Sale City has reminded its rivals of mettle that has led it to the past two AGL Loy Yang North Gippsland Football Netball League premierships by outgunning Rosedale in a thrilling elimination final at Heyfield.
The Bulldogs trailed by 26 points at three-quarter-time but, with the aid of a strong breeze, piled on six goals from 12 scoring shots to overrun the Blues and win 9.12 (66) to 8.10 (58).
Ruckman Chris Kelf was instrumental in the dramatic fightback as momentum proved City’s most powerful weapon.
City made two changes to the side that was comprehensively beaten by the Blues one week earlier, with experienced star Justin McLay and young gun Jackson Hansford replacing Cooper Wyld and Bohdi Walker.
Rosedale also made two changes to its round 18 lineup, with Brad Scott and Nick Twomey coming in for Richard Ingrouille and Josh Frisina, and it was the Blues that made a bright start to the contest, leading by 11 points at the first change.
City hit back to level scores at the main break, before the breeze lifted and Rosedale took advantage, keeping the Bulldogs goalless while adding four of their own to take what appeared to be a commanding position into the final term.
However, the two-time reigning premiers were not to be denied and found a way to edge across the line and keep their title defence alive.
Evan Johnson and Stuart Buckley finished with three goals apiece, with Kelf, Sam Allen and Ben Chivers among the prime movers for the Bulldogs.
It was a heartbreaking end to the season for Rosedale, which had shown itself capable of mixing it with the best sides in the league throughout the home and away campaign.
Frazar Brouns did his bit with four of the Blues’ eight goals on the day, while coach Sam Bristow and brothers Adam and Rohan Diamond gave everything for their side’s cause.
City will now meet Churchill in this week’s first semi-final at Woodside Recreation Reserve, after the Cougars were defeated in Saturday’s qualifying final by Traralgon Tyers United.
It was a tight tussle for much of the day at Stephenson Park, with the Bombers’ eight-point lead at three-quarter-time the widest margin to that point.
However, TTU found another gear in the final term, keeping Churchill goalless while adding three majors of its own to progress to the second semi-final with a 13.6 (84) to 8.12 (60) victory.
Veteran forward Tim Aitken finished with three goals and Jye Neilson two, with Jack Brown, Michael Jacobsen and Simon Noy all prominent for the Bombers.
At the other end, Brendan Holt grabbed three goals, while Chris Kyriacou, Nick Celima and Nathan Mcrae led the fight for the Cougars.
Both sides rung the changes from their round 18 encounter, with TTU regaining a trio of stars in Luke Middleton, Scott Zuelhke and Adam Bailey.
The Cougars also had plenty of talent waiting in the wings and brought back Holt, Kyriacou, Leigh McDonald, Brendan Mason and Jarrod Broadbent.
In the end, it was the Bombers’ superior conversion in front of goal that proved decisive and they will now get a first look at minor premier and flag favourite Yarram in Saturday’s second semi-final at Rosedale Recreation Reserve.
In the reserves, Gormandale kept its season alive, with a 38-point win against Sale City.
Jarryd Garlick’s six goals proved a match-winning contribution, with four Steven Burgess and three from best-on-ground Lewis Prince also valuable.
Jed Archbold and Jereme Lazaris also caught the eye for the Tigers in their 17.13 (115) to 11.11 (77) win.
Kerrod Macgregor-Davies booted for the Bulldogs, who were well-served by Daniel Bird, Rodney Fitt and Ryan Hurst, but an eight-goal-to-one opening term had them behind the eight-ball from the outset.
The Tigers now face TTU in the first semi-final, with the Bombers falling short against Yarram in the qualifying final.
The Demons led from start to finish, with Josh Swift keeping his name at the forefront of senior coach Matt Scholz’s mind should a spot open up over the next few weeks, with five goals, while Jesse Field and Chris Pettitt were also among the best in the 12.19 (91) to 8.3 (51) win.
Luke Blackwood, Rohan Gathercole (four goals) and Ben Massaro were the standouts for the Bombers.
Yarram now meets Heyfield for a spot in the grand final.
In the thirds, Glengarry won through to the qualifying final with a 34-point win over TTU.
Just 16 points separated the two sides at the last change, but the Magpies ran away with it late to win 10.10 (70) to 4.2 (26).
Lachlan Jewell, Matt Roberts and Jake Venturoni led the way for Glengarry and Lachlan Bond booted three goals.
Charlie Martin, Jake Cashmore and Jordan Jobling fought hard for the Bombers, who now face a do-or-die clash with Heyfield, which kept its season alive by defeating Rosedale.
Will Logan starred for the inaccurate Kangaroos with three goals in a best-on-ground performance to lead his side to a 5.16 (46) to 5.8 (38) win.
Logan had strong support from the likes of Sam Dwyer and Dylan Patmore.
Brock Williams managed three of the Blues’ five goals for the day and Ben Justin, Riley Atlee and Nick Rodway among the other better performers.
Glengarry faces minor premier Churchill in the second semi-final.
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This post was written by Michelle Kyle