Saturday’s festival of footy came to a fitting crescendo as the underdog Rovers claimed the 2022 GNFL premiership after an enthralling match against Brigades.
The Demons came out on top in a low-scoring arm wrestle 8.9 (57) to 6.9 (45).
Brigades were dominant in their dismantling of Railways in the second semifinal and came in with the favourites tag for the decider but have never gone back-to-back in their history.
Rovers were on a great run of form winning their past five games and built on the back of some dominant final quarter displays but no team had won the flag from outside the top two since 1996 and would be without tall forward Shannon Cox who was serving a two-match suspension for his role in the off-field fight that circulated during the week.
It was a tight start to the game with both teams looking to shake off any starting nerves. A Rovers behind was the only score for the opening minutes with both teams tackling hard and wanting to impose themselves on the contest.
But Dylan Curley slotted the opener with a well-taken shot on the 45 to break the deadlock of the contest.
Brigades responded as Kristerfer Ryder kicked his first on an angle with much of the Hawks scoring potential lying in the hands of himself and Dale Williamson.
Gabriel Parfitt had a hot start, always seeming to find himself in and around the contest and then showed off a bit of class to match his grunt, picking up a loose ball in the attacking 50 and dancing around two defenders then snapping around his body to give the Rovers their second.
Williamson should have responded after taking a good grab to have a set shot from directly in front but sprayed it out to the right.
The Demons finished the quarter strongly seeming to have an extra yard of pace on the ball compared to their Hawks counterparts and they managed to grab a third goal to take a valuable 3.4 (22) to 1.2 (8) lead into the break.
They continued to dominate during the opening exchanges of the second quarter as Godfrey Curley got his first of the afternoon with a well-taken set shot from about 40m, before Farren Parfitt swooped on a loose ball in the goal square to make it five goals to one.
Williamson stepped up after finally kicking true to drill his third set shot to keep the Hawks in touch. He should have had another after being awarded a free kick but sprayed it to the left before missing his next shot shortly afterwards also to the left.
The Hawks were on top but they weren’t taking their opportunities until Jamie Ryder kicked a great goal on the run to bring the margin back to within two.
Williamson may have been struggling with the set shots but he nailed a brilliant snap around the body while falling away in a tackle to bring the margin into single figures.
Now it was the Rovers who needed a lift and Curley stepped up, just getting his kick away before a tackle to release some of the pressure and ensure they took a 12-point lead into the main break.
It was a tight third term with both teams realising the match was going to be a wrestle rather than a shoot-out as Williamson sprayed another shot — this time out on the full in what would’ve been a huge boost.
Gabriel Parfitt got his second goal of the afternoon up the other end to put the margin back out to three goals but from their the ball lived in the centre of the ground.
The class players started to show as Chris Scott was often the option for the Rovers midfield in finding space while Kim Schofield was the go-to for Brigades as the tension was rising.
It eventually boiled over as a melee broke out halfway through the quarter which saw Kris Ryder sent off with a yellow card and Joseph Ugle lucky not to be reprimanded.
But after this Rovers were the ones to break through as Jy Thurston kicked his first with a big goal to take the margin out to beyond four goals.
The Hawks just managed to stay in the match with Williamson slotting his third after marking on the behind line to snap through but the Rovers led 56 to 37 with just one quarter remaining.
With Rovers just needing to hold on the Hawks would need to find a away to hit the scoreboard early and Ryder got his second with a well-taken shot from 20m out.
For much of the second half, the Brigades probably had the better running but could not find options inside their forward zone outside of Williamson.
And despite the Rovers only adding a single point in the final quarter the Hawks could never make inroads into the deficit as the Demons continued to hold firm and win a memorable clash.
West Coast Eagle and Ex-Rover Liam Ryan was on hand to present the premiership medals to the team and joined in with the post-match celebrations.
It is the Rovers’ 11th premiership as Scott and Ugle were named best on the ground for their fantastic efforts in the midfield.
It was coach Ian Comben’s 12th grand final across his career and he said this season was one of the toughest as a coach.
“It’s been the most trying season I’ve had as a coach given that we’ve been light on for numbers on the track pretty regularly,” he said.
“But guys started coming back around four to five weeks ago and since then we’ve been excellent on and off the track.
“They’re all special, it’s been an amazing journey and sooner or later it’s got to come to an end and we’ll just wait and see whether that’s sooner or later.”
President Daniel Starling was ecstatic with the boys’ efforts.
“The boys have been exceptional as a team this year,” he said.
“A lot of things haven’t gone our way this year but to get this result is a huge relief.”
“We don’t stop, we’ll definitely be back here again next year.”