By OSCAR PERRI
Rovers have maintained their unbeaten run in the CAFL this season, with a goal after the final siren from Nigel Lockyer Jr to tie up their top of the table clash with Federals Football Club on Saturday.
The game gave crowds an electric farewell to CAFL for the meantime, as AFLNT announced later in the day that football in the Alice Springs area has been called off until further notice due to the unfolding COVID situation.
It was an outstanding game from Lockyer Jr, who kicked seven goals and combined with team mate Tyson Woods to kick 12 of their side’s 14 goals for the game, as well as taking turns to make an impact in the midfield.
Rovers were dominant in the first half, handballing their way through traffic and out into space, where they had plenty of room to move due to a lack of structured pressure from their opposition.
Despite Federals having a strong advantage in the ruck from towering duo Daniel Gorry and William Carlisle, their mids were struggling to be first to the football.
Rovers made good use of the clearances, scoring regularly out of the middle, Woods put three goals through in the first quarter, while Lockyer Jr collected two.
Federals gave flashes of the pressure that was required to topple the ladder leaders, most notably from midfield bull Robby Bartee who was tough all day, but as often as it was there it was gone.
It wasn’t perfect footy in these periods when the Feds had control of the game, but hard tackling and repeat efforts made up for all mistakes. When this pressure dropped away the mistakes were laid bare to be taken advantage of.
Woods collected two more goals in the second quarter, before spending much of the second half on the ball after teammate Geraden Kennedy was carried off after taking a nasty knock to the knee.
Federals half forward Keegan Weily started to get a jump on his opponent and make an influence, doing great work in the air, and using his speed to make good opportunities for his forwards.
But Feds were still having lapses in the tackling pressure, allowing Rovers to push out to a 20 point lead at half time.
Whatever it was that Federals coach Izaac Ankers said to his players during the break, it was certainly loud, and it did the job.
His players returned to the field with a new determination, and the whole side lifted to hold their opposition to two goals for the quarter, and slightly narrow the lead to 16 points.
Straight out of the opening bounce of the last quarter Weily took an exceptional contested mark from a clearing kick by Bartee, who put in some serious grunt to win the ball.
Weily went back and put it through from right on the boundary, about 45 metres out.
Feds were starting to be able to find targets as they moved the ball, and an injury to Rovers star Kurt Abbott took significant speed out of the side, and it took around five minutes for trainers to get him off the ground, leaving the Rovers a man down at a crucial stage.
A second goal for the quarter saw the Federals take the lead for the first time since early in the first, the Feds having all the momentum as to that point the Rovers had been unable to make a forward 50 entry for the quarter.
Immediately afterwards Lockyer Jr showed his power winning the ball in the centre and running forward to bomb a long goal from 50 metres out to put his side back in front. Another Rovers goal shortly afterwards saw the lead pushed out to eight points.
Tension heightened on the field, boiling over when Rovers defender Cameron Glover was sent off the ground and giving away a 50m penalty, gifting a goal to the Feds and allowing them right back into the game. Another costly mistake from the Rovers saw Shane Inkamala taken high in a tackle, putting it through to give the Feds a five point lead, with four minutes remaining on the clock.
Again a Federals forward, Ainsley Walker, was given a free kick in front of goal a minute later, but missed his shot to bring the lead to six points.
From that point the Federals did well to slow the game right down, keeping the ball close to the boundary, maintaining possession when they could, and tackling hard to stop it getting out the back.
With less than a minute to go, the ball was thrown in from the boundary, right in the middle of the ground.
Lockyer Jr again impressed with his strength to burst through tacklers and get the ball out to a teammate, but then followed up his effort by marking the ball just inside the 50 metre arc, right on the boundary.
The siren sounded with Federals still six points ahead, so a draw was the best result possible for Lockyer Jr, but he and his teammates certainly celebrated like they had won after he slotted it through.
The Rovers maintain their top spot on the ladder and undefeated record, but with the score at 90 apiece it was the first time that they had been held to under 100 points for the season.