Three years ago, Lachie Highfield watched The Rock-Yerong Creek win a thrilling grand final against East Wagga-Kooringal at Robertson Oval. Blown away by the atmosphere and the crowd, the Canberra-based footballer was convinced to have a crack at the Farrer League.
“Definitely, it made me a lot more excited to make the trip over,” Highfield recalled of the decision to join North Wagga.
This Saturday, he’ll be on the ground and – no doubt – in the thick of the action as North Wagga seek their own moment of glory on the last Saturday of the year.
“Oh mate, it’s huge. It’s huge. It’s the first senior grand final I’ve ever played in,” he said.
Twelve months ago, after the Saints crashed out of finals with two straight losses, that memory of why he first came drove Highfield to commit to the club again, despite plenty of interest from other clubs.
“When I signed at the end of last year I knew where the club was going and wanted to be a part of it,” he said. “Obviously Kirk (Hamblin) is a great coach – he got coach of the year this year and it’s a credit to him and what he’s put in to the side.
“It’s good for the effort that we’ve put in as a team over the three years since I’ve been here and I’m just looking forward to the weekend now.”
Highfield, now 27, made a big impression in his first year at North Wagga and backed it up with a brilliantly consistent season in 2017 despite attracting heavy attention every week.
This year, the arrival of midfielders Tom Bennetts and Lachie Steward and the re-emergence of Jake May meant the Saints weren’t relying on him to do all the heavy lifting.
“(May) is in career-best form at the moment,” Highfield said. “He’s killed it this year – his speed, his skills have improved a lot. And he’s a big game player.”
That also meant when Highfield needed to focus on work for a couple of weeks in the middle of the season, his absence didn’t upset their rhythm.
A mid-season break and a change of role at the business end worked wonders, with Highfield back to his best in the last month.
“I’m really enjoying my footy… it’s been good playing on bigger grounds and just having another role, resting deep forward and trying to kick a few goals. I missed a couple this week and last week. Hopefully on Saturday I can jag a few,” he said.
The sight of the star midfielder getting plenty of ball and enjoying his football has been a massive boost to North Wagga.
“For his standards, he thinks he’s had a quiet year but his finals series has been right up there with our best,” Hamblin said after the preliminary final win against Temora, when Highfield took six marks in the first quarter.
“He enjoys playing on this ground because he’s got plenty of room to move and he’s dangerous against anyone.”
What the star midfielder-forward has brought to the club is matched by what he wants to give back.
After all, in three years he’s come to understand what a drought-breaking win would mean to those who have kept the club alive.
“Peter Keating was the bloke who signed me up and made the effort to get me across so it’s a credit to him to come to Canberra and do his bit for me. Fingers crossed we can get the biscuits for them,” Highfield said.
To do just that, Highfield says it’s going to require a belief in their game plan and a full four-quarter effort against Marrar, who have overrun the Saints in their last two meetings.