By ZAC MILBANK
The West End State team has retained the Haydn Bunton Junior Cup with a gritty 13-point win against the WAFL at Adelaide Oval on Friday night.
Overcoming inaccuracy in front of goal and a sluggish start in the first term, the Croweaters strung together their fourth successive win against the Sandgropers with as many as 12 players making their senior State debut.
Now boasting a 50-48 win-loss record against their Nullarbor rivals, SA was led by Fos Williams Medallist James Rowe, who racked up 26 disposals, 11 marks and a goal in an exceptional display of fine foot skills.
Leading by the barest of margins at the final change, Jade Rawlings’ charges booted an alarming eight behinds in a row before wingman Marty Frederick converted his 25m set shot after a free kick for too high.
SA goalsneak Josh Hone then hit the post before bigman Connor Ballenden nailed his set shot from 45m out to seal the result for the hosts.
The visitors climbed back into the contest in the third quarter, with crafty forward Ben Sokol booting two goals in succession to draw his side within six points, 15 minutes in.
And when WA key forward Jack Buller successfully launches a 50m set shot five minutes later, the Black Swans suddenly developed plenty of belief as scores were locked away.
Woodville-West Torrens star James Rowe was awarded a free kick just before the three-quarter time siren within 40m of goal but his set shot sailed wide, giving SANFL a one-point lead at the final change.
SANFL wrestled control of the contest in the second term with 21 inside 50m entries to WAFL’s nine as the hosts stretched the half-time advantage out to 17 points.
The Sandgropers’ only goal of the term came from their first inside 50m of the second quarter resulted in a goal to Milan Murdock.
Classy Rowe was playing his high half-forward role beautifully, setting up a goal to Connor Ballenden with a nice foot pass before nailing his own set shot from 40m after a lovely left-foot pass from Brett Turner.
The WAFL began the match much stronger but were unable to convert on the scoreboard as they engineered 15 inside 50 entries’ to SANFL’s eight and three more clearances at the stoppages.
But the elite set shot kicking of vice-captain McBean, who kicked two goals, including one on the quarter time siren, and Keenan Ramsey, saw the Croweaters hold a surprising lead at the first change.
Glenelg’s Darcy Bailey finished with a team-high 28 disposals and 10 marks while using the ball nicely by foot in defence for SA as he relished his first State game.
Prolific Eagles midfielder Mitch Hardie bolted out of the block early before tallying 25 disposals, 11 marks and seven tackles while Frederick came alive in the second half before registering 19 disposals, six marks and his vital last term major.
WAFL’s Angus Schumacher won the Simpson Medal as the best player for the Black Swans, chalking up 19 disposals and four tackles.
South Australian Sandgropers Stefan Giro (20 disposals, one goal) and Mitch Crowden (14 disposals, nine tackles) were also among the top performers for the visitors.