Reigning premier West Preston-Lakeside is one win away from defending its Meadows Greyhounds Division 1 title after a hard-fought preliminary final win over North Heidelberg.
Leading by just two points at three quarter time, the Roosters booted the opening four goals of the final term to set up the 11.6 (72) to 8.12 (60) victory at Preston City Oval to clinch a second-successive grand final berth.
The win continued a stunning revival by last year’s premiers, who have now won 13 of their past 15 matches after starting their premiership defence with six-consecutive defeats.
The Roosters will now be aiming to become the first team this decade to defend a Division 1 premiership. Standing in their way is a Greensborough side which has won 18 of its 19 matches this season.
Speaking after the preliminary final win, West Preston-Lakeside coach Rob Maiorana praised his side’s resilience to bounce back after a poor start to the season.
“I take my hat off to the boys and the whole club for sticking fat and continuing to drive what we’re about. The wins started to come, and the momentum and belief started to build and now we’re here,” Maiorana said.
The preliminary final was a genuine arm-wrestle – with both sides putting everything on the line in a bruising contest.
West Preston-Lakeside got the early jump and led by 24 points early in the second quarter, but then had to rally from 12 points behind during the third quarter.
Maiorana said it was important his side continued to attack in the final term, rather than fall into a defensive mindset.
“We just had to keep taking the game on. We couldn’t go too defensive,” Maiorana said.
“It was two points (at three quarter time) so we kept attacking the game and it opened up a little bit and we got some quick goals which gave us a buffer.
“I didn’t think we played great footy across the four quarters and there is some improvement in us.
“North Heidelberg were going to come out smarting after last week’s week defeat. We knew that and they put in a tough effort and they are a tough opponent, but we got over the line.”
Nathan Valladares produced a great captain’s game and was best afield playing in both defence and attack. He was particularly prominent in the final 40 minutes to help the Roosters take back control of the game.
Michael Ercolano and Luke Lirosi were industrious through the midfield, while Matthew Harman competed well in the ruck, with his game highlighted by a massive mark during the third quarter.
North Heidelberg bounced back well from last week’s 98-point thrashing to Greensborough and looked destined to reach its first Division 1 grand final since 2005 when Billy Hogan converted early in the third term to put his side two goals ahead.
The undermanned Bulldogs were ultimately unable to hold out the reigning premier in the final 40 minutes.
While the loss will leave a disappointing taste, the club will take pride out of their effort after entering the preliminary final without injured star forward Shane Harvey and key defensive duo Ryan McGhie and Morgan Persson-Clark.
West Preston-Lakeside kicked with the wind in the first quarter but didn’t put the advantage on the scoreboard until late in the term – with three goals in time-on helping the Roosters to an 18-point advantage at quarter time.
Luke Lirosi extended the margin to 24 early in the second term, before North Heidelberg took control of the contest in a 20-minute purple patch before half time.
Despite their dominance, it was also this period that proved costly for North Heidelberg – who was left to rue several missed opportunities in front of goal.
The Bulldogs’ manic pressure had the Roosters defence looking rattled. However, they booted a wayward 4.7 – which included several botched set shots – and led by just seven points, when the margin could have been far greater.
West Preston-Lakeside took back the lead in the third quarter courtesy of goals to Mitch Crapper and Isaac Constantinidis, before two majors early in the final term to Matthew Vincitorio stretched the buffer to 13 points.
Ahmed Saad added another when he was marched to the goal line courtesy of a 50-metre penalty, before a long bomb from Garrett McDonagh sent the Roosters’ faithful into raptures as a grand final spot was secured – something that looked unlikely for much of the year.
Final score: North Heidelberg 8.12 (60) def by West Preston-Lakeside 11.6 (72)
Goal Kickers: B. Hogan 2, B. Harvey 2, J. Baddeley-Kelly, L. Nunan, J. Bulman, S. Biggs
Best Players: S. Biggs, M. Dillon, J. Tardio, J. Baddeley-Kelly, J. Fitzpatrick
Goal Kickers: A. Saad 3, M. Vincitorio 2, N. Kempe, I. Constantinidis, L. Lirosi, G. McDonagh, M. Crapper, M. Ercolano
Best Players: N. Valladares, M. Ercolano, M. Crapper, L. Lirosi, N. Robortella, M. Harman