BRIDGEWATER lived up to its nickname of the Mean Machine with another brutal Loddon Valley Football League grand final performance on Saturday.
Having won the past two premierships by a combined 214 points, this time it was Newbridge that was on the end of a grand final hiding from Bridgewater
The Mean Machine led from start to finish in the fiery contest to thrash Newbridge by 65 points, 21.12 (138) to 10.13 (73) at Inglewood, to win a hat-trick of premierships for the first time in their history.
The result in front of a crowd that paid a gate of $30,081 continued the recent trend of one-sided grand finals in the LVFL, with seven of the past nine premiership battles having been decided by at least 50 points.
Playing against their arch-rivals, Bridgewater was in control all game, apart from a six-minute burst during time-on of the second quarter when the Maroons kicked three goals in a row.
The writing was on the wall from the outset for Newbridge – playing without star onballer Brad Comer (torn calf) – as Bridgewater dominated from the opening bounce.
So good were they early, the Mean Machine could have blown Newbridge out of the contest inside the first 12 minutes.
The Mean Machine had the first six scoring shots of the game in the opening 12 minutes, but they were off target, registering 1.5.
The sole goal was kicked by tall forward Josh Metherell, who converted on an angle after receiving a free kick in a marking contest.
Metherell proved a headache for the Maroons’ defence in the first quarter, having three shots for a return of 2.1, and finishing the match with four goals.
Bridgewater’s Kurt Ashman was also lively early, having three shots at goal in the first 12 minutes, but was unable to convert any, before ending the game with four behinds.
The Mean Machine’s ability to press up and lock the ball in their forward half strangled Newbridge as the Maroons constantly coughed up their clearing kick from defensive 50 back to a Bridgewater player.
By quarter-time the Mean Machine led by 28 points, 5.5 to 1.1.
But such was their dominance of play, they went inside 50 on 20 occasions to Newbridge’s eight.
Newbridge’s only goal of the first quarter was kicked by Grant Ford at the 23-minute mark.
By that stage, Bridgewater already had 4.5 on the board.
The Mean Machine, whose ball use and slick transition from defence to attack was sharp all game, continued their momentum early in the second term when onballer Alexander Pollock soccered a goal out of a scrum to kick Bridgewater’s sixth.
However, Newbridge, led by Ford, Chris Endres, Cameron Grant and wingman Jared Hall, began to work its way into the contest, but undid its hard work with poor conversion inside 50.
Needing to make the most of every opportunity to get back into the contest, the Maroons had four of the first five scoring shots of the second term, but all were behinds.
Summing up Newbridge’s squandered chances was a shot from Aidan Moore.
Having received a 50m penalty against Pollock, Moore lined up for goal 30m out, but his set-shot failed to make the distance and the Bridgewater defence mopped up.
The Maroons were made to pay for their missed chances when, down the other end, back-to-back goals to Bridgewater full-forward Brad Rohde pushed the Mean Machine advantage out to 43 points.
But with the game on the verge of slipping away from Newbridge after just a quarter-and-a-half, the Maroons finally found a spark and gave themselves a sniff.
Two goals to the classy Endres and one to Ford had Newbridge back within 25 points at the 26-minute mark as the Maroons’ confidence lifted, while for the first time, Bridgewater looked shaky.
However, Newbridge’s surge was short-lived when, seconds before the half-time siren, Rohde outmarked Jarrod Postle in a one-on-one duel in the goalsquare and kicked his fourth goal to give the Mean Machine a 31-point advantage at half-time, 9.6 to 4.5.
And then the floodgates opened in the third term as Bridgewater showed why it’s known as the “premiership quarter”.
Inside the first 10 minutes of the third quarter, the Mean Machine slammed on five goals through Taylor Strachan, Metherell (two), co-coach Zac East and Rohde to close the door on any chance of a Newbridge revival.
At that stage it was 14 goals to four, before Bridgewater kicked seven goals to six for the remainder of the match, with the Mean Machine’s lead reaching a game-high 76 points midway through the final term.
Four times during the game Bridgewater scored at least four unanswered goals in a row as the Maroons were unable to shut down the Mean Machine’s scoring when they got on a run.
Bridgewater’s Strachan won the VCFL Medal for best on ground.
Playing a mix of ruck and centre half-forward, the athletic, high-leaping Strachan (two goals) was at his most imposing during the third term when he took six marks.
Also outstanding for the Mean Machine was East, who produced a typical silky game through the midfield and across half-forward and kicked three goals in the second half.
Josh McLeod was brilliant in the midfield in the first half. He was constantly able to get himself loose and linked up well.
Defenders Jerome Williams and Tristin Nalder were also named in the best, while fellow backman Daniel Nalder was superb as he was a constant source of rebound.
Rohde finished with five goals, with his only blemish a missed set-shot late in the game.
Onballer Ford was Newbridge’s best player. He was tirless for four quarters and kicked three goals.
He was well supported by Endres, who kicked two goals and barely wasted a possession, while Grant also worked hard through the midfield to lift his team.
Along with Ford, captain Jeremy Mills kicked three goals for the Maroons, all in the last quarter, during which Newbridge scored 5.3 to the Mean Machine’s 5.3.
Coach Phil Birchmore battled hard in a Newbridge defence that was under siege all game, but frustrations got the better of him late when he was reported and sent off for striking Cameron Hayes.
While it was a season of vast improvement for the Maroons, it was a disappointing end after they blew their start and never seriously threatened, apart from their brief surge late in the second term.
The loss of Comer, who was ruled out on Friday afternoon, didn’t help their cause, but in the end, Bridgewater had too many aces up its sleeve, used the ball cleaner than the Maroons and made more of its scoring opportunities.