By PETER CORNWALL
The Anzac Day grand final rematch is a wonderful SANFL tradition, the clash between the previous winter’s top two sides on such an important day always keenly anticipated.
And this Eagles-Roosters match-up could hardly have more appeal, with the rivals having displayed all their explosive skills in their most recent performances. The Eagles booted a stunning 24 goals to dispose of the Crows, while the Roosters rebounded from two losses to pummel previously unbeaten Norwood by 92 points.
North, on this day or remembrance, clearly will remember last year’s grand final, when Jade Sheedy’s Eagles kicked clear with a matchwinning nine-goal second quarter to set up a stirring premiership win.
While Jacob Sujran’s talented line-up will be desperate to win this time, it’s not about making amends, or chasing revenge, it’s about winning a game of footy to balance the ledger at two wins and two losses and show the side is a serious finals threat.
The Roosters looked every bit of that against Norwood, beating the Legs on their home turf for the first time since 2009. Magarey Medallist Campbell Combe dominated, while forward Lewis Hender was back to his flamboyant best with six goals.
And, talking of goals, how good was it to see Tyson Stengle on fire with four against the Crows. Wouldn’t it be great to see Hender and Stengle both blitzing it in this Anzac Day clash?
While last year’s grand finalists will be battling it out on Anzac Day, here’s the Anzac clash we missed out on last year.
And it’s a mouth-watering prospect, too. Glenelg beat Port Adelaide in a memorable 2019 grand final but Port was missing last year along with Adelaide because of COVID restrictions for AFL clubs. On a day Glenelg is commemorating its history in its centenary league season, these great rivals will clash for the first time since the Tigers claimed a 28-point win to end a 33-year premiership drought.
And the Bays are taking all before them with three wins from three to start their big year. There was plenty to like about the way they beat Central, co-captains Chris Curran and Max Proud leading from the back in a rock-solid Tigers defence.
Port could hardly have been closer in a hard-fought nine-point loss to top side South, just not quite finding a way in front of goals. Skipper Cam Sutcliffe led from the front as he desperately tried to get his side up. His team-mates look certain to be following his steely example when they step out against an old rival with a score to settle.
Two steps forward, one step back. That’s how it’s been for West Adelaide and Norwood this season.
And that makes this week’s clash pretty important for both clubs.
Westies were right around the mark in the first two games, close but not close enough against Glenelg (11 points) and Adelaide (six points). But only Sturt’s inaccuracy made their Round 3 clash at all competitive, West beaten 6.7 to 12.21 at Unley. Norwood kicked off the year with impressive wins against Port and Sturt.
But who could have guessed what was coming next? A 92-point drubbing at the hands of North, the Legs kicking a meagre two goals in a horror setback. While the Roosters clearly are a star-studded line-up that was going to click sooner rather than later, it was the magnitude of the loss that caused concern among the Redlegs faithful.
But, just as North had a point to prove after two losses to start the year, Norwood will be desperate to show it is finals material as it heads to Richmond.
And, also like North, the Redlegs have such quality among their line-up, it’s hard not to see them putting that poor performance quickly behind them. West will be looking to show its faithful fans it’s better than its last offering as well, so it all adds up to a competitive clash this time around.
The Blues’ scoreline looked ugly. But coach Martin Mattner wasn’t concerned by it. Instead, he was pleased because his men had taken a step in the right direction in their aim to be better for longer.
Sturt scored its first win for the campaign, dominating for long stretches in its 50-point win against West but a scoreline of 12.21 showed the margin could have been far greater. The Blues were on the front foot with 67 inside-50s to the Bloods’ 33, even with superstar midfielder Patrick Wilson sidelined from the second quarter.
Returning from a shoulder injury, Wilson quickly showed what Sturt was missing in the opening two rounds by winning the first centre clearance of the day, the Blues premiership midfielder immediately looking right at home in his return game after three years with the Crows. But his shoulder was injured again and he won’t be out there at Noarlunga in a game Sturt will need to be at its best.
There’s no big statements off the ground but South Adelaide’s footy is doing the talking. Jarrad Wright’s top-ranked Panthers are step-by-step showing they have what it takes to be a major player when it counts.
When the season was about to kick off, North and Port were talked up as flag fancies. In the past two weeks South has beaten both. In both games, it was seriously challenged. In both, it rose to the challenge.
Big, high-scoring wins are loved by the fans but it’s the hard-fought, against-the-odds successes when you’re not at your best that count most in building towards finals success. The Panthers, who made the preliminary final last season, clearly are heading in the right direction.
Coach Paul Thomas knows what makes the Bulldogs tick. And he gave his young Dogs a tick for their commitment to the Central way as they fought the game out against high-flying Glenelg, beaten by 34 points after looking like being blown away early.
“One of the key things with the Central District Footy Club is to never give in, they will just keep working and try to find a way – we tried to find a way,” he said. It’s very much a trait of the way Thomas played in helping the Doggies to six flags and they are certain to be flying the flag this week.
There’s something special about the Anzac Round. And Thomas is someone who has embraced these fixtures, winning a remarkable four Bob Quinn Medals. Whether the Dogs can play more consistent footy for longer as Thomas is trying to instil in his young charges remains to be seen but one thing is sure – they will be up for their clash with the Crows.
Adelaide will be looking for improvement after being thumped by the Eagles. But there were a few positives in their 83-point drubbing. Three goals to Next Generation Academy pick-up Tariek Newchurch and 15 disposals from last year’s smooth-moving second round draft pick Brayden Cook, back from a shoulder injury, were pointers to a positive future.
It’s back to the future with experienced skipper Matthew Wright. It’s 10 years since he made his AFL debut with the Crows but the SANFL skipper probably was his side’s best against the Eagles. If these sides follow the examples of Thomas and Wright, this will be a fitting Anzac Round clash.