A nine-goal preliminary final victory was topped by two words: “He’ll play.”
East Wagga-Kooringal captain Ben Absolum’s return for the grand final was confirmed on Saturday after the Hawks regained their composure with a 13.9 (87) to 5.2 (32) win over North Wagga at Maher Oval.
A month ago Absolum was resigned to missing the finals after injuring his Achilles but having thrown everything into his recovery, the inspirational skipper is good to go in Saturday’s decider against The Rock-Yerong Creek.
“What he’s been through in that recovery has been amazing,” Hawks coach Gavin McMahon said, adding that Absolum could’ve played against the Saints had it been the grand final.
“What we saw him do on Tuesday and Thursday night is a real lift (for his teammates).
“Another week and he’ll be absolutely 100 percent.”
A comeback by teammate Stu Brierty from a broken collarbone is a longer shot but not out of the question.
“We’ll see,” McMahon said.
“We’ll give him every opportunity given what he’s done for this footy club in the past two years.”
That was all cherry-on-top material for the Hawks, who recovered from their first loss of the season with a strong performance against a spirited North Wagga.
Not even Marc Geppert being held goal-less worried the Hawks, with partner-in-crime Christian Kelly bagging half-a-dozen.
The league’s leading goalkicker – who hadn’t kicked less than four in a game this year – wasn’t given an inch by Brayden Skeers and the Saints’ back six.
“That’s one of the reasons we really pushed hard to get a second forward to help Gep,” McMahon said.
“I was absolutely chuffed with Gep’s attitude and leadership… he took his role for the team, drew three or four defenders and was more than happy for Kel to kick his and get us in to a granny.”
On a slippery surface, it was 14 minutes before Kelly kicked the opening goal and from then on North Wagga were always chasing.
It wasn’t all one-way but EWK’s defence stood tall, restricting the Saints to one second half goal and earning a shot at redemption against the Magpies.
EAST WAGGA-K (87)
3.4 7.6 9.9 13.9
NORTH WAGGA (32)
1.0 4.0 4.2 5.2
Goals: (EWK) C Kelly 6, S Smith 2, J Scott 2, B Argus, N Hull, J Hodges; (North Wagga) C Willis 3, K Hamblin, T Curtis.
Best: (EWK) J Tiernan, N Hull, S Smith, L Cuthbert, C Jackson, K Argus; (North Wagga) B Skeers, A McRae, K Hamblin, T Curtis, B Alexander, C Hamblin.