End of a Kanga era: Round 18 review (Friday)

Struggling on and off the field, the Kangaroos finally had a major motivational tool, writes Colby Allen.

AFL Rd 14 - Western Bulldogs v KangaroosIt was the end of an era, the final chapter of legend Adam Simpson‘s career. There aren’t words to describe what the midfielder means to this footy club, one of the greatest clubmen in their history. The Kangaroos would be going all out to give the man who has stuck by the club through the good times and the dark times, one last hurrah.

The night that Kangaroos fans were desperate to be a part of nearly fell apart at the seams, but a late fitness test and a jab of painkillers ensured that the champion overcame a calf complaint and took to the field. The Kangas were ready to roll, were the Blues?

A 54-point loss to their greatest rivals last friday night had brought the exuberant Blues back down to earth. Off the back of a three game winning streak, the Blues had capitulated to go down in one of the must underwhelming games of footy of the season. The players, the coaches and most importantly the fans were sure not to accept anything less than an all out effort to rebound from one of the darkest points in their rollercoaster season. The Carlton contingent would be looking to Brendan Fevola. The ever unreliable spearhead for the Carlton attack would have to kick a bag to carry the Blues over the line, but whether or not Fev could step up prove his critics wrong remained to be seen.

For the third week running, key defender Michael Jamison was a late withdrawal with a persistent groin complaint, so former Brisbane Lions premiership player Richard Hadley took to the field in his place.

The Kangaroos drew first blood, an indiscretion from Fevola in the goal square resulting in a goal for Lindsay Thomas and the Carlton full-forward being dragged from the ground. The Blues bit back soon after, the two #1 draft picks in Matthew Kreuzer and Bryce Gibbs linking up to give Gibbs a straight forward set shot at goal. The Roos pulled ahead once more following a mishap between Blues youngsters Marc Murphy and Dennis Armfield, with Drew Petrie making no mistake with the resulting free kick.

It was an evenly matched first term, North Melbourne and Carlton both kicking 3.4.22 to ensure that the two teams went into the first break all square. There were no standout players in the first term, Levi Greenwood had done well to keep Blues skipper Chris Judd to under 5 touches. Brent Harvey lead the way early on in the disposal count, amassing nine disposals early on. Under pressure forward Ryan Houlihan was the busiest of the boys in navy blue, picking up six touches in the first quarter. The two North Melbourne ruckman combined well, Hamish McIntosh picking up seven disposals, whilst Drew Petrie booted a hard earned goal to give his side a much needed lift, exciting youngster Liam Anthony also contributed with seven touches. The Blues would have to start the second term without defender Bret Thornton, the long serving backman disappearing up the race with a shoulder injury following a collision with team mate Paul Bower.

Andrew Walker and Setanta O’Hailpin, two men whose careers were seemingly at the cross roads early in the season, combined to score the first goal of the second quarter. The match was very stop-start and players had to work hard in order to find space, which a testament to the typical North Melbourne game plan. The Blues were boosted by the return of Thornton, but it wasn’t enough to stop Harding becoming the first multiple goalkicker on the ground, his goal breathing life back into a surprisingly lacklustre second term. But his vein of good form wasn’t to last long. After taking a diving mark in the forward fifty he hobbled off with a hamstring injury, and the Roos would be playing with 21 men for the rest of the game. Thomas made up for the loss though, capitalising a on a Carlton skill error to give the Roos a slender eleven-point lead. Highly scrutinised midfielder Nick Stevens sent a message to the Carlton hierarchy in the best way possible, his goal from forty metres out steadying the ship for the Blues and bringing the margin back to eleven points.

After an impressive second term the Kangaroos were going doing all they could to send Simpson out on the right note. Going into the major break, the scoreboard read 7.9.51 to 6.4.40 in the favour of the Roos. Anthony justified the massive amounts of praise being heaped upon him pre-season, leading the disposal count with a highly impressive 17 disposals, narrowly ahead of Harvey and Brady Rawlings, who both stood on 15 touches. Thomas and the injured Harding both combined for five goals between them, an impressive feat considering the Roos had only scored seven all game.

Carlton desperately needed someone to stand up and take charge of the struggling side. Murphy was their highest disposal getter with a mere 14 touches, ahead of Gibbs and Houlihan who had only picked up 11. Stevens was the only multiple goal scorer for the Blues, having kicked two vital goals to keep the Blues within reach. Brett Ratten desperately needed something out of his senior players, with Judd and Fevola both struggling to make an impact on the game.

The Roos came out after half-time looking extremely determined to finish off their good work, Petrie taking a contested mark inside the forward fifty to put up the first score of the last third term. With the close attention on Judd reducing his influence on the game, the focus would be on the rest of the midfield to step up in his absence. Murphy did just that, providing an immediate answer after a slick handball from Judd leading to an easy shot for goal. The big men from the Kangaroos were causing alarm bells in the Carlton camp, Petrie and McIntosh easily controlling the direction of the game and making the Carlton defense look second rate. Despite the recent criticism Stevens came out and took charge of his team, justifying his vice captaincy. His pin point kicks into the forward fifty were just what the struggling Blues needed to keep within touching distance of the Kangas. After desperately needing a goal for what seemed like an eternity, the goals started flowing freely for the Blues. They kicked three unanswered goals to take the lead by two points. Even Thornton got in on the action, kicking just his third goal of his 144 game career.

Whatever was said in the rooms at half time by Ratten, it had a massive impact on his side in the third quarter. The Blues turned around what was at times a three goal deficit into a narrow four point lead, but with all the momentum going into the final break. At three quarter time the scoreline was North Melbourne 11.9.75 to 12.7 Carlton. The pressure would be on Darren Crocker to give his troops the boost they would need to grasp victory.

Murphy was best on ground for the Blues at three quarter time, the former #1 draft pick racking up 19 possessions as well as booting an impressive three goals. Gibbs and Stevens also rallied to amass 33 disposals between them, whilst Fevola also troubled the scorers with three majors, a significant improvement on his first half effort.

Anthony and Thomas were starring for the Kangaroos, Anthony picking up a whopping 26 touches whilst Thomas led the score sheets with a dominant four goals. With only thirty minutes of footy left in Adam Simpson’s illustrious career, the brigade of young Kangaroos were proving that as a chapter of the Kangaroos history was about to close, another one was just beginning.

It was a sorry sight for North Melbourne fans as the players took up their positions for the start of the third term, Simpson hobbling back into the rooms to receive attention on the his troublesome calf. It was an inaccurate start to the third term, the Roos wasting four goal opportunities to spurn a chance at re-taking the lead. They were made to pay for their wastefulness after Fevola passed the ball to Murphy all alone in the goal square. This important goal was made easy by some loose defending from the Roos. It didn’t get much better for the Roos, as easy shots went astray from the North Melbourne forwards, a sight sure to have had Dean Crocker tearing what little hair he had out by the roots. It was desperation football at its finest as the clock wound down. Carlton were determined to keep their finals dream alive, whilst the Roos were pulling out all the stops to give Simpson a fairytale ending to a stellar career. After coming back from injury Thornton doubled his career output of goals, kicking two on the night and taking his career total to four.

After a final quarter that could only be described as a comedy of errors on the part of the Kangaroos, the final siren sounded with the scoreline reading 11.18.84 to 14.10.94 in favour of the Blues. The disappointment on the faces of the Kangaroos players was plain for all to see, but at the end of the day Simpson was given a guard of honour, no less than he deserved for a fantastic career.

Despite playing in a losing team, Anthony and Thomas showed that they are two exceptional talents for the Kangaroos. Anthony racked up an amazing 33 disposals, whilst Thomas led the goal scoring charts for the Roos with four goals. Simpson played a solid game to cap off a great career, he picked up 20 disposals as well as six tackles.

Stevens’ performance tonight will surely silence his many critics, 25 touches and two goals proved his worth to the team and will certainly cement his spot in the side for next week. Murphy and Gibbs also played exceptional football. Murphy amassed 23 disposals and booted four vital goals, whilst Gibbs was second only to Stevens in the disposal count, managing 24 disposals as well as laying 6 tackles.

So as the career of a champion draws to a close, we look to the future. The Blues will certainly look to build upon this performance and make a solid push to the finals. They’ll need to overcome some tough obstacles but if they manage a top eight finish then they will finally see the light at the end of the tunnel of one of the worst periods in the club’s proud history.

The Kangaroos will surely start looking long-term now. They already possess a legion of damaging young players: Anthony, Thomas, Ziebell and Warren are all players that will become a big part of their future. With a bottom four finish on the cards this year, a solid draft bringing more young talent into the club may be all the Roos need to once again push towards the finals.

Congratulations to Adam Simpson, a brilliant career and a true legend of the game, you will be sadly missed from the footy field.

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