By OSCAR PERRI
Rovers have completed their near perfect season with a thumping 51 point victory over West in Saturday’s Grand Final, earning the side a staggering fifth straight premiership.
Much of the credit goes to Rovers forward Nigel Lockyer Jr who was absolutely unstoppable, kicking nine goals in a best on ground performance.
West got off to a hot start, taking control of the ball and working it forward well and finding a way forward to build a lead.
It took the Rovers 10 minutes to hit the scoreboard, with Lockyer Jr’s first, and they were really struggling to win the ball out of the middle.
West Midfielder Tom Sullivan was constantly getting his hands to the ball first and not giving them a look at it.
But the Rovers were not going to be held down for long, and while West were getting plenty of ball, finding a target in the forward line was proving difficult.
At the other end of the ground, Rovers were not having such issues, and while his accuracy was a little off early in the game, it was clear to see that the result was going to revolve around whether West would be able to find a way to shut Lockyer Jr down.
Thanks to his brilliant work in marking contests, he’d already had four shots at goal by quarter time.
Rovers brought a six point lead into the break after a closely matched quarter, their discipline and structure in the backline keeping them ahead. West needed to find a way to be more dangerous when in possession to put on a winning score.
The experiment over the last month to play Toshie Kunoth in the half back line had served West well, but the coach made the decision to push him further up the ground to help out.
The move was worthwhile initially, they were able to hold the ball in the forward half and put some heat on the Rovers defenders, and dragging the margin back to a point halfway through the quarter.
But the Rovers defenders, led by Adam Davis and Luke Farrows, held strong and found ways to shut the West run down and win the ball back.
A significant amount of the Rovers scoring came from turnovers in the back half, they were pushing players back to flood the West forward line to make it difficult to move the ball, while leaving the middle of the ground open to run through when it came back the other way.
The Rovers pulled away, and stretched the lead back out to 18 points at half time.
West went into the rooms in need of a lot of answers if they were going to make the second half competitive. There had been flashes where they had looked threatening, but could not sustain in for longer periods, while the Rovers’ willingness to allow them the ball in the middle in favour of setting up a strong defensive position was not hurting them.
West came out firing, they knew it was their last chance to stay in the game, having played the Rovers plenty of times over the season, they knew how the script usually read from the position they were in.
Sullivan continued to rack up huge amounts of the ball, and Kunoth lifted, kicking an early goal, while Rhys Dick managed to keep a lid on Lockyer Jr for a time.
But they cracked under immense pressure being thrown at them and it wound up as a typical Rovers second half.
Their work to kill second half comebacks had got them through the season without a loss, icing the energy of their opposition with an impenetrable defence, while simultaneously Lockyer Jr, Tyson Woods and the rest of the forwards looked more and more dynamic as the game wore on.
Although the margin was 21 points at the final break, the game seemed out of reach for West, they had given their best effort, but it was just not enough to topple the Rovers.
Pressure dropped in the last quarter, and the Rovers were kicking goals for fun, Lockyer Jr kicked three and Fabian Dickson and Kurt Abbott joined the party, as the lead ballooned out.
Though it was not the finish they hoped for, it was an impressive season from West, a huge turnaround, after finishing the last two seasons at the bottom of the ladder and missing finals.
Another year under the direction of top coach Shaun Cusack will surely see them improve into next season, and could well attract players to move over from other clubs.
Rovers became the first side since Pioneer in 1969 to win five consecutive flags, and this year’s undefeated effort is their most dominant.
They sat on top of the ladder for the entire season, and a round seven draw with Federals was the only time they looked vulnerable.
Their challenge next will be getting Lockyer Jr to stay another year, he has no doubt drawn the eye of talent scouts in the top end, and possibly even higher up the pecking order.
Even without him, the Rovers are potent with talent, and will surely be in the hunt again next year to chase an historic sixth flag.
Final score: Rovers 16.5.101 d West 7.8.50.
PHOTO: The winners spreading their fingers to make the sign for “five”.