Classic Contests: Bushrangers’ seven-goal last term blows away Pioneers

IF you are missing footy like we are, then let us somewhat salvage that with a look back in a new series of Classic Contests. In today’s contest we look at one of the would-have-been Round 2 clashes in the NAB League this year between Murray Bushrangers and Bendigo Pioneers. In this edition, we wind back the clock to 2017, when the sides went head-to-head in an opening round meeting down at Punt Road in what was a tight game for three quarters before the Bushrangers stormed to victory in the last term.

MURRAY BUSHRANGERS 1.1 | 3.3 | 6.8 | 13.13 (91)
BENDIGO PIONEERS 1.3 | 2.5 | 4.8 | 5.10 (40)

Round 1 | Saturday, March 25, 2017
Swinburne Centre, 3.15pm

There was no form to go off for either side heading into the opening round’s clash at Punt Road, with both sides having a number of draft hopefuls on show. Over-ager Ben Paton was one of a number of prospects who were unlucky not to end up on an AFL list the year before, while the Bushrangers had a number of talls such as Hudson Garoni, Jacob Koschitzke, Jordon Butts and Ben Kelly who would trouble a lot of opposition sides. Coming off a Grand Final loss to Sandringham Dragons the year before, the Bushrangers were looking good for another deep finish after double-figure players were drafted in November. The Pioneers changed coaches with Rick Coburn coaching his first match in this game, with Paddy Dow leading a number of top draft prospects for the year, though there were still a few out of the side for this match. Others who would end up on AFL lists included Angus Schumacher and Kane Farrell who also played in the match, while a host of players would enter the state league system in the coming years.

It was clear from early on that the Pioneers would be no pushovers against a Bushrangers side that had seen much success of late. By quarter time, the Bendigo team led by two points in a low-scoring affair, though by half-time, Murray had regained control, albeit only slightly to lead by a mere four points at half-time. The game remained fairly even in the third quarter, but it was clear the favourites were starting to get on top, but not making the most of their chances. The Bushrangers booted 3.5 to 2.3 to extend the lead out to a straight two kicks by the final break. With the game at breaking point, nothing would be left on the line and Murray soon showed some of the talent that had taken it to last year’s grand final. The Bushrangers piled on 7.5 to 1.2 in a barnstorming final term to run away with a 51-point win. While the margin might not have been indicative of the overall closeness between the sides for the match, it did show what Murray was capable of when the Bushrangers got a run on.

Of all the areas, Murray dominated the inside 50 count 54-36 with a high proportion coming in the final term, whilst winning the clearance battle 33-19. With first hands on the footy, it was more surprising to see the Bushrangers also winning the tackle count on the day, 65-61. With five multiple goalkickers, the Bushrangers shared the load and were able to provide unpredictability going inside 50.

Nicholas Richards ended up with the most touches in the game, finishing with 27 disposals, five marks, four tackles, six clearances, four inside 50s and a goal, while Paton’s kicking ability stood out in a best on ground performance thanks to 23 disposals (17 kicks), five marks, two tackles and 11 rebounds coming out of defence. Future Hawk, Harry Jones would pick up 26 touches (11 contested), four marks, three tackles, two clearances and six inside 50s, as Angus Hicks dug deep for 23 disposals (11 contested), five tackles, seven clearances and six inside 50s. Dave Smith booted two goals from 20 touches and five marks, while Joe Richards, Nathan Oakes, Garoni and Jessy Wilson also hit the scoreboard with a couple of majors. Butts finished the game with 15 touches, nine marks and two rebounds showing off his ability to find the ball that would lead to him becoming a Crow in time.

Dow was a star on the day with 23 disposals, three marks, three tackles, three clearances, six inside 50s and three rebounds showing why he was talked up in such a high way. The work in defence from Tom Campbell (11 disposals, seven marks, three tackles and five rebounds) and Jose Milado (18 disposals, six marks and seven rebounds) earned the pair the top votes from the coaching staff. Darby Henderson (22 disposals, five marks, five tackles, two clearances, two inside 50s and three rebounds) and Matt Harvey (21 disposals, three marks, three tackles, three clearances and five inside 50s) found plenty of the ball, while Jacob Atley also shone in defence with 19 disposals, six marks and nine rebounds. Of the future draftees, Schumacher had 14 disposals, four marks, six tackles and two rebounds, while Farrell finished with 13 touches, eight marks and four inside 50s.

Murray finished fifth on the table but fell to Sandringham Dragons in the elimination final at MARS Stadium, the second consecutive final the Bushrangers had lost to the Dragons after the 2016 Grand Final as Charlie Spargo would join Paton, Jones and Doulton Langlands on AFL lists at the end of the 2017 year. The Pioneers would finish on the bottom of the table with just three wins, 10 points behind the Greater Western Victoria Rebels, but would have three players drafted in the top 13 (Dow, Lochie O’Brien and Jarrod Brander), and six in total (Farrell, Schumacher and Brent Daniels) in what was a huge draft period for the program.

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