STRATHFIELDSAYE is one win away from an historic first BFNL grand final appearance after it ended Sandhurst’s season yesterday.
The Storm led from start to finish in the first semi-final, eventually winning by 39 points, 19.15 (129) to 13.12 (90).
The Storm were premiership favourite after they won their first six games of the year, but a mid-season slump saw many pundits write off the club as a genuine premiership threat.
Yesterday’s win proved the Storm are genuine and they’ll give Gisborne plenty to think about in this Saturday night’s preliminary final.
“We know that no-one rates us, but you have to earn that respect,’’ Storm coach Darryl Wilson said after yesterday’s win.
“The only way to get that respect is by winning finals. We’ve won two finals now, but we’re not content with that.”
Storm set the tone with four goals to one in the first quarter and forced the Dragons to play catch-up football from then on.
Sandhurst did get within 10 points on two occasions in the third quarter, but the Storm always had the answers.
The margin was 16 points at three quarter-time and the last quarter was one-way traffic.
Sandhurst’s best player Blair Holmes had a head clash with team-mate Nick Stagg midway through the final term.
Stagg walked off the ground and didn’t return, while Holmes was carried off on a stretcher and later taken to hospital for observation. The injuries added salt to Sandhurst’s wounds.
Storm’s depth across the board was too much for Sandhurst.
While the Dragons struggled in attack, the Storm looked dangerous every time they went forward.
Centre half-forward Kris Lea played the best game of his Storm career, taking 11 marks and kicking six goals.
Tom Bartholomew didn’t make the most of his chances in front of goal, but still took eight marks.
Down the other end, Sandhurst’s key forwards Ricky Symes and Jake Ward took just nine marks between them.
Holmes and Lee Coghlan were left to carry the load in the middle for Sandhurst, while Strathfieldsaye had plenty of contributors.
None were better than Matt Smith, who should be regarded as a top shelf BFNL midfielder.
Nick Smith continued his superb finals form, Jake Hall was damaging and Michael Pilcher played well in the ruck.
The only negative for Strathfieldsaye was a suspected broken wrist for young midfielder Jake Heavyside.
Sandhurst coach Tony Graham said his side’s slow start had cost it dearly.
“We were outplayed early and had to play catch-up,’’ Graham said. “We had some chances in the third quarter, but couldn’t maintain it. By the last quarter we were out on our feet.”
Sandhurst full-back Mal Borchard announced his retirement after the game.