Lauderdale have booked themselves a third-straight Bupa TSL Grand Final berth after emerging from Saturday’s Preliminary Final triumphant over a valiant Launceston outfit by seven points.
The Bombers trailed the Blues by as much as 21 points midway through the third term before finding another gear, piling on eight of the final eleven goals to scrape home in what was undoubtedly one of the games of the season.
Alex FitzGerald looks at five talking points to come out of the game:
- Launceston are thereabouts, and Dylan Riley is a star
The Blues may have had an indifferent first half of the season, but after the round 12 bye they hit their straps, winning six of their last eight roster matches to head into the finals series in red-hot form. After easily accounting for the Tigers and Glenorchy in their first two finals encounters, the Northern dark horses stormed out of the blocks against Lauderdale at Blundstone Arena on Saturday, and it was no surprise that Dylan Riley played a leading role. Riley kicked back-to-back majors in the opening term, his first from a tight angle on the boundary, as the Blues took the lead at the first change.
He then provided fans with one of the goals of the season in the third term, gathering the ball just forward of the wing and taking three bounces while evading opponents, finishing truly to put the Blues 21 points up. A Grand Final berth wasn’t to be for his side, but the fact that Launceston’s form resurgence coincided with Riley’s mid-season return from NTFA outfit Meander Valley suggests that if the young core unit stays together for the 2020 season alongside their smattering of bonafide stars, the boys from Windsor Park will be a force to be reckoned with in 2020.
- Sam Siggins is a match-winner
With the Bombers down by four kicks in the crucial ‘premiership quarter,’ the decision was made by the Lauderdale coaching staff to throw the enigmatic Siggins into the ruck. The tall midfielder had by quiet by his own lofty standards after tumbling through his side’s opening major, but it wouldn’t be for long, with the move undoubtedly a masterstroke. Siggins contested hard against physical ruckman Hamish Leedham and provided another on-ball option once the ball hit the deck, with his influence around the stoppages helping the Bombers to pile on five unanswered majors to head into the final change with a ten-point lead.
- The Bombers are a different side with Josh McGuinness back
Despite finishing second on the ladder heading into finals, Lauderdale at times looked a shell of the side that had conquered all before it before the latter rounds. The fact that former Brisbane Lion Josh McGuinness missed a large chunk of those matches sidelined with a hamstring injury was no coincidence, with the versatile tall defender’s form seeing him again selected in the Team of the Year. Saturday was McGuinness’ first game back and the effect was instantly noticeable, with the Bombers’ back six appearing more steady and composed under his leadership. With a full game under his belt, Lauderdale fans will breathe a little easier knowing he’ll be lining up in next week’s decider.
- Lauderdale’s strength lies in winning the hard ball
It is often said that a game can be won and lost in the midfield, and for Lauderdale this season that saying has been as applicable as ever. When Lauderdale lowered their colours to North Launcesotn in Round 19, they did so without inside midfielders Bryce Walsh and Phil Bellchambers. Walsh is a skipper who leads from the bottom of packs, with the physical on-baller in sublime form this finals series. Add midfield trio Bellchambers, Nat Franklin, Sam Burge and a rampaging Nick Raglione storming into the middle from half-back and you have a hardened core unit that are capable of matching the might of the North Launceston on-ball brigade on their day. With half forward recruits Alex Saunders and Henry Kerinaiua linking up well and wingman Rhys Sutton regaining form, next week’s outcome will rest strongly on how well the men inside the centre square perform.
- Groundhog day as the Bombers meet again. And again.
Unbelievably, Lauderdale will meet North Launceston in the Grand Final for the third year in a row, but they’d probably like to forget the first two encounters. In 2017 the Northern juggernaut blew the game open early and maintained a healthy lead throughout the afternoon, eventually running out 87-point victors. 2018 saw a closer decider, with just a point separating the two sides at the main change, before North Launceston slowly kicked away to win by 20 points. Having defeated the reigning premiers twice earlier this season, Lauderdale know what they have to do to quell the flag favourites, and following Saturday’s outstanding win would be full of confidence that they can change the outcome this time around.
Lauderdale 3.2, 5.2, 10.6, 13.9 (87)
Launceston 4.0, 5.6, 8.8, 11.14 (80)
Lauderdale : J. Gillbee 3, A. Saunders 2, R. Sutton, S. Siggins, A. Hill, N. Raglione, B. Walsh, H. Kerinaiua, R. McManus, N. Franklin
Launceston: D. Riley 3, J. Harper 2, T. Bristow 2, J. Blackberry, A. Wright, B. Killalea, J. Dakin
Lauderdale : B. Walsh, S. Siggins, N. Franklin, N. Raglione, E. Trupp, O. Shaw
Launceston: J. Harper, J. Smith, T. Bristow, M. Hodge, B. Killalea, S. Vandervelde