Hoppers too good

By Deniliquin Pastoral Times

From zero to heroes, two seasons in a row.

Rennie’s ability to turn a desperate situation upside-down was again on show on Saturday, winning the Picola District Football League grand final against Picola United by 38 points.

After winning last season’s flag coming off a winless campaign the year before, again the Hoppers celebrated a remarkable rise up the table, defying pre-season expectations of a slide down the rankings with a second straight premiership.

A mass exodus before the year lowered hopes of a return to finals, but a push toward younger players — matched with experienced additions mid-season — became the perfect recipe for back-to-back success.

The Hoppers finished the regular season sixth on the ladder, but there was not a team that could match them come finals, winning four weeks in a row to cap the memorable campaign with more silverware.

Saturday’s grand final against United shaped as a 1986 Cox Plate-style battle between Bonecrusher and Our Waverley Star, but it more resembled Winx braining the field in her typically blistering fashion.

The scores were tight early but, in hindsight, Rennie had the game won for the bulk, with a brilliant defensive stand denying the Blues any time and space.

On a brutally windy day at Jerilderie’s Monash Park, neither team would goal in the first term, each mustering just two behinds in an absolute scrap.

Fans watching will be doing everything they can to forget the seemingly never-ending sequence of boundary throw-ins and out on the full calls, as neither found a way to handle the conditions.

But crucial in the early battle was Rennie denying any scoring against — and making full use of the wind when they enjoyed it.

It took two minutes of the second quarter for the Hoppers to break through via Claye Runnalls, before a Chase Strawhorn bomb from 50m earned a two-goal break, converting their all-round dominance.

A brilliant snap from Khris Willett extended the gap to 19 points, before Dylan Cunningham returned the favour at the other end against the run of play, perhaps providing the Blues a spark in the half’s dying stages.

But what this grand final will be remembered for is the Hoppers’ spectacular defence, which did not concede a goal against the strong wind.

Preliminary final hero Duane Rhodes snapped one home early in the third to extend the gap to 19 points, and the wind did not stop Rennie controlling the play and the inside 50 battle.

Rennie coach Craig Ednie combined with a brilliant Brad Murray hard-ball get to run into an open goal deep into the third term, with a 25-point advantage — not to mention the wind in the last quarter — meaning the race had been well and truly run.

If it was not already over, Alex Brooks found a major to start the last term that completely broke United’s gallant resistance, given the intense pressure it had spent the game under.

The Hoppers added another three and could plan their celebrations for much of the final stanza, having a second consecutive premiership in the bag.

While the Blues have their host of premiership stars, it was the top-end talent of Rennie that proved its biggest edge during the contest.

Ednie, Murray and best-on-ground medallist Nick O’Bryan were all prolific and precise, while captain Jarryd Fountain led from the front with courageous play.

Murray and Rhodes each finished with two goals, but the back six deserved all the credit in the world given it had kept United to a single goal until midway through the final quarter.