Contributed by: Rod Shaw
After an entertaining season in Christchurch in which all four Clubs recoded a win in the 9 rounds, the Mid Canterbury Eagles (2 wins) played the Eastern Blues (7 wins) in the Preliminary Final. It would have been a real surprise if had not been the Eastern Blues victorious, ready to challenge the Christchurch Bulldogs (8 wins) for the 2014 Flag.
Though the Canterbury finals were affected by player unavailability due to University examinations the Blues v Bulldogs Grand Final was a fitting end of season spectacle. The Blues hit the game in peak form with 2014 International Cup players Logan Toomer, Dan Benny and the hirsute Jared Court to the fore in the Preliminary. Another to star was the brilliant James Bowden, one of NZ’s flashier and more exciting players at the inaugural International Cup in 2002, who is still a very fine footballer.
These two teams were repeating the final from 2013 but the Bulldogs were only fielding 6-players that played in that game, whilst the Blues had introduced a half dozen new players themselves, all proving to be an asset to the team. The Blues looked to have a more mature list than the Dogs, who went into the game with two 17 year old and this was evident in their strength and height around the ground.
The key element the Blues have introduced this year is genuine midfielders with pace, sure hands and an ability to go forward and kick goals. This is what ultimately proved the difference between the two sides, with Logan Toomer (Otago recruit), Dan Benny, Hyden Pluck and Levi Ingliss kicking 10-goals between them.
The game started with quick transition up and down the ground and the Bulldogs drew first blood. This was short lived, as the Blues regrouped and slammed on the next 5-goals unanswered. The Dogs went forward several times in this period, but either missed shots on goal, or turned the ball over through overuse under pressure from the Blues. The Dogs backline was far too loose and did not read the game well. This was not helped by the fact that their full back all season was sitting an exam and Mitch Harding carrying a proppy knee. Loose checking allowed the Blues to take uncontested marks and swoop on spilt balls around goal. A questionable mark on the goal line was paid to the Blues and the kicker was left with plenty of space to run around off the mark and slam it through. The Blues led by 16-points at the first break.
The second quarter saw the contest tighten a bit, with both sides scoring three goals in a goal for goal contest. This meant the Blues took a handy 20-point lead into the main break.
The third quater saw a brief revival from the Bulldogs who got within 14-points, after kicking the last goal of the second quarter and the first in the third, but the Blues seemed to find something each time and keep a handy gap between the sides. An all-in altercation erupted at the Blues end, mid-way through the quarter and it took a few minutes for the umpires to clear the melee. Upon resumption, the Doggies seem to settle the quickest, but they could not get closer than 14-points at any time. By the end of the quarter they trailed by 15, which was within range for a side that could score quickly throughout the year.
The first goal in the last quarter was critical and it went to the Blues. The Dogs threw Todd Andrews into the ruck and he continually belted the ball forward, but often it was the Blues who won the clearance. It was obvious the Dogs midfield was running out of legs, with Stephan Van Gruting dropping away and Tristan Woodward cramping. The more mature bodies of the Blues outfit were taking its toll on the young and inexperienced Bulldogs and this enabled them to withstand many forward thrusts by the Dogs.
A feature of the game was the Blues' ability to transition the ball to their end from a defensive kick out. It was a matter of the Dogs not manning up at critical times. This put the Dogs defence under immense pressure and, as the last quarter wore on, their defence started to crumble.
A couple of quick goals in succession put the game beyond doubt. To their credit, the Bulldogs fought it out to the end, but on the day, they were a beaten by a better team.
It could be said that both sides had a similar top 6, but the real difference in the two teams was that the Blues had a wider spread of talent. It will be interesting to see, in years to come, how the dynamics of the two change. As has been shown in recent years, it only takes a few years for a bottom ranked team to rise to a premiership.
Congratulations to best on ground James Bowden. He was a rock in defence and used his football brain to spoil and repel numerous Dog attacks, aided by his long and accurate kicking.
Congratulations to Bulldog mid-fielder, Stephan Van Gruting, the winner of the 2014 CAFL Best and Fairest Medal and the James Bowden Trophy.
Minor premiership went to the Christchurch Bulldogs, who only lost one game during the regular season.
Final Scores; Eastern Blues 14 8 92 def Christchurch Bulldogs 9 5 59
Best Blues: Pluck, Toomer, L Ingliss, Bowden, Court, Benny
Best Bulldogs: Sullivan, Van Gruting, Andrews, Woodward, Mavov, Percival
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