For a dress rehearsal of the elimination final, Saturday’s fourth versus fifth encounter between East Wagga-Kooringal and Charles Sturt University probably wasn’t a game to sell tickets to the Farrer League finals.
But on a cold and wet afternoon at Gumly, the Hawks showed they can get down and dirty with the best of them, grinding out a win against a team they’ll meet again in two weeks’ time.
After kicking just one goal in the first 55 minutes, EWK had the last five scoring shots of the game – including a Kyle North-Flanagan goal after the siren – to beat the Bushpigs by 13 points.
“It was obviously pretty wet and slippery conditions and it made a real scrap, so we’re happy to come out on the right side of a scrap,” EWK coach Matt Hard said.
“It was good for our boys to knuckle down and grind out a good win, I thought. We’ll get a lot out of that. We had to show a bit of fight today.”
The 5.11 (41) to 4.4 (28) win means the Hawks will take an unbeaten record against CSU into their do-or-die encounter in a fortnight, having enjoyed a comeback win at Peter Hastie Oval earlier in the season.
“We sort of focussed on ourselves today and we’ll continue to do that. But we’ve obviously got a couple of weeks to put a bit of thought into how we’ll go about it next time,” Hard said.
Apart from two minutes in the first quarter (after they kicked the first behind) EWK didn’t hit the front until Chris Jackson kicked their second goal of the game, 10 minutes into the third quarter.
The lead then changed hands with every goal from then on, apart from North-Flanagan’s final kick of the contest.
But Hawks midfielder Danny Bromham kicked arguably the most crucial, snapping a goal seconds before the siren sounded for three-quarter-time, for a two-point lead when CSU had had momentum and EWK were a man down.
Defender Nick Curran had been shown a yellow card and reported for striking Louis Miller, after the CSU midfielder had put his side three points in front when he was gifted a goal.
Both the Bushpigs’ second-half goals came after 50-metre penalties, with Shane Carroll also making the most of one in the fourth quarter giving Hard some cause for concern.
“Not happy with that at all, that’s something we’ll address this week,” he said. “There was obviously frustrations there so we’ve got to sort our discipline out. I’d hate for a final to be cost because of discipline.”
Carroll’s goal had put CSU in front seven minutes into the last quarter but when Harrison Leddin seized his opportunity eight minutes later, the Hawks were back in front by four and refused to surrender, adding three points before the final goal.
CSU kicked the only two goals of the first quarter but went scoreless in the second in a game that resembled rugby at times, both on the ground and the scoreboard, as CSU led 14-2 and 14-10 at the first two breaks while EWK were up 24-22 heading into the last quarter.
“I think it took us too long to adapt to the conditions. I was a bit concerned about that but once we sort of adapted and got it moving, I thought we were okay,” Hard said.
Ruckman Nick Hull played a towering role while Chris Gordon was also instrumental and Brocke Argus tried to lift his team when they needed something.
Miller was outstanding in the middle for CSU while Max Hanrahan worked hard in defence and Tom Stapleton looked like he might’ve been a real handful on a drier track.
The Hawks have James Hodges, Joe Banks and Brenton Roberts all in the mix to return next week at Barellan while Tom Pocock will also be back after he was unavailable on Saturday.
Curran’s availability will depend on the outcome of his report.