Q1 7.3 vs 3.1
Q2 11.6 vs 6.7
Q3 18.9 vs 8.9
Q4 26.11 vs 9.11
Goannas: Sullivan 7, Mitchell 6, McGrath 4, Bedi 3, Stones 2, Wilson 2, Phillips 1, Huberts 1
Hawks: Shiba 4, Tanaka 2, James 2, Seto 1
That one day in November for the Japan AFL Top League had finally arrived and the stage was set for a classic contest. The JAFL grand final for 2008 was upon us and at first glance it looked to be an interesting match up on paper. The mighty Tokyo Goannas, a team of burly Aussie expats, were set to take on the Eastern Hawks, a spirited team full of Japanese University old boys. Both teams enjoyed convincing semi-finals victories and football lovers in Japan were expecting a beauty. Tokyo awoke on Sunday morning to the pleasant sound of rain. One area that the Goannas possess a huge advantage is in aerial contests. Maybe the rain would nullify this advantage somewhat and turn the game into a scrap, which would suit the Hawks. Unfortunately for the Hawks, the rain cleared up before lunch and the ground was in perfect condition in readiness for bounce down. The crowd slowly built up through the pre-match entertainment and by 2pm all was in readiness for the big event. Before the match commenced each team lined up for their respective national anthems and the obligatory photographs. T
The first quarter was all Goannas. Huberts’ dominated the ruck and provided some easy tap ball to McGrath, who then deployed the simple game plan of kicking high and long to Sullivan and Mitchell in the forward line, who were easily out marking the Hawks defenders. In the blink of an eye, the Goannas had banged on 3 goals and the ball was yet to enter the Hawks forward line. Is it possible for the fat lady to sing this early in a Grand Final? The Hawks moved fast and put 2 defenders on Sullivan with some effect. Kase started winning the ball from the centre and Shiba awoke from his slumber up forward. The Hawks were good in the second half of the 1st quarter but were let down by some costly turnovers and a late goal after the siren by Mitchell punished the Hawks poor start. The Goannas led by 26 points at quarter time. After a rev up by Coach Tanaka at quarter time, the Hawks came out in the second quarter as a different unit. They attacked the ball harder and started to put some pressure on the Goannas. Tanaka kicked an early goal but missed a couple of others and the Hawks failed to capitalize in gaining any score board pressure. Phillips and Ogilvy in defense were miserly in their containment of the Hawks forwards, along with Wilson through the midfield who provided lots of forward thrust. Pinch hitter Valentine had good impact when rotated in various half back positions and Bayne, possibly the oldest Goannas ever to pull on the boots was used to good effect on a wing. The Goannas were able to convert their opportunities through Sullivan and despite having less scoring shots than the Hawks in the quarter, managed to stretch the half time lead to 31 points. One highlight of the second quarter was the marking in defense by Hill, who had previously come under criticism for his pressure and rebound skills. Hill, along with many of the Goannas players, lifted on the day for his best performance to date for the club. The Hawks were going to have to improve dramatically in the second half to turn this one around. In a word, the 3rd quarter performance by the Goannas was simply dominating. They saved their best performance to the end of the season and there was none better than Huberts in the ruck. He punched the ball aggressively and at times used a poise to palm the ball, pollyeske, a skills never before seen in Japanese football. Edmonds was used as a steamrolling pinch hitter and smashed open several packs to allow the Goannas prime movers easy access and ball delivery into the forward line. Another highlight was a late qtr goal from Goannas stalwart Mick Stones. He had flown in from Singapore especially for the game and while starting the game on the bench, his presence was felt immediately after sliding across the interchange line and onto the field. The half Aussie/ Japanese James kicked a goal after the siren in the 3rd quarter to the delight of the pro-Hawks crowd but the lead had blown out to 60 points and the Goannas came into the 3 Qtr time huddle a pumped unit. The Goannas started the last quarter where they left off in the 3rd. As the game was firmly in the bag, the Goannas coach substituted his senior players with some of the reserves who must have been extremely happy with their performances. One highlight was a superb tackle by Shepherd, who is more renown for his surfing and rugby prowess. The poor little Hawks player was bear hugged and grinded into the Narita turf and Shepherd was rewarded with a well deserved free kick. Bedi and Utting provided valuable contributions with their raking left foots in the form of 6 pointers and when combined with the hard running efforts of Cole and Rowe through the middle it was a champagne finish to a dominant year of Goannas football. The score card at the end of the game portrayed a convincing victory to the Goannas by the tune of 102 points. Commiserations to the Hawks but I am sure they will work hard over the off season and return in the 2009 season a better football side. This was a well deserved victory to the Goannas, who progressed through the season undefeated to take out the Narita Cup and JAFL Top League premiership double, for only for the second time in their proud, 21 year history. For those who follow Japan AFL, the standard and popularity of the game has grown rapidly here over the past few years. I look forward to the day when the first Japanese national lines up with an AFL side………based on some of the talent emerging in Japan this is surely just around the corner!