The Sydney Swans held off a spirited fightback from Canberra for an eight-point victory at UNSW Canberra Oval on Saturday.
The Swans were challenged for much of the match around stoppages and congestion by the young Canberra side, but superior goal-kicking and big-game experience late in the game sealed a 12.15 (87) to 11.13 (79) win.
It was a big game for Sydney pair Robbie Fox (32 disposals, 12 tackles) and James Rowbottom (31 disposals, 11 clearances, three goals), who were in a class of their own as they look to press for an opportunity back in the AFL side against Gold Coast next week.
Sydney NEAFL coach Jeremy Laidler thought both players stepped up to the occasion during the match.
“They were really good. Rowbottom is playing at AFL standard, and for Foxy to come back missed a few games through injury… and to just compete all day is just really good,” Laidler told neafl.com.au
“They are basically two senior boys now so I put a bit of responsibility on them and they rose to the occasion.”
In some cold Canberra conditions, it was the visitors with most of the possession in their forward half early as the Swans had nine inside 50’s to two in the first term.
The Demons were working hard of their half-back line but were having trouble getting the ball across halfway with a number of costly errors.
The second quarter was filled with opportunities for Canberra in their forward half, looking to close the eight-point quarter time margin.
Canberra maintained possession in their forward 50 for majority of the quarter, but Fox was able to kick a goal mid-way through the quarter for Sydney which hurt the Demons.
Canberra was able to respond with a goal stemming from their half back and let Tom Faul run into an open goal.
UNSW Canberra Oval had a game on its hands as Rowbottom kicked a pair of late goals to extend Sydney’s lead to 16-points going into half-time.
Both teams looking to prove a point coming out of the change rooms in the second half, the third quarter provided for an even contest. Both sides went goal for goal early before Canberra came up with two majors and looked to start a comeback.
Sydney were able to respond with some experience out on the park to close out the quarter with a 25-point margin.
Everything would have to go right for Canberra in the last term if they were going to defeat the Swans for the first time.
The Swans came bursting out of the blocks with two goals within the opening five minutes of the quarter pushing the margin out to 38 points.
Canberra were not willing to let another closely matched game slip away to another big loss as Tom Faul kicked a much-needed goal 10 minutes into the quarter which sparked a massive run of goals for Canberra.
Canberra then went on to kick six of the last seven of the game to really put the pressure on their AFL-level opponents.
It was too little too late for the Demons, however, as the Swans were able to hold on for victory. Midfielder Mitch Maguire said the result was the toughest of the season.
“Those five or 10 minute lapses were we switch off for a little bit - the Swans would kick two or three goals and you know they are hard to peg them back,” he said.
“I think we have struggled all year with just providing that consistent four quarter effort for 120 minutes. We were closer to getting that four-quarter effort, but we still had those 5 or 10 minute lapses in quarters which hurt us.
“That one probably hurt more than losing by 10 goals today, just to know we are so close to beating a top side like Sydney is pretty devastating.”
For Laidler, the match provided a great experience for his young players.
“It’s a really good learning for our young group. They (Canberra) definitely nearly ran over the top of us which we will learn from,” he said.
“The inside of the contest we were really good all day, it’s just when that ball left they sort of outnumbered us from contest to contest and it’s really good learning for our players.”
Both sides admit that they will look to work on their consistency across four quarters when taking to the park next weekend.
The Sydney Swans will take on the Gold Coast SUNS at home while the Demons will face off against Aspley in Brisbane.
Canberra Demons v Sydney Swans at UNSW Canberra Oval
SYDNEY 2.6 5.8 9.13 12.15 (87)
CANBERRA 1.4 2.10 5.12 11.13 (79)
GOALS – Sydney: J Rowbottom 3 B Ronke 2 H McLean 2 J Rayner J Barling J Bell R Fox K Jack. Canberra: T Faul 4 H Carr 3 A Bruce 2 J Powell G Richardson.
BEST – Sydney: J Rowbottom R Fox J Amartey J Jack B Ronke. Canberra: T Highmore A Baker A Bruce B Halse T Faul H Carr.
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