Watsonia's James Love. PHOTO: Nathan William Media/NFNL

Watsonia has put themselves in the box seat to make an appearance in the 2023 Northern Football Netball League’s Division 2 finals series after a 14-point victory over Northcote Park at Binnak Park.

Sitting in fifth and sixth position, both sides had an 8-8 record and were split by just percentage coming into a clash that would play a major role in deciding which of the two would finish in the top five.

The highly anticipated clash lived up to expectations with scores level 20 minutes final term.

But it was the Saints who had the answers late, kicking the last majors to prevail 10.12 (72) to 8.10 (58).

Watsonia now returns to the top five in place of a Cougars side that will need to beat Eltham next week and hope that either the Saints or South Morang lose their final round match in order to secure a finals spot.

The Saints’ pressure and strong tackling ability was one of the cornerstones of their victory and it was illustrated by James Love, whose ferocious attack on the ball ensured his side remained in control of the contest, particularly throughout the final stages.

Joshua Boulton maintained his incredible form down back by producing a strong intercept marking display while Adrian Alfonsi was Watsonia’s target man inside 50 and finished with three majors.

The visitors’ best chances of claiming the four points came from their clearance work, which was led mainly by Jordan and Matthew Perry, as well as Christopher Clark.

Daniel Tallariti also had a terrific match in defence and was successful in his role of keeping competition leading goalkicker James Lucente to just one goal and with very little influence on the game.

While the rain was still light, Watsonia looked to take the game on from the opening bounce and their intentions were made known within the first 30 seconds when James Love streamed through and kicked truly.

The hosts were able to maintain possession around the ball and it led to their second goal of the afternoon as Alfonsi marked on the goal line from a Blake Charles set shot and kicked truly.

Northcote Park started to gain ascendency throughout the middle patches of the term, but they couldn’t capitalise on their forward opportunities, registering five consecutive behinds before finally finding the big sticks through Jordan Perry.

But the Saints responded immediately, first through Charles and then Janev, to help them establish a handy 14-point quarter-time lead.

With the rain hitting hard at Binnak Park, scoring dried up to the start of the second quarter, with only one behind kicked in the first eight minutes of the term.

The first major of the quarter came from Jordan Perry, who had his second after running into the open goal, and while scoring continued to be hard to come by, the Cougars were still working hard to reduce the deficit.

They eventually did in time on, as in the space of a minute, Northcote Park had made it a two-point ball game.

Brock McLennan kicked truly from close range before Alexander Boyse produced one of the goals of the day, spinning past an opponent to snap his first of the match.

With just a one-point lead heading into the second half, Watsonia couldn’t replicate their hot start in the opening quarter but did look to wrestle the momentum back to their favour.

Jye Murphy got things going for the hosts six minutes in when he burst through inside 50 to kick his first senior goal.

But Stephen Saddington’s men then fought back with consecutive majors, courtesy of Matthew D’Angelo and Jett Zacharias, to suddenly build an eight-point advantage, their largest lead of the game.

A response soon came from the Saints as Alfonsi struck true on the stroke of time on before James Lucente, who had been well held throughout the match, converted a set shot moments before three-quarter time to give his side a five-point advantage.

The last quarter saw both sides produce their best, with the intensity of the game reaching a new level.

Alfonsi’s third major made it a two-goal match before the Cougars turned the tables with back-to-back goals, eventually tying the scores close to time on.

At the 21-minute mark, in just his fourth senior game of the season, Jack Larkin would read a quick kick towards the goal square best, taking a diving mark before kicking truly to regain the lead for Watsonia.

A handy point moments later put the Saints in control throughout the last minutes of the game before Ben Callaghan sealed the win with his second goal of the season.

WATSONIA: 4.2 4.5 7.8 10.12 (72)
GOALS: A. Alfonsi 3, J. Lucente, J. Janev, J. Larkin, B. Callaghan, J. Murphy, J. Love, B. Charles.
BEST: J. Love, J. Boulton, B. Callaghan, J. Haber, J. Murphy, A. Alfonsi.

NORTHCOTE PARK: 1.6 4.7 6.9 8.10 (58)
GOALS: B. McLennan 2, J. Perry 2, M. D”Angelo, A. Boyse, N. McNiece, J. Zacharias.
BEST: J. Tadd, J. Perry, D. Tallariti, M. Perry, B. McLennan, C. Clark.

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