Round 7 Turns the Tables
Christchurch Bulldogs 17 11 113 def. Eastern Blues 13 10 88
This was the most anticipated game of the season. Top spot and the minor premiership were up for grabs. Both teams fielded strong sides, with the Blues probably missing two of their best 24. This was somewhat offset by the return of Blues forward Cam Bailey. The dogs welcomed back Ash Smith and Alex Frew for their first games of the season, while Jonty Hall returned from national duties where he had represented New Zealand at under-18 level. Mitch Harding returned after a long lay off with a proppy knee.
The game was tight in the first half, with both sides wasting opportunities in front of goal. The Bulldogs managed only 3-behinds in the second quarter, allowing the more accurate Blues to take a half time lead of 4-points, The Dogs defence was brittle at times and leaked some easy goals. Things were not helped when the Blues were gifted 2-goals before the half time break thanks to some down the field penalties resulting from late tackles on Blues' players who had disposed of the ball. Coach Peterson would have been disappointed with this undisciplined show of aggression.
The game opened up in the second half and both teams began to score more freely. Centre clearances were critical, as both teams had dominant forward lines that converted quickly once the opportunity presented itself. Cam Bailey was performing well for the Blues with 3-goals and supported by Dan Benny and Trent Sherlock. At the last change, the blues led by a slim 5-points.
The last quarter saw the Dogs take the game by the scruff of the neck. Their strong midfield of Van Gruting, Andrews and Paddy Smith began to fire and they found willing targets up forward in Zac Williams, Justin Percival, Tristan Woodward and Wayne Sullivan. The dogs finished strongly, ramming home impressive 8-goals to the Blues 3 to secure a 25-point win and top spot. There is still plenty of intrigue to be played out between these two teams before the bragging rights are settled.
Best Bulldogs: Andrews, Sullivan, Percival, Woodward, Van Gruting, Frew and P Smith
Best Blues: Bailey, Court, L Ingliss, Sherlock and Watt
Mid-Canterbury Eagles 10 11 71 def. University Cougars 10 5 65
This was a critical game fro both sides. The loser was more than likely to finish in 4th spot and miss out on a chance at the premiership playoffs. Both teams had improved over the preceding weeks and were possibly fielding their strongest sides of the season. The Eagles welcomed back Wellington based journeyman, Stanley Chung, who will sacrifice anything to play for his beloved Eagles. The Cougars list is looking settled and players are improving each week as they gain experience. They probably lack a few on the bench each week, forcing them to limit rotations.
As it turned out, the game was probably won in the first quarter, in which the Eagles opened up a handy 19-point lead. The Cougars were not disgraced however and kept plugging away, with ball magnets Neil de Joux and Brendan Swift winning plenty of the ball. The Eagles, without inside player Simon Carden, were well serviced by Stan Chung in the mid-field and key defender Matt Crighton was a wall in defence across half back. Utility forward Richie Hazlewood took some signature overhead grabs and converted truly in front of the sticks.
Over the next two quarters the Cougars slowly clawed their way back into the game and at the last change were only trailing by 8-points. A goal-of-the year effort by Cougar spearhead Jamie Day lifted the team in the last quarter and they found themselves within 2-points with plenty of time to gain the lead. The last quarter was an epic contest between two teams that have not tasted victory too often in recent years. The Eagles peppered the goal for about 10-minutes but could not land the knockout blow. A telling turnover by the Cougars as they stormed forward in the dying stages of the match was a wasted opportunity which they could not recover from. The Eagles managed only one last quarter goal, but it was enough in the end to stave off the spirited University side, holding on to win by 6-points in a pulsating final term.
Best Eagles: Chung, Crighton, Hazlewood, Robles and Peters
Best Cougars: de Joux, Swift, McKenzie and Day