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By PEPPE CAVALIERI - Division 1 Seniors
SUNSHINE is next in line to challenge Deer Park for the Division 1 premiership after beating Hoppers Crossing in Saturday's preliminary final.
The Kangaroos were back to their best at the weekend - a week removed from a 77-point semi-final thumping at the hands of Deer Park - looking the stronger side for the majority of the contest.
Hoppers Crossing started sprightly with the opening two goals, but the Kangaroos responded well to lead by four points at the first change.
Opposing livewires Jordan Mead and Daniel Castellano traded blows in the first stanza with a pair of majors each.
But the second term was a perfect display of finals pressure, as the Roos put the Warriors under the pump, hitting half-time with a 30 point lead and owning seven of the past eight goals in the match.
Hoppers Crossing threw down the challenge in the third term as Jackson Viola looked likely to take the game by the scruff of the neck.
The Warriors drew within three goals, but would not get any closer, as the Kangaroos went into three-quarter-time 25-points ahead.
Six goals to three in the final stanza saw the margin balloon to 43-points, but in many respects, not reflective of the quality of the contest.
Sunshine answered challenges all afternoon, none more significant than when they conceded the first two goals.
The Roos steadied the ship beautifully, and were stoic again in the premiership quarter when headed.
The inclusion of Declan Moloney was a noticeable help for Sunshine, as he produced a strong performance in the ruck.
Ben Christodoulou was dynamic through the midfield and added two goals to his outstanding clearance work, while Jake Allen booted three up front.
Liam Cavanagh was terrific again down back as we're creative talents Lachie Smart, Lachie Langwell and Nathan Lyons.
Viola was the standout for Hoppers Crossing, Daniel Riosa provided a good contest and Ryan Kitchen battled hard down back to create forward thrusts for the Warriors.
But it won't be a repeat of the 2016 Grand Final, with Deer Park to face a new challenger on Saturday at Whitten Oval.
WARRIORS INTO THIRD STRAIGHT FINAL
By CONNOR PAIN - Division 1 Reserves
HOPPERS Crossing soared into their third consecutive Grand Final after kicking seven goals to two in the fourth quarter to cruise to a 45-point victory against Sunshine.
Sunshine got out to a perfect start as it kicked the first three goals of the game in the opening seven minutes, however it wasn’t long before the Warriors hit back.
As they’ve been able to do many times over the past three seasons, Hoppers hit back quickly with three goals of their own. The Kangaroos entered the first break up by just one point.
Todd Caulfield’s goal five and a half minutes into the second quarter gave Hoppers Crossing the lead for the first time in the matchup. They added another two to go into the half up by 13-points.
Sunshine won the third quarter (2.2 to 1.4) but were unable to bridge the gap as the Warriors extended their lead by another two points. The game was far from over however, as either side could have won entering the fourth quarter.
The final term highlighted the experience that comes with winning two straight premierships as Hoppers Crossing ran riot. They exploded offensively, almost scoring more in the fourth quarter than they had in the first three, and held the Kangaroos to just two majors.
Sunshine finish the year in third place and will look to build on their strong season in 2018.
The 14.9. (93) to 7.6. (48) win sets up a heavyweight Grand Final as the top two teams from the regular season face off, a replay of their previous clash just two weeks ago in the second semi-final.
Hoppers Crossing will need to break Altona’s strong defence, the Vikings had the second least amount of points scored against during the regular season, if they are to score a three-peat.
If Altona can continue its good form defensively and limit the Warriors from getting clean options inside forward 50 they’ll be a strong chance to break Hoppers Crossing’s streak of Grand Final wins.