East Wagga-Kooringal didn’t quite steal victory at Peter Hastie Oval on Saturday but even the Hawks were happy to admit a little luck went their way in a dramatic 10-point win over Charles Sturt University.
The Bushpigs were furious after finding themselves on the wrong side of the whistle in a tense final quarter, as EWK kicked the last three goals of the game, all within eight minutes of full-time, to win 9.10 (64) to 8.6 (54).
Having had three horror fourth-quarters this year – two of which cost them games – it was a relief for the Hawks to come home strongly. But coach Matt Hard offered a fair summation.
“I said to the boys, we owe it to ourselves to come from behind. It’s happened to us twice,” Hard said.
“We didn’t play great footy. I give a lot of credit to CSU – their pressure was really good for four quarters and they were probably a bit stiff there towards the end.
“Our boys just kept going. They didn’t give up and we were lucky to get away with the four points.
“It was probably played on their terms for a fair bit of it and their mids probably got on top of ours but we wrestled momentum back towards the end… I wouldn’t say we stole it. But they made us work for it, that’s for sure.”
CSU supporters were fuming about decisions in the final quarter while Hawks supporters were only too happy to admit they’d got the ‘rub of the green’.
Bushpigs coach Pat Noonan clearly felt his players had been let down but declined to comment on the umpiring.
“I’d rather not say,” Noonan said.
“I definitely don’t think we were the losing side, we were on top all day. Just that last quarter brought us unstuck a little bit. Not from anything the boys weren’t doing… (their effort was) tremendous, ridiculous. They just battled all day. I couldn’t ask anything more of them. They never whinged once, they kept going, and I don’t think anyone talked back to the umpires at all when the decisions were being made.”
But the Hawks also made their own luck, with captain Ben Absolum inspiring his team in the last quarter, and Chris Gordon and Nick Hull also playing big roles when it mattered. Hull’s first four goals of the game had come after free kicks. In the last quarter, two strong marks led to shots that hit the post but in the 18th minute a long bomb from 50m out, on the boundary, brought them within one.
Absolum’s then delivered in time-on to put them in front for the first time in 40 minutes of football, before Gordon sealed victory a couple of minutes later.
“I thought Ben led very well. Look at the last quarter. Chris Gordon stood up, Hully stood up and that lifted all the other boys,” Hard said. “All of a sudden, we started winning the 50-50s, our back six got a bit more belief and away we went.”
On a wet and slippery deck, it had been a willing arm-wrestle in the first half, as the lead changed hands six times, and the Hawks went to the main break three points in front.
CSU lost Angus Blackwood to a hamstring strain early and EWK, who went in without Brocke Argus, had defender Trent Garner go off with an ankle problem in the second quarter.
The Bushpigs dominated early in the third, but came up with three behinds in three minutes. That drew them level before gun midfielder, Louis Miller, goaled to give them a six-point lead shortly afterwards.
After forwards Vas Seker and Joe Stapleton kicked goals, they were up by 16 points with 16 minutes gone in the third, in a low-scoring affair.
But the Hawks didn’t leave it til the final quarter to start their comeback.
In red-time in the third, a banana from Absolum – after a free kick for deliberate out of bounds – gave them hope. Nick Hull followed it up with his fourth goal to bring them within four points at the last change, and within striking distance to make the most of momentum in the last.
Nick Curran was superb in defence for the Hawks taking plenty of intercept marks, and showing courage at the contests. While Brenton Roberts was outstanding throughout. He took three strong marks in just over a quarter up forward and another five in defence after going back to cover for Garner, as the Hawks held on to fourth on the ladder.
For the Bushpigs, Miller was outstanding leading a strong team performance, with Rob Herzfeld, Diarmid Cleary, Nick Wright and Shane Carroll also big contributors. They hang on to fifth, a win ahead of the Northern Jets.