VIC Country has finished the AFL Under-16 National Championships on a high with a victory over South Australia at The Gabba today. The Country side had several bursts throughout the match which handed them ascendancy, but it took until the final term for the Country side to final shake off the Croweaters. There were six lead changes in the match and the largest lead was just 22 points, but in the end it was Country who saluted in a rather inaccurate 11.13 (79) to 10.3 (63) win.
Vic Country had a lot of the play early inside 50 with three misses in the opening two minutes and a fourth behind a couple of minutes later. Country co-captain Josh Rachele had two of those behinds but was looking busy in the forward half. After five minutes of dominance, Country finally put one through the big sticks with a bouncing goal from a snap off the boot of Murray Bushrangers’ Tom Brown. South Australia’s defence was holding up strong as 14-year-old Tyson Coe laid a terrific tackle to set the tone deep inside 50 and Oscar Adams rebounded to try and clear the danger zone.
For all of Country’s dominance, they had just 1.5 on the board before South Australia’s first meaningful chance with an elite kick from Jason Horne into Cooper Murley who converted the set shot and the Croweaters were back within a kick midway through the first term. Pocket rocket Isaiah Dudley was moving well around the ground for South Australia with some nice touches, while Lachlan Thomas was clean at ground level with a terrific pick-up at half-back. A 50-metre penalty to Matthew Roberts led to a shot on goal from long range and put it straight through the middle and with two great plays in a few minutes, South Australia was in front. A good lead, mark and set shot conversion from Luke Young drove the dagger in a bit further for Country with dead-eye accuracy proving the difference in the term.
But then came the play of the day with an absolute elite tap from Rachele 15m out like a ruckman more so than a leaping forward, calmly palming the ball down to Ben Hobbs who seemed to read the play well before it happened, running onto the tap and putting it through from five metres out to make the margin more representative of the game – just one point separating the side.
Similar to the first term, it did not take long for Vic Country to take ascendancy in the second with Charlie Molan running onto a ball and bursting away to boot one from point blank range and take back the lead for his side. His Greater Western Victoria (GWV) teammate in Hobbs soon had his second moments later, bursting out of a stoppage and slamming home a long-range goal. When Bendigo Pioneers’ Hugh Hamilton converted his first out of nothing, Country were suddenly 17 points up and were having the scoreboard impact they did not manage into the first quarter.
In an eerily similar turn of events to the first, Norwood’s Murley broke the deadlock once again with a handy goal inside 50 for his second. A touch of magic from Dudley to Henry Smith who was backing back to take the grab, but his set shot was stopped on the line by the steady Country defence. After helping Murley to his first in the opening term, Horne pounced on a loose ball and snapped from the pocket to put it straight through the middle and the margin was back to five. Again a meaningful pass inside 50 for South Australia, this time by Brad Jeffries found Young who, while likely would have slotted it from 20m, won a 50m penalty infringement and made it a certainty for his second.
Murley almost had his third later in the quarter but his snap drifted to the right and through for just one behind. Roberts thought he had his second, celebrating a touch too early with a fist pump for what was an impressive behind following his run out of a stoppage and flying shot. South Australia was controlling the ball in its forward half, but just missed a couple of gettable chances and the Country last line was picking off the deep entries inside 50. But the final score of the first half would go to Vic Country with Connor Macdonald running late to the line, beating his direct opponent and soccering it through.
Both sides had flying chances early in the third but only registered behinds. Both teams defences were holding up well with a terrific smother from Harry Tunkin stopping a Vic Country attacking foray. It led to an end-to-end play by the Croweaters as Jay Watson managed to get boot-to-ball as he was dragged down, hitting up the leading Roberts who converted his second major and regain the lead for his side. Both sides were bringing the tackling pressure in the term with just the one goal kicked in the first half of the term, completely different to the first two quarters. Then another nice touch from Brown into teammate Josh Rentsch gave Country a chance, though the big man missed to the left. Another end-to-end play led to Horne kicking long inside 50 then pushing hard to work over his opponent, get free and convert his second from a set shot.
The lead did not hold for long as Country’s defensive pressure inside 50 paid off with Brown refusing to accept an attempted fend-off from his opponent, dragging him down and winning the free to level the scores in the eighteenth minute. Moments later, Country had the lead back as pressure and an awkward bounce against South Australian defender Adams resulted in Rachele pouncing and snapping a goal from 15m out with some class. In the dying moments of the final term, Justin Davies and Blake Scott could have extended the margin for Country, but missed their set shots meaning the side headed into the break leading by eight points.
With both sides needing an early major after more of an arm-wrestle in the third term, Macdonald broke away from the pack, burst inside 50 and slotted it on the run to extend the lead to 15 less than a minute into the quarter. A few minutes later Country added to their handy buffer with Rachele again in the thick of it. The co-captain twisted one way and spun the other before kicking it deep and on track for goal. It was spoiled in the marking contested but Brown was waiting and he grabbed it cleanly and, in an instant, put ball to boot and added another goal to the Country’s side total making it 22 points, the largest of the game to date.
The next eight minutes were an arm-wrestle with neither team able to score and neither side giving an inch. The ball mostly camped inside South Australia’s forward line, with a goal-saving smother from Kai Lohmann stopping a certain goal, only for a free a moment later in a stoppage to Dudley to hand the Croweaters that desperately needed major. But no sooner as it looked like South Australia had the momentum back, Davies ran onto a Rachele bomb inside 50, shook off his opponent and slammed it home from the square. Matthew Dnistriansky answered the call for his side just when it looked like the game was over with six minutes remaining, finding space and taking a good mark then converting the set shot to cut the deficit to 16 again. It would be the last major of the game however, as Country held firm to win by 16 points in perfect conditions.
Rachele finished the game with a match-high 26 disposals, three clearances, three inside 50s and 1.3, while Rebels duo Hobbs (25 touches, five marks, 10 tackles, eight clearances, six inside 50s and two goals) and Molan (20 disposals, two marks, four clearances, three inside 50s and one goal) were also impressive. Brown was one of the best in the forward half with three goals from his 18 touches, while Sam Breuer was busy with 18 touches, two marks and three rebounds. For South Australia, Horne and Tunkin both finished with 18 disposals and four clearances, combining for 14 tackles and five inside 50s as well. Lewis Rayson (16 disposals, five rebounds, five marks, five tackles and three inside 50s), Lachlan Thomas (16 disposals, eight rebounds) and Jefferies (16 disposals, three marks, two tackles, two clearances and two inside 50s).
SOUTH AUSTRALIA 3.0 | 6.2 | 8.3 | 10.3 (63)
VIC COUNTRY 2.5 | 6.5 | 8.11 | 11.13 (79)
SA: C. Murley 2, L. Young 2, M. Roberts 2, J. Horne 2, I. Dudley, M. Dnistriansky.
VC: T. Brown 3, B. Hobbs 2, C. Macdonald 2, C. Molan, H. Hamilton, J. Rachele, J. Davies.
SA: M. Roberts, C., Murley, J. Horne, H. Tunkin, L. Rayson, L. Thomas
VC: B. Hobbs, T. Brown, J. Rachele, C. Molan, C. Macdonald, S. Breuer