Bombers soar over ’Hoppers in Heathcote District league qualifying final

LEITCHVILLE-Gunbower’s early scoreboard pressure paved the way for a comfortable win over Colbinabbin in the Heathcote District league qualifying final on Saturday.

Coming off the bye the previous week, the Grasshoppers were sluggish early and the Bombers capitalised, kicking the first three goals of the game inside the opening 18 minutes.

It proved a decisive dagger from the Bombers given the Grasshoppers could muster just three goals for the entire match at Huntly.

EYES FOR THE BALL: Leitchville-Gunbower's Matt Ladson (No.4) and Logan Prout (No.14) during Saturday's 52-point win over Colbinabbin. Picture: NONI HYETT

EYES FOR THE BALL: Leitchville-Gunbower's Matt Ladson (No.4) and Logan Prout (No.14) during Saturday's 52-point win over Colbinabbin. Picture: NONI HYETT

The Bombers finished 52-point victors – 10.16 (76) to 3.6 (24) – to win their 11th game in a row and set up a second semi-final clash against fellow heavyweight North Bendigo at Lockington next Saturday.

“I was really happy with our first quarter… we started really well, apart from missing a few chances that we’d normally take,” Bombers coach Matt Hawken said.

“Overall though, we weren’t great today, but we got the job done and look ahead to next week now.”

Slippery conditions combined with finals pressure made for a grinding contest, and while the Grasshoppers toiled manfully after being forced to play catch-up footy, they never seriously threatened the Bombers, as 26 scoring shots to nine attests.

The Bombers already had what would prove to be a winning score by the 16-minute mark of the second quarter when they had 4.6 on the board, while Leitchville-Gunbower full-forward Matt Perri outscored Colbinabbin off his own boot.

Colbinabbin’s Daniel Hill battled hard against the dynamic Perri, but he still had 10 scoring shots in finishing with 4.6 – a rare day this year where he was off-target.

It was also a rare off-day in front of goal for the team, with their score of 10.16 only the third time this season the Bombers have kicked more behinds than goals, while their tally of 76 was their lowest score in their past 33 matches.

In a game where goals didn’t come easy with only 13 scored for the match, Perri and team-mate Jack Dye (two) were the only players to kick multiples.

The Grasshoppers had two of their goals on the board by the four-minute mark of the second term through Alex Van Ruiswyk and Jordan Wilson, at which stage they trailed 2.0 to 3.5.

However, over the remaining 83 minutes of the match they added only one more off the boot of one of their best, Nat Nixon.

The Grasshoppers – who struggled with their entries inside 50 all game – had their opportunities in the third quarter to get back into the contest when they controlled play for the majority of the term, but couldn’t impact the scoreboard, kicking a wasteful 1.5.

The Grasshoppers were still within 24 points at three quarter-time, but the Bombers were finally able to crack the game wide open in the final term when they finished with 4.4, while holding Colbinabbin scoreless.

“Credit to our defence today… I thought they were probably an eight or nine out of 10,” Hawken said.

“Our forwards were probably a bit down with conditions having a bit to do with that and our midfield was fairly solid.”

The Bombers had two late withdrawals in captain Daniel Counwenberg and Adam Decicco, who were both ill.

Among the inclusions was bullocking midfielder Liam Guinan, who revelled in the conditions to be the best player on the ground.

Bendigo Pioneers-listed duo Logan Prout off half-back and the classy Brady Hore also played fine games for the Bombers, who had Michael Pilcher in the ruck dominate the hit-outs.

While the Bombers were far from their silky best skill-wise, they still used the ball much better than the Grasshoppers, who too often gifted the ball back to Leitchville-Gunbower.

Colbinabbin’s score of 24 was its lowest since it was held to just 3.5 (23) by North Bendigo in round 14, 2010.

“Our skills were below average today and that’s full credit to Leitchville,” Colbinabbin coach Nick Knight said.

“They are really well coached, well-drilled, set up really well behind the ball and put a lot of pressure on the ball carrier to force turnovers.

“We were probably a little bit overawed with the day early on and to allow them the start they got certainly didn’t help with what we had put in place.

“But to take a positive out of the game, I thought our third quarter was very good with the way we were able to slow it down and generate some repeat stoppages.”

The Grasshoppers, who were missing one of their standout players this year in Ryan Hon (jaw), played the bulk of the match one down after losing Hugh Barlow (groin) early.

The Grasshoppers named wingman David Price, skipper Pat O’Brien and ruckman/forward Hadleigh Sirett their three best players.

While the Grasshoppers were beaten in the seniors, it was a result reversal in the reserves game with an almost identical margin as Colbinabbin defeated the Bombers by 53 points.