The Bunbury Bulldogs booked their spot in the 2017 South West Football League grand final on Sunday with a showdown win over the Harvey Bulls.
Harvey were looking to continue its final momentum after knocking the Collie Eagles out of the competition, while the Bulldogs were seeking redemption following their 36-point loss to Harvey-Brunswick-Leschenault last weekend.
The Hands Oval crowd were in for a treat, with both sides locked into a tight battle early in the first quarter.
Bunbury’s cheer squad erupted as Harvey’s Adam Boone missed his set shot 25 metres out from goal.
Bunbury’s Brad Blake navigated the midfield before setting up league star Matt Martin 50 metres out from goal.
His effortless shot gifted the home side the lead and elevated its momentum early in the term.
Turnovers by Harvey’s midfield and centre-half-backs proved costly before Cameron Lamonica extended Bunbury’s score line.
Inaccurate kicking saw the Bulls trail 2.1.13 to 0.4.4 at quarter time.
Harvey coach Paul Fimmano was fired up at the first change, telling his players to up their intensity, pick up form from the outset and clinch the first goal of the second quarter.
The Bulls showed grand final potential early on, with Patrick Italiano kicking his side’s first goal.
Brett Peake kicked his first to extend the lead before Bulls Nick Carney and Rodney Shemeld kept it close.
Bulldog Leith Dower’s two consecutive goals made Harvey fans nervous, before Italiano and Rhys Anzellino’s efforts gifted Harvey the lead.
Aidan Clarke’s snap kick edged Bunbury in front 6.3.39 to 5.7.37 at half time.
An uncomfortable hush descended over the ground in the third quarter with both sides scared of a loss ending their season.
Both sides were scoreless in the term’s first ten minutes, with stop-start play halting the first half’s momentum.
Bulldog Patrick Farrant missed a crucial opportunity 20 metres out from goal before Harry Creasey increased Bunbury’s lead to nine, with play remaining in the side’s half throughout the term.
Leading 7.6.48 to 6.7.43 at three quarter time, Bulldogs coach Jamie Nani reminded his side of the tight scoreline and the game’s importance.
“Do you want to be here next week?” he asked the fired-up Bulldogs contingent.
Harvey edged in front in the fourth quarter thanks to Jacob Pickett’s accurate set shot.
Farrant’s effort drifted across the face of goal and out on the full, while Martin’s volley through the posts was tipped by Harvey’s defence on the goal-line.
Harvey’s problems went from bad to worse, missing multiple chances and creating errors for Bunbury to capitalise on.
The Bulls grand finals hopes were dashed after Martin slotted his free kick from 10 metres out. Bunbury’s defence blocked the Bulls’ efforts late in the quarter and held on for a 8.9.57 to 7.10.52 win.
The result was particularly heartbreaking for Harvey who have now fallen one game short of the grand final for three consecutive seasons.
Next Sunday, the Bulldogs will meet the HBL Lions in the 2017 grand final.