Royals’ perfect response secures grand final spot
Royals secured their place in next Sunday’s Great Southern Football League grand final after kicking four goals in the last term to record a 23-point win over Mt Barker in a high-scoring and enthralling preliminary final at Centennial Stadium on Sunday.
The Lions, embarrassed by North Albany in the second semifinal a week ago, responded in perfect fashion as they kicked six first quarter goals to set up the 17.8 (110) to 13.9 (87) victory and absorbed plenty of pressure in the second half to progress to their second decider in three years.
Leading by 13 points at the final change, the Lions were immediately challenged in the fourth quarter when Bulls youngster Joel Gray snapped truly before returning Lions forward Peter Mark gave his side a direct reply at the other end.
The margin was back to single figures for the second time in the final term when veteran Ryan Ballard put his second major through and then two resulting points pulled the deficit back to four points.
However with the game on the line, the Lions kept coming as Mark stepped up to bag his second goal of the quarter that extended their lead to 10 points inside the final three minutes.
Playing just his fifth league game of the season and his first since round 9, Lions utility Cam Smith booted a fifth major and then hard-working midfielder Tyron Smallwood put the result beyond doubt.
Smith finished with five majors in a sensational return, Mark was a telling presence all afternoon on his comeback from a hamstring injury and booted 4.4, while Smallwood’s work in the midfield was superb to go with three goals in a best-afield display.
Lions coach James McRae said it was a finals victory full of character.
“I’m as proud as punch and I’m rapt with the way they responded,” McRae said.
“Dave Parker and Sam Baddeley-Holmes both not playing with injury and losing Taylor Powell to injury early, it was a true test of character and the boys responded.
“That’s the best footy we’ve played since round 3.”
Powell is the only concern from the Lions victory.
He injured his right shoulder in the first quarter and after some treatment returned to play as a deep forward.
But McRae was confident the low-grade AC shoulder injury wouldn’t prevent Powell from running out in the grand final.
Ben Gray provided great dash off half-back for the Lions to go with strong contributions from Ryan Flick and Michael McGlade, who was terrific at the stoppages and kicked two goals.
The Bulls trailed at every change and lost the inside 50 count 46-48 but star forward Kym Monteath’s six goals to three-quarter-time had the visitors in the game.
Monteath, opposed to Rory Callaghan, had three majors at half-time and then set the game alight with a couple of brilliant efforts.
He snared another three majors to help the Bulls cut the margin back to 13 points.
Despite 10 inside 50s in the final term the Bulls were out on their feet with Daniel Dably, Sam Lehmann and a proppy Tyron Miller struggling with injury late in the game.
Russell Wynne was again outstanding for the Bulls while Gray, David Stone and Nic Chidgzey (two goals) were also important at stages.
Bulls coach Shane Thompson lamented his sides first term.
“Their first quarter was the difference, we were always chasing after that and could never get in front,” he said.
“It was frustrating we couldn’t get all the players on the park that we wanted.
“But from where we were two years ago to now is far better.”
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