North Bendigo relishing big stage of Heathcote District grand final day

FIREPOWER: North Bendigo forward Rhys Ford has kicked 46 goals in 12 games in his first season at the Bulldogs. Picture: DARREN HOWE

FIREPOWER: North Bendigo forward Rhys Ford has kicked 46 goals in 12 games in his first season at the Bulldogs. Picture: DARREN HOWE

NORTH Bendigo coach Rob Bennett is confident his side will again stand up in the big moments of Saturday’s Heathcote District league grand final at Huntly.

For the third year in a row the Bulldogs will take on rivals Leitchville-Gunbower for the premiership.

The Bulldogs have won the past two grand finals against the Bombers in games that were up for grabs in the final quarter both times. 

North Bendigo’s team on Saturday features 17 players who have played in at least one of the past two flags, and 10 who have played in both the 2015 and 2016 triumphs.

“It obviously gives us confidence having been able to get it done the past two years and knowing what to expect on the day,” Bennett said on Friday.

“The guys who have been there and done it before have performed and, hopefully, they do so again this weekend.”

Those who have been there and done that twice for the Bulldogs are captain Jordan Ford, Aarryn Craig, Alex Shipard, Brady Herdman, Darcy Richards, Ryan Alford, Sam Barnes, Sam Demeo, Sean Morris and Tom Metherell.

For Herdman and Barnes, they have the chance to win their seventh premiership in as many years.

Prior to playing in the Bulldogs’ 2015 and 2016 grand final victories they had been part of Wedderburn’s string of four North Central league flags in a row between 2011 and 2014.

Plenty has been said and written about the Bulldogs’ envious star-studded forward line headlined by the explosive trio of Barnes (69 goals), Herdman (64) and recruit Rhys Ford (65), who between them have kicked 179 goals from an injury-interrupted 42 games.

However, to boast an average winning margin of 109 points across 16 victories, the defensive side of the Bulldogs has been equally as impressive.

Led by the likes of skipper Ford, Shipard, Gunter, Demeo, Daniel Morris and assistant coach Richards – who returns from a hamstring niggle – only five times have the Bulldogs conceded more than 10 goals this season.

“Internally we rate our backline hugely. We’ve got up to nine players who can rotate through our back six and they can all play different roles on talls and smalls, but also attack,” Bennett said.

“I can’t speak highly enough of our backline.”

Through the middle of the ground the classy Jarrod Findlay has the opportunity to become the first player since Colbinabbin’s Ben Johnston in 2008 to win the Cheatley Medal and a premiership medal in the same year, while wingman Nick Waterson has been one of the recruits of the season.

It obviously gives us confidence having been able to get it done the past two years and knowing what to expect on the day

Rob Bennett

Waterson, recruited from YCW, is one of five North Bendigo players striving to win their first premiership for the club.

Another is Joel Helman, who the previous two years had been in enemy camp as part of Leitchville-Gunbower’s two losing grand final teams to the Bulldogs before he made the move to Atkins Street during the pre-season.

“Joel is still young, but he’s mature beyond his years footy-wise. He has good football knowledge and he has fitted in very well at our club,” Bennett said.

Saturday is the fourth grand final in a row for the Bulldogs, who will be missing two of their injured A-graders in ruckman Brett Strange (knee) and onballer Tyson Findlay (hamstring).

As well as beating Leitchville-Gunbower in the past two grand finals, the Bulldogs also played in the 2014 decider against Lockington-Bamawm United, but were defeated by 11 points.

GRAND FINAL TEAM

Number in brackets is calculated off club best players each week – six votes for the player named best, five votes for the second best and so on. 

B: 26. Callum Tardrew (1), 25. William Gunter (9), 10. Alex Shipard (24)

HB: 35. Jaran McKay (11), 12. Darcy Richards (1), 18. Sam Demeo (6)

C: 15. Daniel Morris (7), 9. Aarryn Craig (13), 13. Nick Waterson (33)

HF: 32. Lachlan Ford (19), 16. Brady Herdman (28),7. Jordan Ford (23)

F: 22. Rhys Ford (2), 11. Sam Barnes (13), 8. Joel Helman (19)

FOLL: 21. Ryan Gow (6), 23. Ash Craig (22), 6. Jarrod Findlay (18)

INTER: 20. Zach Alford (15), 14. Ryan Alford (3), 3. Tom Metherell (10), 27. Sean Morris (16)

BY THE NUMBERS

Record – 16-2

Average for – 145

Average against – 51

Percentage – 281.9%

Quarters won – 60/72

Time in front – 88.9%

Highest score – 253, v Heathcote, round 10

Lowest score – 41, v Leitchville, round 16

TOP GOALKICKERS

Sam Barnes – 69

Brady Herdman – 64

Rhys Ford – 45

Tyson Findlay – 32