NORTH GIPPSLAND FL
CHURCHILL advanced to its first grand final in five seasons to meet Heyfield, the same opponent it faced in the 2009 decider, after rallying from behind in a classic against Sale City.
Trailing at the final change of ends, the signs were ominous in the early stages of the fourth term for the Cougars.
Sale City was first to go forward, before the Cougars scored through Brendan Holt and regained the lead.
Holt became the forward of the final term with three of his game high four majors coming in the closing 20 minutes of play.
Tim Darby and Nick Campbell made it three straight to hand the Cougars a commanding 13 point buffer.
City took no time to respond, Byron Shingles exploded out of the middle roving the tap well to bomb the ball long into Jacob Schuback, who pushed back on his opponent to run onto the ball and goal.
Rowan Bell’s lightning handpass to Hayden Burgiel saw the coach send his side forward, Brendon Rathnow running onto the ball to goal, and brought the margin back within a point. Nick Grainger’s second was a result of a free kick in the goal square and would be the last for the Dogs.
Forced onto the back foot early the Cougars pushed back in the final stages of the match, Holt and Brandon Mahoney added the final three majors of the match to register a 20 point victory and secure a grand final berth, 13.13 (91) to 10.11 (71).
The result saw the Dogs crash out of the title race, but signs were positive from the opening bounce.
City’s younger tier of players, continuing an impressive finals campaign, hit the ground running led by Shingles, Rathnow, Brad Walsh and Grainger.
Matt Lutze was dominant in the ruck contests against the formidable combination of Andrew Brown and Dillon Leys, Shingles created plenty of play on the ball while the backline, led by Tim Dimarco, withstood the Cougars’ early forward pressure.
City coach Burgiel registered the first major of the contest, a long kick from outside 50 metres splitting the sticks and settling the nerves of the young pups.
The scoring dried up as play as joint league best and fairest winner Travis Brighton was closely put in check by a rotating tag with Beau Bennett performing well.
Burgiel’s major was one of three for the term; Schuback got in on the action, and Lutze rotated at full forward, combining with Bell, who returned to the line-up following a two week suspension, to set about establishing an eight point buffer at the first change.
League rookie of the year Hamish Towns made the most of his opportunities, registering one of his three for the match early, while the backline led by coach Allan Chandler was sublime in cutting off the Dogs delivery into key forward Schuback.
After a back and forth three quarters, City led by five at the last change, but was overhauled by a classy Cougars outfit.
Second placed Cowwarr recorded a 17 point victory over Churchill to advance to the grand final to meet minor premiers Heyfield.
Minor premiers Churchill advanced to the grand final with a win over Yarram, 11.16 (82) to 6.12 (48).
The Cougars will meet Traralgon Tyers United in the big one.