THERE has been a sense of inevitability all season that Wycheproof-Narraport and Birchip-Watchem would be the two teams left standing in the fight for the North Central league premiership.
It was clear from early that last year’s grand finalists – the Demons and Bulls – would again be the competition pace-setters and there’s no surprises that they are the two combatants for the flag at Charlton on Saturday.
The stage is set for what should continue a remarkable run of closely-fought North Central league grand finals.
Over the past seven years the biggest margin on grand final day has been just 12 points, which was what Wycheproof-Narraport defeated Birchip-Watchem by last season.
The past seven years of tight contests includes a pair of one-point wins to Wedderburn over St Arnaud in 2012 and Charlton in extra time in 2014, with the last of the blowouts coming in 2010 when Wycheproof-Narraport beat Boort by 44 points.
The Demons and Bulls are two sides that know each other very well given Saturday’s grand final is the 11th meeting in the past three years between the two sides, and the sixth clash in a final during that time.
“It has pretty much looked all year that it was going to come down to us, and last week’s result (Birchip-Watchem beating Sea Lake Nandaly in the preliminary final) showed again there is a bit of a gap there,” Wycheproof-Narraport coach Julian Bull said.
“We’ve been preparing for Birchip all year, as I’m sure they have for us, so it should be a great battle.”
The Demons go into the grand final with a 15-2 record, with their two losses having come against the Bulls by 38 points in round five and 29 in round 12.
But they had the measure of the Bulls in the second semi-final a fortnight ago when they won by 14 points to take the direct route into the grand final.
The Demons didn’t name a finalised team on Thursday night, adding X-factor Corey Jones, who has played just five games for the season, and Kristian McNicol into a squad of 23.
The Demons’ squad features 15 players – Benjamin Brennan, Boe Bish, Joel Turner, Chris Howgate, Jones, Dane McLennan, James Coatsworth, Bull, Ricky Allan, Robert Binks, Rolly White, Spencer Allan, Tim Holobowski, Toby Sheahan and Trevor Rumbold – who were part of last year’s premiership team.
“The main focus for us is making sure we play our brand of footy,” said Bull, who has built a 47-7-1 record from 55 games in his three seasons as Demons coach.
“We don’t want to get too caught up in what they’re doing and what they have out on the park. We know there’s certain personnel we’ll have to put time into, but delivering on the whole-of-team performance that we’ve been able to do this year is our focus.
“We’ve had a lot of injuries throughout the year, but the whole team has been able to stand up and deliver and that has been one of our biggest strengths.”
Two of the Birchip-Watchem players the Demons will need to curtail is the dangerous Bulls’ forward duo of Stephen Paulke and Nathan Gordon.
Trevor Rumbold had the job on Paulke and Morgan Fawcett the role on Gordon in the second semi-final, with the two star Bulls held to just one goal each.
Outside of league new-comer Sea Lake Nandaly, such has been the spread of success through the NCFL, Birchip-Watchem is the only club without a premiership since 2006.
The Bulls’ last flag was won in 2001 when they defeated Wedderburn by 47 points.
The Bulls would have finished on top of the ladder with a 15-1 home and away record had they not had been stripped of three wins at the start of the season for a player points breach, but they instead had to settle for second – not that it makes any difference.
First-year coach and star ruckman Lochlan Sirett says there’s plenty of hunger among the group to atone for last year’s grand final defeat to the Demons.
Of last year’s team that lost to the Demons, 12 players get their crack at redemption on Saturday.
“We’ve got a lot of players who were part of last year’s team and the feeling stems through to the new players of just how much it means to everyone involved and the town,” Sirett said.
“Last year was obviously disappointing, but you can’t afford to dwell on it… you’ve got to look forward and we’re obviously very excited for this weekend.”
Sirett already has one medal in his cabinet this year after polling 20 votes to win the Feeny Medal, continuing a recent trend of ruckmen taking out the league’s top individual honour.
“That was a massive surprise a couple of weeks ago to win it and my proudest moment individually, but this weekend is all about the team and the town and getting the silverware,” Sirett said.
Sirett’s rival coach, Bull, is a good mate of his, with the pair both having previously played together at Colbinabbin.
“I’ve known Bully for many years now and coming up against your mates is one of the fun things about playing footy,” Sirett said.
“Sometimes you may say or do things that you might regret a little, but once you catch up after the game and have a beer and a laugh it’s all good.”
Saturday’s grand final begins at 2.30pm.
B: Spencer Allan, Trevor Rumbold, Morgan Fawcett
HB: Brent Sheahan, Anthony Bull, Boe Bish
C: Hagen Abbot, Joel Turner, Dane McLennan
HF: Tim Holobowski, Julian Bull, Toby Sheahan
F: James Coatsworth, Benjamin Brennan, Ricky Allan
R: Chris Howgate, George Turner, Daniel Bibby
Int: (from) Robert Binks, Rolly White, Danny Harrison, Corey Jones, Kristian McNicol
In: Kristian McNicol, Corey Jones
B: Michael Monteith, Jacob Noonan, James Lindeback
HB: Nathan Lynch, Anthony Greaney, Dale Hinkley
C: Sam Allan, Stefan Pye, Benjamin Hogan
HF: Mitchell Smith, Nathan Gordon, Jacob Christie
F: Lachlan Foott, Stephen Paulke, Bill Lee
R: Lochlan Sirett, Ruben Vesikuru, Charlie Hallam
Int: Brent Lynch, Brendan Murdoch, Riley Hogan
Round 5 – Birchip-Watchem 12.12 (84) d Wycheproof-Narraport 7.4 (46).
Feeny Medal: 3 – Nathan Gordon (BW) 2 – Lochlan Sirett (BW) 1 – Joel Turner (WN)
Round 12 – Birchip-Watchem 13.7 (85) d Wycheproof-Narraport 8.8 (56).
Feeny Medal: 3 – Lochlan Sirett (BW) 2 – Stephen Paulke (BW) 1 – Chris Howgate (WN)
Second semi-final – Wycheproof-Narraport 10.14 (74) d Birchip-Watchem 8.12 (60).
LUKE WEST – Wycheproof-Narraport.
ADAM BOURKE – Wycheproof-Narraport.
KIERAN ILES – Birchip-Watchem.
WILLIAM VALLELY – Birchip-Watchem.
MEANWHILE, Donald must accomplish what no team has been able to do this season if it’s to cause an upset in the A Grade netball grand final against Wycheproof-Narraport.
Wycheproof-Narraport goes into the grand final as the red-hot favourites, with the Demons yet to lose a game this season.
Among the standouts for the Demons in their dominant run to the grand final has been Stevie Bibby, who was a runaway winner of the league best and fairest in which she polled a massive 41 of a possible 48 votes.
While the Demons have been the power team of the competition, Donald has fought its way into the grand final from fourth position.
The Royal Blues’ path to the grand final included beating Wedderburn 52-47 in last week’s preliminary final in a result that has the Redbacks missing their first grand final since 2009.
Wycheproof-Narraport and Donald have met twice this season, with the Demons winning 50-30 in round three and 64-33 in round 10.
Meanwhile, on the hockey pitch the two feature matches are reigning premier St Arnaud taking on Boort in the men and Wedderburn battling the Saints in the women.
Hosts Charlton is the only one of the league’s eight clubs not represented on grand final day. St Arnaud has the most teams in with six, followed by Donald and Wedderburn with five each.
Under-13s – Sea Lake Nandaly Tigers v Boort, 9.30am.
Under-16s – Donald v Birchip-Watchem, 10.55am.
Reserves – St Arnaud v Wedderburn, 12.35pm.
Seniors – Wycheproof-Narraport v Birchip-Watchem, 2.30pm.
13-Under A – St Arnaud v Boort, 9.30am.
16-Under B – St Arnaud v Wedderburn, 10.20am.
16-Under A – Sea Lake Nandaly Tigers v Donald, 11.20am.
C Grade – Wedderburn v Donald, 12.30pm.
B Grade – Wedderburn v Donald, 1.45pm.
A Grade – Wycheproof-Narraport v Donald, 3pm.
Under-12 – St Arnaud v Boort, 11.30am.
Under-15 – Birchip-Watchem v Wycheproof-Narraport, 12.30pm.
Women – Wedderburn v St Arnaud, 1.40pm.
Men – St Arnaud v Boort, 3.15pm.
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