By PETER CORNWALL
How will Norwood tackle its testing match-up with reigning premiers the Eagles? That’s exactly how – with plenty of fierce tackling.
The Redlegs are the best tackling side in the league and when they have been at their best in a topsy-turvy season, their pressure has been intense.
They kicked off the season under new coach Jade Rawlings by out-tackling Port Adelaide 88-67 in a dominant 45-point win and their helter-skelter pressure in two games against minor premier Glenelg pushed them to the brink of victory both times.
The return of inspirational skipper Matthew Nunn after an injury-interrupted season will only add to the intensity around the ball. But Norwood will need to be at its best.
And its tackling will need to be good. Because the Eagles have been building just about as well as any team would want for another premiership assault. And they are hard to stop, being the biggest possession-winning team in the comp. They also happen to have the second-best attack in the league and, most worrying for Redlegs supporters, the best defence.
And that’s where Norwood faces the biggest test. Only the bottom two teams – West and Central – have scored less than the Legs this season. They will need to make the most of their chances. And that means their goalkicking will need to be spot-on. Norwood has been the least accurate side in the SANFL and a repeat of scorelines anything like the 12.20, 5.11, 9.13, 8.17 or 9.15 it has kicked in games this season will surely end in defeat.
But, clearly, it is something the Legs have been working on, kicking 13.7 (to beat North 10.13) and 14.11 against the Crows in the last two minor rounds to snatch third spot.
The Eagles have beaten Norwood twice this season with similar scorelines – 12.16 to 5.11 at Woodville and 11.15 to 7.3 at The Parade. But the Redlegs led the premiers in the most recent clash until time-on of the third quarter when the Eagles banged on four goals in five minutes.
There can be no let-up to the fierce tackling and pressure because that was all the Eagles needed to break the game open.
Prolific James Tsitas has shone in both clashes but it’s not unexpected for the No. 1 disposal winner of the SANFL, who averages 29 per game.
Norwood would be looking to gain an edge in ruck, where the imposing combination of Michael Knoll and Harry Boyd will make it hard for the Eagles’ Jarred Redden.
But Jack Hayes will be giving Redden a hand and what a stunning season the West End State skipper has been having. He’s had some huge games in a consistent campaign and he topped 140 Dream Team points for the fifth time in bagging four goals against Central last week in a 19.8-to-2.6 win that showed how ruthless his side can be.
But Norwood midfielder Nik Rokahr has had an outstanding season, Richard Douglas is a creative ball user and Mitch Grigg is a proven finals force who still can be a matchwinner.
James Tsitas (Eagles) v Mitch Grigg (Norwood)
The leading disposal-winner in the Statewide Super League will go head-to-head with one of the competition’s all-time greats in what looms as a salivating battle. Eagle James Tsitas knows how to find the ball at the bottom of the packs, using his muscly frame to positive affect while Grigg is a proven performer on the big stage, as evidenced in the 2018 Grand Final when he won the Jack Oatey Medal in a losing side.
Jack Hayes (Eagles) v Jack Heard (Norwood)
Could the two Jacks collide inside the Eagles’ attacking 50m arc. West End State captain Jack Hayes is the most dominant utility in the competition, with his aerial skills highlighted by his contested marking. Heard, a recent Powerade Breakthrough Player nominee, has impressed in his second season, reading the ball in flight to intercept mark while providing a steady presence in defence.