By PETER CORNWALL
Two State League premiers battled it out at Norwood Oval on 8 October 1964.
South Adelaide faced Melbourne and it was a thriller, Ron Barassi’s Demons edging away from Neil Kerley’s Panthers by 11 points. How could anyone who saw that “exciting, lightning-fast night match” possibly believe 57 years later these two clubs, with 23 premierships between them, would still be looking for their next one.
Well, Melbourne – coached by Simon Goodwin, who just happened to start his career at South Adelaide – is a week away from its best shot at ending an agonising premiership drought. So can South stay in the hunt to possibly win in the same year?
Jarrad Wright’s Panthers showed they are in the premiership picture the impressive way they swept aside North Adelaide – considered a real flag threat a few weeks earlier – in the elimination final. The Panthers won without superstar Matthew Broadbent and his experience and skill set further lifts their hopes on his return.
But if they are to end their drought they will well-and-truly earn it. And that starts with Norwood in the first semi-final. And that looms as a daunting assignment.
Jade Rawlings’ Redlegs could hardly have been more impressive considering they finally fell short against reigning premiers the Eagles in the qualifying final.
It was just a missed chance here, lost opportunity there that proved the difference as Norwood won the clearances, had more tackles and earned more inside-50s.
They clearly were playing the sort of hard contested footy that will win more finals than not, returning skipper Matthew Nunn adding even more of an edge and Richard Douglas – who set the Legs in motion time and again with 31 touches and eight clearances – and Nik Rokahr (30 possessions) continuing their outstanding campaigns.
And Norwood has had the better of two tight clashes this season, winning both by nine points. Nunn had a stunning 16 tackles within the confines of Norwood Oval, while dangerous Mitch Grigg had a day out at Noarlunga with 34 touches, nine tackles and three goals. He always looms as a danger on Adelaide Oval at finals time.
As if South doesn’t have enough motivation, it will be looking to send off club great Joel Cross in style. He contributed two important goals against North, while big Alex Cailotto stepped up with a bonus three goals as Bailey Griffiths continued his rapid rise as No. 1 ruckman with an impressive 32 hit-outs in his fifth game.
The 205cm Griffiths has the lineage to hit the heights in sport, his mother Michelle an Olympic medal-winning basketballer and uncle Dean Brogan an AFL premiership-winning ruckman with Port Adelaide. But Norwood ruck duo Michael Knoll and Harry Boyd have both dominated games this season and 21-year-old Griffiths faces another big challenge.
Tough Panthers left-footer Liam Fitt is looming as more and more of a danger. Back at his best after an injury-interrupted season, Fitt followed four goals against Port and four against West with another four when it really counted against the Roosters.
And Mitch O’Neill, moved into the midfield, stepped up with 27 touches and eight clearances. Bryce Gibbs was creative as usual, with 26 kicks. But you can’t help but think the Legs will make it much tougher for him.
Richard Douglas (Norwood) v Bryce Gibbs (South)
An intriguing midfield battle awaits between these two former AFL stars, who have played a total of 514 games between them at the highest level. Both are showing no signs of slowing down with their ability to cover the ground while reading the play well to rack up plenty of possessions. Perhaps whoever can hit the scoreboard more might edge their team ahead on the big stage.
Michael Knoll (Norwood) v Bailey Griffiths (South)
Former South Adelaide ruckman Michael Knoll has the opportunity to haunt his old club when he takes on raw South rookie Bailey Griffiths in the ruck on Saturday. Knoll has posted a solid season with the Redlegs but if the promising Griffiths, lining up in just his sixth League game, can at least break even, then it gives South coach Jarrad Wright the luxury of having Alex Cailotto remain in attack, where he booted three goals in the Elimination Final.