On a sunny Saturday afternoon at Robertson Oval, North Wagga restored confidence in their premiership credentials – and a few other things besides – steamrolling Temora by 60 points in the Farrer League qualifying final.
The Saints’ 18.10 (118) to 9.4 (58) victory sets up a rematch with minor premiers Marrar next Saturday at Maher Oval and served warning of their intentions this September.
“We’ll take confidence out of that. I think we’ve played pretty consistent football all year and obviously last week (against Marrar) wasn’t our best performance but we’ll take confidence into next week from that effort,” North Wagga coach Kirk Hamblin said.
“The boys are desperate to do something this year. They’ve been chipping away at it for a long time and there are blokes in our team who have gone through a lot of bad times at North Wagga.
“The hunger’s there to try and do something special. I think that’s what’s driving us.”
Bouncing back from their first loss in four months the Saints showed they can win without key forward Daniel Jordan (late withdrawal, ankle), booting their highest score against a top five side this season, with 11 individual goalkickers.
Seven of their 18 goals came in a high-scoring first quarter, including five in seven minutes, as North Wagga went from a goal down to four goals up. The catalyst was an inspirational tackle from Troy Curtis, after a gut-busting run, to earn a free kick, a 50-metre penalty and a goal.
The four that followed were all notable: James Morris’ goal was on the back of some Corey Watt speed that troubled Temora all day; Kirk Hamblin kicked his second in the quarter (of 10 goals this season, the Saints coach has kicked seven against Temora); Ned Mortimer kicked one from inside the centre square after a neat pass from Lachie Highfield; and Highfield kicked one from 50 metres out on a day when he returned to some of his best football playing a dangerous role deep forward and through the midfield.
“Lachie turned it on,” Hamblin said. “By his standards, he’s probably had a quieter year and I’m expecting a big finals series. And he’s started well already.”
Still, Temora went to the first break just 10 points down with Charlie Vallance (two goals) and Jack Irvine (three goals) causing headaches up forward and kicking the last two goals of the quarter.
But North Wagga closed them down in the second quarter and started to open the game up themselves taking their rewards for dominance through the midfield.
“Just the attack on the football,” Hamblin said was what impressed him most.
“I think that was the same as last week. Our intent and aggression at the ball was what won us the game. Our contested football’s been great this year.”
Temora’s only goal of the second quarter came after a rare Matt Wallis grab, and that was after the half-time siren.
It closed the deficit to 23 points but when Irvine (hamstring) failed to return in the second half and North Wagga continued where they left off – applying plenty of pressure and getting out beyond a six-goal lead – things were looking grim for the Kangaroos.
Although Damien Ponting and Angus McRae kicked back-to-back goals in the middle of the third quarter, North Wagga powered to a 46-point lead at the last break with Watt, Highfield and Morris, with his third goal, all dangerous.
The Saints didn’t let up, opening Temora up in the first 30 seconds of the last term with Highfield and Tom Bennetts both featuring. They didn't score on that occasion but when Bennetts again marked a Highfield kick and goaled late in the game, the margin was out to 65 points.
Temora’s Matt Krause kicked the last goal of the game to keep it to a 10-goal difference.
Notably, the Saints were far from carried away at the final siren after their first finals win since 2015.
Hamblin is confident Jordan will be back next week while defender Matt Thomas is also available after serving his one-game suspension.
But fellow backman Troy Curtis was reported for making forceful front-on contact on Temora captain Vallance in the first quarter.
North Wagga had a host of strong performances led by Highfield, midfielder Jake May, Ned Mortimer across half-back again, and Corey Watt who had the Saints’ fans in raptures with his speed complemented by his effort and tackling.
“Corey Watt’s pressure, mate, he’s the cult figure of North Wagga,” Hamblin said.
“I hear the old fellas on the hill, they love him – he was great.”
Curtis, Hamblin and Mortimer were all sporting plenty of ice after the game but Hamblin is confident all will be fit to take on Marrar.
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