The Narooma Lions qualified for their second-straight Sapphire Coast AFL grand final with a 36-point victory over the Merimbula Diggers in the major semi-final at Bill Smyth Oval.
It gives the Lions a chance to avenge their grand-final loss last season, and to break their 37-year premiership drought.
The Diggers will now play the Pambula Panthers for a grand-final berth in next weekend’s preliminary final.
Narooma started the better side, as the Diggers struggled to put any defensive pressure on the Lions’ prime ball movers.
The early dominance sprung rewards on the scoreboard, as Simon Mackie got involved with two early goals to build a quick 24-point lead.
The Diggers hit back though, as they started getting their hands on the football through the midfield. This led to a few easy chances inside the forward 50, and the Diggers took full advantage to trail by 17-points at the first break.
Any momentum Merimbula had at the end of the first quarter was quickly snatched back by the Lions, who started getting back on top through the middle of the ground.
This brought the Lions’ forward-line right into play, and they capitalised through goals from Mackie, Jai Reed, and Luke Talty.
The Diggers only managed one goal for the quarter, giving the Lions a 47-point lead at the main break.
The two-week break caught up with both sides in the third quarter, as players from both sides started to struggle with cramp.
This stemmed the attacking flow, as both sides started tightening up inside the defensive 50, but the Lions still managed to grow their lead by one straight kick going into the final change.
The last quarter was played on Narooma’s terms, despite the Lions being down to just one healthy body on the bench.
Three late goals to the Diggers would put some respectability into the scoreline, as the Lions ran out 21.10 (136) to 15.10 (100 winners).
Simon Mackie kicked seven goals for the victors, while Luke Talty chipped in with five of his own.
For the Diggers, Daniel Edwards kicked nine goals, and Dylan Jordan chipped in with two bombs from outside 50.
Lions’ captain/coach Jason Sauiluma said his side should be better prepared for a tilt at the premiership after last year’s heartbreak.
“It feels different this year because we’ve had the finals experience,” he said. “There were quite a few players in their first finals series last year, and we didn’t quite rise to the challenge.
“I’m sure they’ve learnt their lesson, and we can take those lessons into the grand final.”
The win was the closest match the Lions had played in more than two months, something Sauiluma sees as a positive.
“It’s the first time we’ve been properly challenged in a long time,” he said. “They only challenged us for a quarter last time we played them, but they took it to us for four quarters today.
“We’ll look into this, assess it, and move on to the grand final.”
Narooma 21.10 (136) (Goals: S Mackie 7, L Talty 5, J Sauiluma 2, J Reed 2, Z Martin, C Taylor, J Lang, H Lang, T Mikolic; Best: C Fosternally, W Hodge, J Lang, C Taylor, J Sauiluma, T Clarke) def. Merimbula 15.10 (100) (Goals: D Edwards 9, D Jordan 2, J Hambling, D Worden, J Martyn, T McNeil; Best: J Hambling, L Musgrave, D Worden, J Richmond, D Jordan, D Edwards).