting the impact of Mt.Gravatt spearhead and leading goal-kicker Gavin Grose.
“He (Wyld) just doesn’t take a backward step and his one-on-one work is outstanding,” said Rogers.
Merkel and Bissett also showed the commitment necessary to play well at senior level, while the exciting Coleman-Broome showed patches of real class before his afternoon was cut short by a leg injury in the final quarter.
Sam Faure continued his solid season with another four goals working through the midfield and pushing forward, while Shelton was as busy and creative as ever, and Josh Brown continued his resurgence across half back.