The Southern Saints have become the 2017 AFL New Zealand Premiers after a stunning victory over the Western Crows during the final round at QBE Stadium on Sunday.
The side, captained by Michael Boyce, won their last game of the season over the Western Crows to finish on 32 points on the ladder (4 points ahead of second place, the Northern Suns). The Saints only lost one game over the course of the season with their consistent hard running and strong defence playing a big part in their victory.
Northern Suns vs Central Giants:
The Northern Suns were still in with a shot at winning the Premiership at the start of Round 9. If they managed to score a big win over the Giants, they would then rely on the Western Crows beating the Saints in Game 2 to secure their first Premiership.
As they have done all season, the Suns started fast and kicked 7 goals kicking with the wind in the first quarter whilst holding the Giants scoreless. Captain James Kusel was once again phenomenal for the Suns. His strong defence and effective disposals showed why he is one of the top defensive players in the country.
Holding a ten goal lead heading into the last quarter, the Suns did all they could at giving themselves a chance at the Premiership. They continued to extend their lead and ran out seventy point winners to put the pressure on the Saints to win their game.
Will Dickinson was awarded the Suns best on ground after another solid display in the midfield. He was also awarded the teams best and fairest for the season. Playing all 9 games, he was a standout in Dave Abetz’ side.
Rob Malone awarded his best and fairest for the Giants to Captain Dave Rattenbury who had his best season of AFL.
Northern Suns forward Jordan Drinkall kicked 3 goals for the game and was awarded the competition’s leading goal kicker finishing on 26 goals for the season.
Northern Suns: Jordan Drinkall 3, James Kusel 3, Pete Rogers 2, Joel Brown 1, Jackson Clince 1, Jono Ilaua 1, Heta Scarf-Matthews 1, Tim Stokes 1, Mitch Ryan 1, Josh Allen 1, Will Dickinson 1.
Central Giants: James Bowden 1, Tristan Burnett 1, Logan Toomer 1, George Read 1, Declan Crann 1.
Player of the match awards:
Northern Suns: Will Dickinson
Central Giants: Chris Bailey
Southern Saints vs Western Crows:
All the Saints needed was a win over the Crows in Round 9 and the Premiership trophy was theirs.
A four goal to one first quarter gave the Saints a perfect start and from there they never looked back. Midfielders Carlos Donnell-Brown and Seb Serrano collaborated well with Saints ruckman Tyler Paull all game to dominate the centre clearances.
Justin Du Toit moved into the forward line and ended up with 7 goals for the game while Sam McKenzie tried hard to chase down Jordan Drinkall as they competitions leading goal kicker but only managed 2 goals for the game and was runner up on 20 goals for the season.
The Crows managed to claw their way back into the game through Shane Leat (best on ground) but the Saints showed why they were the best team all season kicking 7 goals in the last quarter to run out 79 point winners and lift the 2017 AFL New Zealand Premiership trophy.
Josh Cunliffe was awarded the best for the Saints after kicking 2 goals for the game and working tirelessly around the ground. Sam McKenzie was given the Saints best and fairest for the season after a solid contribution playing as a midfielder who can kick goals.
Crows Coach Chris Mundell awarded his best and fairest for the season to Cantabrian Jay Johnson. The midfielder was clearly the best for the Crows all season and was well deserved.
A big contributor for the Saints all season was their defence. They conceded an average of 34 points per game and with experienced names such as Sucu, Boyce and Manks, they were always going to be a hard team to score against.
The Saints join the Crows as the first two winners of the AFL New Zealand Premiership and if they hold onto their key players, they will be strong again in 2018 and will be a good shot at going back to back.
Southern Saints: Justin Du Toit 7, Sam McKenzie 2, Jordan Thompson 2, Troy Brown 2, Josh Cunliffe 2, James Dakin 2, Carlos Donnell-Brown 1.
Western Crows: Steph Tabaillou 2, Nick Bailey 1, Chris Mundell 1, Will Kempt 1.
Player of the match awards:
Southern Saints: Josh Cunliffe
Western Crows: Shane Leat
AFL New Zealand would like to thank the following organisations and people who helped achieve what was a fantastic competition.
Umpires, Marist Rugby Club, Physio By Design, Auckland Stadiums, Supporters and the Players and Coaching Staff.
The focus now turns to high performance as the National sides come together in Wellington over ANZAC weekend to play their respective Australian counterparts. For more information click here.