A MASSIVE crowd watched the much-hyped Strathfieldsaye begin its Bendigo Football League season with a 33-point win over reigning premiers Golden Square in Sunday’s grand final rematch at Flight Centre Park.
The Storm prevailed by 33 points, 18.10 (118) to 13.7 (85), in a clash where they made their match-winning move just before half-time.
But the Storm weren't just winners on the field.
The whole day was a major success for the club, with a huge crowd that paid a gate more accustomed to September, not April - $10,200.
Not only was it the grand final rematch, but the game also doubled as one of the BFL's most-anticipated debuts as Stephen Milne played his first game for the Storm.
And Milne - who was opposed by Golden Square's Clayton Anderson - didn't disappoint, booting five goals.
The Storm's other high-profile former St Kilda recruit, Steven Baker, also made his presence felt with his strong tackling across half-forward and in the midfield.
"I thought we had a lot of contributors today, which was pleasing," Storm coach Darryl Wilson said.
"We've still got to get better defensively and get better with our clearances, but we're obviously happy to bank four points."
Milne made his mark on the contest early when he kicked the first goal courtesy of a 50m penalty.
By quarter-time Milne had two goals, before adding two more in the second term and his fifth during the last.
While Milne provided plenty of excitement each time he went near the ball, Wilson was full of praise for the defensive efforts of Baker.
“Baker's defensive pressure was sensational. He did a great job of everything we asked him to do and why we got him. He laid over 10 tackles and was just super," Wilson said.
The game was typical of a scrappy round one contest in the first quarter as the pressure of both teams forced constant stoppages around the ground.
While the Storm always looked the more dangerous going forward, they couldn't shake the Bulldogs until time-on of the second quarter.
After leading by just eight points 24 minutes into the second term, the Storm unleashed a five-minute burst before half-time that ultimately proved the match-winning period of the game.
The Storm kicked the last four goals of the quarter through Ryan Weeding, Milne (two) and Sean Johns to open a 32-point lead at half-time.
Golden Square kicked the first goal of the third term through its best player, Jack Geary, to cut the deficit to 26 points.
But that would be as close as the defending champions would get for the rest of the match.
"Strathfieldsaye is in really good nick... they look like they have the right structures in place and will be very hard to beat," said Golden Square coach Nick Carter, who with Sunday’s defeat has already lost as many games as he did in his previous 40-game stint as Bulldogs coach in 2010 and 2011.
"I was really pleased with the effort of our boys today, but we didn't do enough things well enough to make sure we played an overall game of footy."
The Storm's better players included Vinnie Flood (two goals), defenders Ash Trollop and Jayden Donaldson and midfielder Kellan Smith.
Nick Smith and Sean Johns (two goals) were busy in the midfield, while Matt Johnston was strong in the clearances.
The Storm's dangerous array of goalkickers included Milne (five), Kris Lea (three), Victor Caristo (three) and Bryce Curnow (three) combining for 14.
Golden Square's best two players were their star onballers Jack Geary and captain Simon Rosa.
Rosa showed his customary silky skills under pressure, while Geary was also a threat up forward, kicking three goals.
Young forward Shane Harris kicked three goals in the first half, but later hurt a shoulder.
This is the first time since 2004 when it was beaten by Eaglehawk that Golden Square has a 0-1 record.
• Match statistics:
Centre clearances: Strathfieldsaye 16; Golden Square 18.
Inside 50s: Strathfieldsaye 41; Golden Square 40.
Stoppages: Strathfieldsaye 20; Golden Square 21.