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DESPITE the hype surrounding the lead-up, North Gippsland football’s top of the table clash failed to live up to expectations after an entertaining and dogged opening term.
Over the past 10 weeks the performance of Churchill has seen the Cougars’ train take no passengers as it railroaded the competition. Howerver, on Saturday the Cougars were served up their own medicine with undefeated ladder leader Heyfield flexing its muscle.
For the Kangaroos, the 16.18 (114) to 11.9 (75) win was merely part of their amazing run of 17 wins. But the minor premiers didn’t have it all their own way, as they were tested in the early stages.
Four points separated the sides in round eight, on Saturday it would be 39, with the forward brilliance of Jesse Bedggood and Jess Jackway, with cameo performances from Josh Stubbe and Kodie Woodland testing a stretched Cougar back line.
Little separated the sides early in the contest, with the finals-type atmosphere evident by the nerves and rushed passages of play which featured.
The home side settled first with Brandon Mahoney registering its first goal on the run. Teammate Joe Whykes looked to send the Cougars forward again before he was halted in his tracks by a bone crunching tackle by Cam Garrett.
With a run of behinds on the board, Jackway settled the Kangaroos with their first major at the 12-minute mark of the first term before the sides exchanging blows on the scoreboard with the visitors’ five behinds the margin at the change of ends.
Churchill levelled the scores early in the second term before Kodie Woodland slotted through a goal for the visitors.
Jackway was everywhere, setting up a number of opportunities in front of goal as he pushed the patience of defender Jordon Fenech. But his teammates struggled to find the posts, a second miss to Nick Dinsdale in as many minutes resulted in Churchill pushing forward with Whykes swooping on the ball to goal.
Stubbe got the quick reply followed by a long bomb from Jack Woodland on the run, which had the Kangaroos bench on its feet.
Down and out, Whykes was left dazed and uneasy as the Kangaroos continued their run on the scoreboard.
A sublime one-handed pick up by Bedggood and major provided the visitors with a two-goal lead at the 20-minute mark. Bedggood had his second as Jackway and Kodie Woodland combined to hit Bedggood on the chest in front of Jarrod Broadbent, before Jackway added his side’s fifth for the term to give the Kangaroos a handy 24-point buffer.
During the third term, Nick Dowse was all class, his vision to hit running teammates Jack Woodland, Garrett and Stubbe was influential in creating run off half-back as he kept several opponents at bay.
Scott Anderson was the master of a productive defence, which was given some respite with Brendan Holt missing from the line-up and Tim Darby, despite booting three goals, kept relatively in check in the first half before coming to life in early stages of the fourth term.
Heyfield led by more than seven goals at the final change, but goals from Brad Knowles, Tim Darby and Chris Williams kept the Kangaroos’ nerves jangling. However, the visitors had the answers with Kodie Woodland and Bedggood steadying the flow of goals.