For the first time in 14 years – and a decade after the club emerged from a year in the wilderness – North Wagga are back on the big stage, booking their spot in the Farrer League grand final with a 41-point win over Temora in Saturday’s preliminary final.
For the second time in three weeks, the Saints bounced back from a loss to Marrar to despatch the Kangaroos in comprehensive fashion in a final at Robertson Oval – this time, 12.14 (86) to 6.9 (45).
For the third time in a month, they’ll meet the Bombers in a high-stakes encounter – this time, the chance to win North Wagga’s first flag since 1994, and break the longest premiership drought of any club in the league.
“It feels surreal at the moment,” coach Kirk Hamblin said.
“The boys have just worked their bums off for that long and it’s just a real reward for effort for the whole club I think – into our first one since 2004 – so we’re real happy.
“(But) I talked to the boys about our preparation starting right now. We’ve got to do everything we can to get our bodies in the best condition we can, train well, and head into next week with a lot of confidence.”
Temora got the first clearance and first score in the first minute but needed a goal rather than a behind from Charlie Vallance because the Saints were on. In fact, they were behind for less than a minute, dominating possession to ensure most of the first quarter was played in their forward 50, only to let themselves down with seven behinds and just a six-point lead at the first break.
But they took control in the second – starting with two goals in three minutes, as Tom Bennetts and Corey Watt cashed in on midfield dominance, and finishing with three more as Watt nabbed his second and a dangerous Daniel Jordan went back-to-back to bring up three goals by half-time himself, and a 28-point lead for his team.
“We just seen our wingers and on-ballers get involved with their run-and-carry and they created their own luck,” Hamblin said of the crucial second quarter.
The long break did no harm as North Wagga opened up an extraordinary 46-point lead less than nine minutes into the third quarter. First, Josh Thompson finished off a coast-to-coast move that started with a Troy Curtis grab in the backline, then Jordan kicked a beautiful long bomb from the boundary, and a running Cayden Winter made it six unanswered for the Saints.
Temora worked their way back a little late, and again produced some passages of quality play in the fourth to hint at their danger – including some nice marks to Jack Irvine and Matt Wallis up forward – but by the time Watt kicked his third, Jordan his fifth and the Saints coach chimed in with the last, it was well and truly over.
“It was a bit up and down but all in all I was really happy with our performance,” Hamblin said. “Temora’s a good team and I thought we controlled the play. They scored 4.2 off our turnovers which really killed us.
“One thing we’re going to have to rectify for next week is, going forward again we butchered the ball a little bit and those direct turnovers killed us at times.”
Jacob May delivered another brilliant midfield effort, delivering the old one-two punch combo with Bennett. While Lachie Highfield had leather poisoning by half-time, with at least six grabs up forward just in the first quarter and a heavy involvement when going through the middle.
Defender Sam Longmore had a huge game and Jordan’s five goals was his best haul in the business end of the season, and more than he’d kicked in their last three games against Temora and Marrar combined.
But Ned Mortimer’s recovery from a knee injury was an inspiration just to start the game, let alone continue to impose himself in trademark physical fashion throughout.
“Purely off morale, I thought Ned Mortimer – playing through a bit of knee injury and was gutsy,” Hamblin said.
The Saints had some big names end the game on the bench with Mortimer, Jordan, Curtis and key forward James Morris all finishing off the ground, primarily as a precaution although Curtis did hobble off in the fourth and was icing a thigh.
Temora’s defence had their work cut out again but Liam Pattison led the way, never shirking the issue, while teenager Will Reinhold again played with courage and maturity. Rob Krause worked hard in the middle and Charlie Vallance, who swung back after half-time to play on Highfield, had a big involvement and set them up out of the backline.