For the second time in as many matches against North Wagga, Marrar found the belief and confidence to carry out a fourth-quarter comeback and take another important step in their bid for back-to-back Farrer League flags.
After claiming the minor premiership two weeks ago by wearing the Saints down in a war of attrition, the Bombers on Saturday powered into the grand final on the back of a stunning six minutes of football in the final quarter of the second semi-final.
Marrar were down by 15 points at three-quarter-time at Maher Oval, and again seven minutes into the final quarter before engineering a dramatic 31-point swing.
Needing three goals for victory in a wet and physical encounter, they kicked the next five – including four in six minutes to go 16 points clear – on the way to a heart-stopping 11.8 (74) to 9.9 (63) win, withstanding some late pressure from the Saints to hang on.
“I’m proud because I know what these blokes put in,” Marrar coach Shane Lenon said.
“They work hard on the track, they don’t cut corners, they’re a committed bunch and if you put the work in you give yourself a chance to run games out.
“You give yourself a chance to perform I suppose. And North Wagga are a good side, there’s no doubt about that – you’ve got to play well to beat a side like that.
“But there’s an inner belief here. They’re a good bunch of blokes. And we’re involved in a good footy club. That all comes to the fore when the games are tight, I reckon.”
The Bombers were down by 16 points after the first quarter and in danger of being buried early in the second as North Wagga enjoyed the upper hand in the midfield battle. However, the Saints failed to make the most of it, going goalless, while Marrar kicked two goals despite being on the back foot for much of the second quarter.
In the first 10 minutes after the main break, North Wagga twice went forward and kicked points while Marrar replied both times with goals – forward Fred Sleeth’s second drawing them level in the fourth minute after half-time and Jason Reid’s snap in the 10th minute giving Marrar a five-point advantage.
It was the first time they’d been in front since the middle of the first quarter but it only lasted four minutes, as North Wagga reasserted control and kicked the next three goals for their 15-point lead at three-quarter-time.
Again, they should’ve done more, reaping 3.3 to 0.1 in a 15-minute period when they controlled the game.
And the defending premiers, who have dug themselves out of holes on a couple of occasions this year, never panicked. Barely 25 seconds into the last quarter, forward Brad Turner had marked and then closed the margin to nine points with his first goal.
While North Wagga’s James Morris continued his outstanding game with a strong lead, good grab and great goal from the boundary barely a minute later, the Bombers were about to take control.
Having hung in and limited the damage when momentum was against them, Marrar made the final quarter their own – kicking more goals in the last 25 minutes (six) than they had in the previous 75 minutes (five goals) – to decide the outcome and control their own destiny.
After Turner in the opening minute, there was Brad Moye in the eighth (to put them within eight points), then Jack Reynolds (in the 12th minute), Sleeth (14th), Tyler Cunningham (15th) and Zach Walgers (17th). It means they’ll take enormous confidence into the premiership decider in a fortnight at Robertson Oval.
“It’s what you’re involved for. It’s exciting… they call it the big dance for a reason,” Lenon said.
“It was a good win. The conditions were tough again. They certainly had the better of the first half, no doubt about that. We were lucky probably, to be as close as we were at half-time. I thought our second half was pretty good and obviously our last quarter was excellent.
“I think there were some good signs but we got beaten around the stoppages. That’s an area we’ll need to work on.”
Sleeth finished with three goals, including one to draw level in the third quarter and the one that put them in front in the fourth, as did Tyler Cunningham. But it was their combination as a forward six that mattered, with Walgers kicking one but also providing the final kick or handball for at least two others, and Turner also making some important plays, particularly in the second half, as well as his goal.
At the other end, Mitch and Clint Taylor were superb at cutting off North Wagga raids and young full-back Adam Whyte did an outstanding job to keep North Wagga full-forward and leading goalkicker Daniel Jordan to just one goal.
Marrar ruckman Nick Molkentin had a fine game, including rucking the entire fourth quarter when his influence on the turnaround in fortunes was enormous.
The Bombers were also without forward John Hoey, who injured a calf at training on Thursday, and Curtis Allen who did a hamstring in the last game against North Wagga. Both are almost certain to be available for the grand final.
Adding to North Wagga's woes, they lost second ruckman Dave Karlberg to a calf injury in the third quarter while backman Ned Mortimer was helped off after hyper-extending his knee in the fourth. He did return and maintains he’ll be okay for next Saturday’s preliminary final against Temora or East Wagga-Kooringal.
As well as Morris, midfielder-forward Cayden Winter had a fine game for the Saints while small forward Nathan Dennis had a strong game, kicking three goals including the one to regain the lead in the third quarter and the last of the game as they threatened to mount a challenge.