GISBORNE booted five goals to one in the final quarter to defeat Sandhurst by 26 points in their BFNL season-opener at Gardiner Reserve on Saturday.
Just 10 goals had been kicked by the two sides across the first three quarters, before the game opened up in the last and the Bulldogs - missing five players through COVID protocols - finished strongly to win 10.12 (72) to 6.10 (46).
The round one loss for the Dragons was soured by a suspected ACL injury to Jed Zimmer.
The Dragons had led by 13 points at both quarter-time and half-time before the Bulldogs reeled the deficit in and narrowly led by one point, 5.8 to 5.7, going into the final term.
"To be fair, Sandhurst was one player down for a lot of the game, which obviously impacted on their rotation, but the boys worked really hard," Gisborne coach Rob Waters said.
"We had been annihilated around the stoppages, so we had to work hard to try to reduce that and then in that last quarter it was able to open up for us.
"But it was a tough day at the office, no doubt about that.
"It was a really grinding game and we'll have quite a few sore blokes coming out of it."
In the absence of Pat McKenna, who was among the Bulldogs' COVID protocols outs, defender Jack Reaper stepped up to captain the Bulldogs and was named their best player.
"We had a lot of guys who were in and out of the game, but Reaps stood up the whole day in a big job on Matt Thornton," Waters said.
Jack Scanlon (three), Ethan Foreman (two) and recruit Matt Panuccio (two) combined for seven of Gisborne's 10 goals.
Dragons' coach Ashley Connick said the club was devastated by the prospect of Zimmer's season being over after just one game.
"Jed had a really good first quarter, but it looks like he has done his knee early in the second, which we're really devastated by," Connick said.
"We'll wait for the scan, but we're fearing the worst."
Playing at Gisborne for the first time since 2019, the Dragons kicked the first three goals of the game to have the momentum early.
"We felt clearly on top at quarter-time (led 3.4 to 1.3), then early in the second quarter they kicked a couple of goals and we were able to absorb that pressure and hit back with a couple of our own," Connick said.
"They closed the gap on us in the third quarter and then in the last quarter we just couldn't execute the way we wanted to.
"There was a couple of costly turnovers and they made us pay.
"We walk away knowing our best is really good, but we've just got to sustain it for longer and when we've got control of the game make the opposition pay more than we did.
"Tanner Nally and Liam Ireland on Jack Scanlon in our back half were both really good and Noah Walsh who we moved into the midfield played a good game as well... it was fairly even after that."
Gisborne 10.12 (72)
Sandhurst 6.10 (46)
GOALS: Gisborne: J.Scanlon 3, M.Panuccio 2, E.Foreman 2, M.Merrett 1, L.Ellings 1, N.Doolan 1; Sandhurst: L.Zimmer 2, B.Montague 1, H.Hosking 1, J.Wharton 1, N.Walsh 1.
BEST: Gisborne: Jack Reaper, Frank Schipano, Liam Spear, Jack Scanlon, Jaidyn Owen, Flynn Lakey. Sandhurst: Noah Walsh, Tanner Nally, Hamish Hosking, Liam Ireland, James Mittell, Cooper Smith.
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