Mouthwatering clash looms with The Rock-Yerong Creek ruckman Lachie Hunter head to head with East Wagga-Kooringal's Nick Hull

BIG IMPACT: The Rock-Yerong Creek ruckman Lachie Hunter playing against East Wagga-Kooringal in May, when the Pies enjoyed a crucial win at home. Picture: Les Smith
BIG IMPACT: The Rock-Yerong Creek ruckman Lachie Hunter playing against East Wagga-Kooringal in May, when the Pies enjoyed a crucial win at home. Picture: Les Smith

The scene is set for an epic encounter in the middle at Gumly Oval on Saturday as the form ruckman of the competition this season goes up against the reigning league medallist.

In a year disrupted by injury, East Wagga-Kooringal’s Nick Hull is getting back to the football that saw him claim a runaway victory in the Clear Medal last year.

While The Rock-Yerong Creek’s Lachie Hunter hasn’t missed a beat in his first season in the Farrer League. 

“It’s been really good,” Hunter said.  

“It’s a good side. Everyone’s got plenty of potential. Just a lot of us haven’t played together before but it’s starting to come together, slowly.”

On a personal level it all came together very quickly for the former Narrandera footballer, who came across with Tim Sullivan to play under his former Albury teammate, Tom Yates, and alongside ex-Thurgoona teammate Derek Murray. 

Hunter sits second in the player of the year award (behind North Wagga midfielder Lachie Highfield) and has polled votes in all 11 games. 

It means that in every game either one or both coaches have judged him among the best three players on the ground. 

“Oh yeah, it’s been pretty good I guess – getting a touch,” is all Hunter would say of his form. 

But the change has been good, particularly after lean times at the Eagles.

“I had a great time at Narrandera and played a lot of footy there,” he said. “But it’s always good to have a win. You get a bit down and out if you’re losing.”

Yates has been rapt in Hunter’s season, capped by arguably his best game last week. 

“He’s been unreal,” Yates said. “He’s obviously a big, mobile bloke who gets around the ground fairly well, takes good strong grabs, and goes forward and kicks a few goals. 

“He’s an athlete, he’s fit, he only needs a bit of a blow every so often – he likes to keep going.”

It’s a description that could equally apply to Hull and Hunter admits he’s keen for the occasion at Gumly.

“I treat every game as a big occasion but playing against him is a big one,” Hunter said. 

“He’s a big unit, he can get around and do a bit of damage. I’ll be set for the game for sure.”

Nick Hull

Nick Hull

Hawks coach Gavin McMahon admits Hunter dominated the ruck contest when the teams met in May but says Hull is on the way back.

“Hully is definitely getting back into the form we saw of him last year,” McMahon said. “He’s not quite there but he’s been improving massively in the last few weeks.”

But the Hawks face a huge challenge to turn the tables on the Pies with Joel Stankiewicz, James Scott (both unavailable) and Jake Robinson (suspended) sidelined, along with Ben Absolum, Luke Cuthbert and Chris Jackson.

“I think it’s been a challenge most weeks for us this year,” he said. “I think were up to about 38 or 39 players (used in first grade this season).”

Another two Hawks will make their senior debut on Saturday, with Kyle North-Flanigan and teenager Harrison Leddin coming in.

“He’s completely fearless and he’s hard at it,” McMahon said of Leddin. 

“He’s done everything right all year. He also played in the pre-season games that Troy Piercy (who debuted last week) did. And he's earned his spot with his efforts week-in week-out in the under 17s and reserve grade.”

The Hawks haven’t won two games in two weeks all year, although they did enjoy consecutive wins either side of the bye – against Barellan and Temora.