BACK-TO-BACK premiers Sale City was bundled out of flag contention at the final hurdle on Saturday courtesy of a 35-point loss at the hands of Heyfield.
Aiming to advance to their third straight grand final, the Dogs went into the contest bolstered by the return of premiership players Jake Schuback and Jake Milham.
The pair added fire power to a forward structure which coach Nick Hider had described as “not balanced or clinical” following their semi-final victory.
Yet to drop the points against Sale City in three encounters this season, Heyfield would have been wary of the addition of Schuback and Milham to the Dogs line-up but didn’t look phased early in the contest.
Following on from a standout individual performance last Sunday, City’s Joel Brayshaw opened the scoring in the first two minutes after fleet-footed Rowan Bell booted the ball to Brayshaw in the pocket.
Adam Walker looked to register City’s second minutes later but his shot sprayed across the front of goal.
Schuback then opened his account with a goal from the edge of the centre square as the reigning premiers looked up and about.
City came again before the Kangaroos’ defence slowly moved the ball forward, Dowse combining with coach Adrian Cox in the goal square.
The coach slotted through Heyfield’s first major eight minutes into the contest, before a strong juggling mark in front of goal saw Mitch Dowse boot his first of three for the day to reel the margin back to two points.
The scoring dried up in the windy conditions as the ball moved between the two half backlines with neither side able to break through in a scrappy 10 minutes of play.
Schuback broke the deadlock in the dying stages of the first term to hand the Dogs a nine point break at the first siren.
Long and direct was the order from Cox to his troops at quarter time and the side did exactly that.
Neille’s shot at goal held up in the wind to travel out of bounds and Cox missed another before Dowse put the Kangaroos in front with Szabo extending the lead further soon after.
City’s defenders struggled to move the ball forward, opting to keep it in the dead pocket as the Kangaroos’ forwards forced the turnovers and looked to extend the margin.
Cox made it two in a row as he built on a handy buffer ahead of half time with the Kangaroos kicking into the wind.
City’s Tom Wilson broke Heyfield’s dominance after a 50 metre penalty sent the ball into the Dogs’ forward line to goal.
Two quick majors after the main change extended Heyfield’s half-time lead.
A free kick to Jesse Jackway following an indiscretion by City defender Michael Walsh sent the ball up in the air for the leading pack, with Dowse throwing the ball on the boot to snap at goal from 10 metres out.
Rowan Bell worked hard with Hider to lift the Dogs, but they could do little to eat away at the margin; a late goal to Chris Fleming in the third term brought the margin back to 20 points.
The final term was a formality as Heyfield held strong in the final 25 minutes to book its first grand final appearance since its 2009 premiership.
The Dogs were left to rue number of opportunities to build on the lead in the second term, but it was the Kangaroos key play makers that stepped up on the big stage.
Coach Cox might have been ineligible to win the Sel Burley medal at Wednesday’s league vote count but he put in an almighty performance on the preliminary final stage to single-handedly set his side up for a grand final berth.
Josh Neille and Dowse created play on the ball while the side’s backline, led by assistant coach Jesse Leeds, withstood the Dogs forward pressure to ensure the Kangaroos booked a berth in the season’s ultimate contest.
Smarting after dropping their semi-final clash last Saturday, the Kangaroos bounced back to post an impressive victory, 14.15 (99) to 10.4 (64).
Cox kicked a game high seven majors while Dowse finished the match with three.
The Kangaroos’ backline was rock solid and restricted City’s forward play makers from getting hold of the ball.
The Kangaroos’ back six were sublime in creating run from half back and setting up play down field with Brenton Dinsdale’s calculated running from half-back integral in setting up the Kangaroos’ forward line.
Hider had a big game on the back of two stellar months.