North West AFL: Gunnedah Bulldogs crowned champions

Gunnedah Bulldogs broke the New England Nomads’ stranglehold on the North West AFL premiership with a late fourth quarter spurt at Wolseley Oval on Saturday.

Chasing their first premiership since 1991, the Bulldogs prevailed in a pulsating grand final 15.16-106 to 13.8-86, the final 20-point margin not a true reflection of how close a contest it was.

The Bulldogs had to dig deep as the five-times reigning champions whittled away their lead to hit the front mid-way through the final quarter.

But as the crowd rode every tackle, every hand ball and every kick, the Bulldogs rallied, Mark Ewington restoring their lead.

Player of the grand final Andrew George then snatched a great intercept but couldn’t quite finish the job. Still it was a point, and when Mark Barrow turned and snapped his second for the game the Bulldogs were out by eight.

Ewington kicked them out to 13 with about five minutes to go after a great run from Jacob Spackman and searching kick into Ewington in the forward pocket.

Spackman then put the icing on a win to savour.

“We knew it would take four quarters to get the job done and it did,” an elated coach Greg Piggott said.

Part of both winning and losing grand finals sides, he said Saturday was how you want a grand final to be.

“When you’ve really got to work to get the win you appreciate it more,” he said.

He said it wasn’t really until Spackman’s goal to put them four goals up that he started to relax. It would take a miracle for the Nomads to snatch it from there.

“We knew it was going to be a tough game,” Piggott said.

“We got out to a bit of a lead, then they pegged us back.”

Part of both winning and losing grand finals sides, he said Saturday was how you want a grand final to be.

“When you’ve really got to work to get the win you appreciate it more,” he said.

He said it wasn’t really until Spackman’s goal to put them four goals up that he started to relax. It would take a miracle for the Nomads to snatch it from there.

“We knew it was going to be a tough game,” Piggott said.

“We got out to a bit of a lead, then they pegged us back.”

The first quarter was tit for tat early but then became the George show, the Bulldogs skipper kicking three for the term as they took a 6.4-40 to 4.0-24 lead into the first break.

The Nomads booted the first points of the second quarter but George replied with his fourth and Piggott followed with his first to extend the Bulldogs lead beyond 20.

But just as the home side looked to have taken control the Nomads found their running game and peeled off the next three to close within four points. Piggott stemmed the Nomads momentum with his second to give the Bulldogs a nine point advantage at the long break.

The third quarter followed a similar script with the Nomads the first to score, the Bulldogs kicking the next two only for the Nomads to fight back, Nick Locke’s second for the quarter a couple of minutes before the break cutting the Bulldogs lead back to a point.

The Bulldogs had a couple of opportunities early in the fourth but were off target, and the Nomads made them pay, Clarence Barker landing his fourth to put the Nomads ahead for the first time since the first quarter.

“We were struggling to get through half-forward for the first 10 of the last quarter,” Piggott said.

“When they hit that lead it was more about trying to win the centre.

“Footy is won in the centre. You win the centre clearance, you win the game.”

The Dogs did and the opportunities started to open up.

Piggott felt the Bulldogs superior fitness was a big factor in the result. They were able to draw on that in the fourth quarter and as the Nomads tired were able to finish over the top of them.

Nomads coach Tom Hunt was proud of his sides effort and the way they kept fighting.

“It was a tough game. We knew we would have to play our best footy to compete,” he said.

Playing catch-up since virtually mid-way through the first quarter, he said the feeling was “pretty positive” when they hit the front in the final quarter.

“We got a couple of goals and started to get a bit of momentum, but we just ran out of legs,” Hunt said.

Arguably the most explosive side in the competition, Hunt felt their turnaround came from a couple of things.

Mainly they started to find the running game that makes them so devastating, which opened things up for them.

James Treweeke coming back and playing as the spare man in the backline also helped.

Hunt said Locke was fantastic playing in the middle and up front. Barker and Phil Mitchell were also great.

Earlier the Inverell Saints won the inaugural women’s premiership by defeating the Tamworth Kangaroos 8.0-48 to 2.8-20.

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