A polished AFL Canberra put paid to hopes of a Riverina League upset at Robertson Oval on Saturday, finishing over the top of the hosts for a 40-point victory.
Riverina paid the price for failing to keep the pressure on the scoreboard as Canberra capitalised on their running game, kicking eight goals to two after half-time to run out comfortable winners 15.10 (100) to 7.18 (60).
The visitors appeared to have an edge in class and their ability to move the ball at speed threatened Riverina from the outset.
The home side matched them in enthusiasm and determination but in a situation where they couldn’t afford to give an inch, they gave up a mile of opportunities.
“They moved the ball really well and excelled in a few spots that we didn’t,” Riverina coach Guy Orton said.
“Obviously if we had have kicked straight, it would’ve been a different outcome but, all-in-all, I’m pretty happy.”
Canberra signalled their intent early, with a goal in the second minute, and had the Riverina defence working overtime for most of the first quarter.
After being down by 19 points just before quarter-time, Riverina fought back and spent most of the second term within one or two goals of the lead.
But when they had an advantage, they couldn’t quite press it home, kicking back-to-back behinds on two occasions.
After the break, it got better and worse at the same time for Riverina. They reduced the 11-point deficit to eight, but nobody wanted three more minor scores. They’d gone from 5.4 to 5.10 and momentum swung.
Canberra went coast-to-coast (and not for the last time) with Brett Fruend running it right into the goal square for his second of the game.
And they only went on with it, kicking three of the next four goals to be up by five at three-quarter-time.
“They obviously used the ball well and we sort of didn't going into our forward line,” Orton said. “If we had have kicked those goals, obviously it would’ve been a bit different. But because we kicked those points, they've turned around and kicked those goals then we drop our heads.”
It continued in the final term as Riverina kicked 1.6 to Canberra’s 4.0, with former Griffith forward Henry Delves book-ending the quarter with goals.
Canberra coach Anthony Bourke said their intention was always to open the game up and get the ball on the outside.
“We knew we had a good side but we also knew there’s some quality footballers running around in the Riverina too,” Bourke said.
“We just thought if we back the way we wanted to play, we’d get over in the end. But it ended up a real arm wrestle for most of it.
“We didn’t feel comfortable until late in the last quarter and I was even a bit surprised looking at the scoreboard in the end… but we were happy to walk away with the win.”
Another local product, Dan Ryall, was also among Canberra’s best but midfielder Beau Walker was their standout.
For Riverina, Tom Keogh just about ran a marathon, working hard up and down the ground, while Luke Redfern caught the eye enjoying a couple of 40-metre dashes along the boundary to get Riverina moving.
Will Griggs and Ben King worked hard in the middle and big men Jacob Olsson and Jarred Lane made their presence felt.
AFL CANBERRA 4.3, 7.6, 11.10, 15.10 (100)
RIVERINA LEAGUE 2.2, 5.7, 6.12, 7.18 (60)
Goals: (AFL Canberra) H Delves 3, B Freund 2, J Bennett 2, L O'Neil 2, J Kirkwood, S de Sousa, A Wilson, B Lagana, M Channon, S Burge; (Riverina) M Geppert 4, J Buchanan 2, L Potter 1.
Best: (AFL Canberra) B Walker, D Ryall, J Bennett, A Bennett, R Turnbull, H Delves; (Riverina) T Keogh, L Redfern, J Olsson, W Griggs, J Lane, C Lovell