IT took four regulation quarters and two halves of extra time, but Nightcliff secured a historic three-peat on Saturday night, defeating St Mary’s by seven points at TIO Stadium for the 2020/21 NTFL Men’s Premier League flag. In what will go down as arguably the most dramatic league decider of all time, the Tigers rode a rollercoaster of momentum to sneak ahead at the ideal moment, triumphing 16.14 (110) to 16.7 (103) after extra time.
The minor premiers came in as hot favourites and looked to be well on their way to justifying that tag, having streamed as far as 39 points ahead in the second term. But St Mary’s, this season’s second-ranked side, clawed back to within striking distance and even set up what seemed like an unassailable 19-point buffer in the final stanza. The green machine could not withstand Nightcliff’s late charge though, forced to defend desperately before enigmatic forward, John Butcher tied the scores from close range with under 10 seconds left to play.
Officials were left in a scramble to confirm whether the competition would see its first ever extra time periods in a grand final, and that is exactly what fans were treated to. With the deadlock remaining for most of the first half, Nightcliff managed to shake off inevitable fatigue and carry its final flow into the next set of five minutes, with Trent Melville booting the deciding goal and sending his side into a celebratory spin.
Melville, last year’s Chaney Medal winner, finished with three majors alongside teammate Kyle Emery, though it was St Mary’s spearhead Jackson Calder who dominated the big sticks with six majors. Former St Kilda utility Raphael Clarke took out the best afield medal this time around for his heroic efforts in the Saints’ defence.
Nightcliff’s combination of grunt and class through the engine room proved crucial to the shifting tide, as the likes of Nichols Medalist Dom Brew, Brodie Filo, Phillip Wills, and Shaun Wilson all made an impact. NT legend Cam Ilett was also terrific, and sealed his eighth top flight premiership – three with Nightcliff and five at St Mary’s.
In a heartbreaking losing effort, St Mary’s were serviced well by the likes of Jack Landt and Lachlan Taylor alongside Clarke and Calder. Having put some disruptive off-field controversies behind them in recent weeks, the Saints fell just short of redeeming their 2019/20 loss to Nightcliff in the same fixture but can come away proud having pushed this remarkable Tigers side all the way.
FINAL SCORES (AET*):
NIGHTCLIFF 5.2 | 9.5 | 11.10 | 16.14 (110)
ST MARY’S 3.0 | 6.3 | 11.5 | 16.7 (103)
*AET = after extra time
Nightcliff: T. Melville 3, K. Emery 3, S. Wilson 2, B. Henderson 2, R. Mu, J. Butcher, P. Wills, L. Holt-Fitz, B. Filo, D. Butcher
St Mary’s: J. Calder 6, J. Long 2, H. Labastida 2, B. Grenfell, N. Paredes, J. Cheek, N. Yarran, J. Robinson, J. Landt
Chaney Medal: Raphael Clarke (St Mary’s)
Image Credit: Felicity Elliott/AFLNT Media