LVFL GRAND FINAL MATCH REPORT
BRIDGEWATER recovered from a slow start, and later hung on against a fast-finishing Bears Lagoon-Serpentine, to win Saturday’s Loddon Valley Football League grand final by eight points.
In what was a grand final that lived up to its billing of a toss-of-the-coin contest, the Mean Machine triumphed 15.11 (101) to 13.15 (93) at Marong Links Oval to win their fourth premiership in a row.
It was the grand final the LVFL needed after the recent fizzers in which the previous five premierships had all been won by at least 58 points.
Early, it threatened to be another grand final blowout as the Bears got the jump on Bridgewater.
The Bears were ferocious at the contest in the opening 20 minutes as they raced to a 27-point advantage.
The Bears kicked the first four goals of the match through James Orr, Justin Wilson, Cody Gunn and Brayden Scott in what was a superb start.
They were harder at the contest early – with tough-nut Wilson setting the tone in the centre – and picked holes in the Bridgewater defence to create the early goals.
The Mean Machine were fumbly under the relentless Bears’ pressure, while the scene for the rest of the game was set from the outset with the Bears controlling the centre square on the back of the dominance of ruckman Orr.
The Bears had 4.4 on the board before Bridgewater kicked its first goal when Adam Parry launched from 50m at the 22-minute mark.
However, the Bears answered on the quarter-time siren when captain Josh Hutton converted a set-shot after earning a holding the ball free kick.
Hutton’s goal gave the Bears a 27-point buffer at quarter-time as they led 5.4 to 1.1.
But there was never going to be keeping an elite team like Bridgewater down for long and the reigning premiers responded.
The Bears’ pressure of the first quarter dropped in the second term and the Bridgewater midfield gained the ascendancy around the ground, with the tenacious Callum Prest leading the way.
But there was one player in particular who grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck in the match-turning second term.
The second quarter will be remembered as the “Alex Collins Show” as the Bridgewater full-forward in pink boots turned it on in front of the big crowd.
After a rough start to the game in the first term when he conceded three free-kicks in marking contests against Daniel Hayes, Collins stamped his authority on the contest in the second quarter.
Collins scored six times in the second quarter, booting 4.2 as Bridgewater charged back into the contest, hitting the front for the first time at the 23-minute mark.
Collins’ first two goals came from marks, while his other two were kicked from general play.
Coach Zac East in his first game since July 13 also booted a second-term goal when he burst clear from a stoppage to kick the Mean Machine’s fifth of the game.
Down the other end, the Bears squandered the chance to apply scoreboard pressure.
They kicked 2.4 for the quarter, missing some gettable set-shots.
Just like they did at quarter-time, the Bears goaled on the half-time siren, this time through Rohan Nolan.
Nolan’s goal gave the Bears a seven-point buffer at half-time, 7.8 to 6.7.
With the game in the balance at half-time, the third term lived up to its status as the premiership quarter as Bridgewater again surged.
The quarter started superbly when East unloaded from 55m to kick the all-important first goal.
And when Brad Rohde and Collins (two) were on target soon after, Bridgewater had kicked the first four goals of the quarter and led by 16 points.
Like Collins had in the second, Rohde made his mark on the grand final in the third quarter. After being held to two behinds in the first half, Rohde kicked three goals in the third term, including a 50m shot after the siren.
Rohde’s three quarter-time goal extended Bridgewater’s lead to 22 points and loomed as a potential gamebreaker.
With the game threatening to slip away earlier on the back of Bridgewater’s first four goals of the third quarter, the Bears had fought back within 10 points through two goals to centre half-forward Nick Arthur.
However, the second of Arthur’s goals were answered by East, when he showed tremendous poise to snap a goal, and then Rohde’s three quarter-time set-shot.
And when the Mean Machine kicked the first two goals of the final term through Prest and Collins to lead by 35 points at the 10-minute mark it looked game over.
Collins’ goal was his seventh of the match – and 109th of the season – in what was a best-on-ground performance.
To that stage, Bridgewater had kicked 14 goals to four since quarter-time and there looked no way back for the Bears.
But the Bears refused to lie down and launched a fighting comeback.
Starting from the centre square where the Bears were able to win clean clearances through Wilson and Nolan and drive the ball deep inside 50, the last 20 minutes of the game were played in their forward half.
The revival started with back-to-back goals through Arthur and Nathan McNally – who had a big second half – to close within 21 points at the 15-minute mark.
And when Nolan nailed consecutive goals in time-on – the second from 55m that bounced through – the deficit was just eight points at the 24-minute mark.
Bridgewater wasn’t helped during the final term when Darren Clutton – who had been superb across half-back with his rebound – was yellow carded and reported for striking Arthur, leaving the Mean Machine to battle the game out with just 17 players on the field.
In a frantic final six minutes, the Bears – who had 20 inside-50s to 10 in the fourth quarter – continued to press hard, but they couldn’t bridge the eight-point margin.
The Mean Machine were finally able to stave off the Bears when Josh McLeod won a crucial ball on the wing against two opponents and cleared it out of bounds.
From the boundary throw-in, the Mean Machine claimed possession thanks to a Deon Jones mark under pressure and then chipped the ball around until the siren sounded on the closest LVFL grand final since 2000 at the 30-minute mark.
Bridgewater’s Collins was a deserving winner of the best on ground medal. He had 11 scoring shots for his return of 7.4.
Also among the best for Bridgewater was Prest, who was tireless in the midfield for four quarters with his work in the contest and also on the outside with his run.
Cameron Hayes stuck to his task of running with in-form Bears’ wingman Mick Ring, while ruckman Taylor Strachan put his hand up for a second-consecutive BOG medal with his work around the ground.
Rohde (three goals) – who has now kicked 17 goals in the past four grand finals – and Parry, whose premiership caps a big week that started by winning the Harding Medal, were also in the best players for the premiers.
For the Bears – who were chasing their first flag since 1995 – their best was Nolan, who impacted the contest both inside 50 and in the midfield.
Ruckman Orr, despite being far from fully fit with a leg problem, constantly gave his onballers first use of the ball, with the Bears winning the centre clearances 20-8, as well as the stoppages 23-20.
Veteran McNally in the midfield, Wilson, who was one of the key beneficiaries of Orr’s ruck dominance, Arthur (three goals), and defender Brodie Leonard-Shannon also figured in the best players for the Bears.
Bridgewater 1.1 6.7 13.9 15.11 (101)
Bears Lagoon-Serpentine 5.4 7.8 9.11 13.15 (93)
Goals – Bridgewater: A. Collins 7, B. Rohde, Z. East 3, A. Parry, C. Prest 1. BL-Serpentine: N. Arthur, R. Nolan 3, J. Hutton 2, J. Orr, C. Gunn, J. Wilson, B. Scott, N. McNally 1.
Best – Bridgewater: A. Collins, C. Prest, C. Hayes, T. Strachan, B. Rohde, A. Parry. BL-Serpentine: R. Nolan, J. Orr, N. McNally, J. Wilson, N. Arthur, B. Leonard-Shannon.
AFL Victoria Country BOG Medal: Alex Collins (Bridgewater).
GOAL BY GOAL
3 min – James Orr (BLS). BL-Serpentine leads 8-0.
4 – Justin Wilson (BLS). BL-Serpentine leads 14-0.
8 – Cody Gunn (BLS). BL-Serpentine leads 20-0.
20 – Brayden Scott (BLS). BL-Serpentine leads 28-1.
22 – Adam Parry (Bwater). BL-Serpentine leads 28-7.
28 – Josh Hutton (BLS). BL-Serpentine leads 34-7.
4 – Alex Collins (Bwater). BL-Serpentine leads 34-15.
8 – Alex Collins (Bwater). BL-Serpentine leads 34-21.
10 – Alex Collins (Bwater). BL-Serpentine leads 35-27.
17 – Josh Hutton (BLS). BL-Serpentine leads 42-30.
21 – Zac East (Bwater). BL-Serpentine leads 42-37.
23 – Alex Collins (Bwater). Bridgewater leads 43-42.
29 – Rohan Nolan (BLS). BL-Serpentine leads 50-43.
1 – Zac East (Bwater). BL-Serpentine leads 50-49.
8 – Brad Rohde (Bwater). Bridgewater leads 55-51.
10 – Alex Collins (Bwater). Bridgewater leads 61-51.
13 – Alex Collins (Bwater). Bridgewater leads 68-52.
21 – Nick Arthur (BLS). Bridgewater leads 69-58.
13 – Brad Rohde (Bwater). Bridgewater leads 75-58.
25 – Nick Arthur (BLS). Bridgewater leads 75-65.
28 – Zac East (Bwater). Bridgewater leads 81-65.
32 – Brad Rohde (Bwater). Bridgewater leads 87-65.
7 – Callum Prest (Bwater). Bridgewater leads 95-66.
10 – Alex Collins (Bwater). Bridgewater leads 101-66.
12 – Nick Arthur (BLS). Bridgewater leads 101-73.
15 – Nathan McNally (BLS). Bridgewater leads 101-80.
22 – Rohan Nolan (BLS). Bridgewater leads 101-87.
24 – Rohan Nolan (BLS). Bridgewater leads 101-93.