There was jubilation among the packed crowd on Wickham Oval on Saturday when home side, Wickham Wolves, broke their league premiership drought and claimed their first flag in North Pilbara Football League history with a 25-point defeat over Dampier Sharks.
Outlasting a fighting Sharks side and a tight contest in the first half, the Wolves broke away in the third term and never looked back on their way to recording a 12.13 (85) to 9.6 (60) victory.
It was an historic moment for a club that was until now the only one to have never won the flag in the top league division, with their last title being under the old West Pilbara Football League code in 1976.
Wolves president Paul Lott said the occasion had been been decades in the making and would serve to galvanise everyone involved with the club.
“We’ve had our chances before, like six or seven grand finals, but not enough to win them on the day,” he said.
“This is going to go a long way to cement football in Wickham and I’m pretty sure that the boys will want to go back-to-back while they’ve got this good team.”
Wolves were the favourites to take the 2017 league premiership after a stellar season in which they only dropped one game, a loss to Karratha Kats in round two, and finished on top of the ladder.
However, threats from the building Sharks side, the skilful Kats and a monkey on the young team’s backs after a close last-gasp semi-final loss last year all raised some doubt about whether they could get the job done and claim the trophy.
But the Wolves held their focus and made sure this year they got the job done.
Both sides were ferocious right out of the gate and pressure was tight in the first quarter as both tussled to get a lead, though Wolves looked to be the dominant team.
They did enough to lead 4.2 (26) to 2.2 (14) at the end of the first quarter.
The Sharks were not about to let their opponents get away, though, and the second quarter was a nailbiter as they fought back hard.
Taking more scoring chances, several Sharks shots went through and they drew even with Wolves late in the term.
Wickham scored another goal before the half time, but it meant there was only a seven-point margin, with Wolves ahead 5.4 (34) to 4.3 (27).
The third term proved the decider. Wolves came back fresh from the break and both teams settled in and found a way to play their fast, aggresive style of football.
It produced instant results as Wolves kicked another 3.5 while Sharks were held to two points for the term, putting Wickham 28 points in front at the third break.
A succession of three goals for the Wolves in the opening minutes of the final term were the nail in the coffin for the Sharks, and had players and fans sensing their first premiership was in their grasp.
Wolves’ pressure slipped somewhat as the clock ticked down and Sharks dominated play in the final few minutes, kicking 5.1 to reduce the margin to 25 points before the siren sounded.
But by then the results were in and the final win was the Wolves’.
Wickham skipper Tim Renton said it had been a hard-fought game, especially in the first half, but they had seen the writing on the wall after gaining control of the game in the third quarter.
“It was super physical, it was hard, there wasn’t much (that was) easy possession-wise,” he said.
“But I think in that third quarter we were able to play our style a little bit which broke the game open, and then it was just confidence from then.”
At presentations after the game, Wolves’ midfielder Ashley Grove was awarded the Pratt Medal for best on ground before coach Richard Coates thanked players, fans and officials for their involvement.
Lott praised players for their year-long commitment to playing a great season and singled out Grove, Cheyne Tetlo, Jack Kay, Claude Taylor, Jarrod Cross and Renton for special mention.
Wolves’ full-forward Cross made a good impression on the scoreboard, kicking four goals for the winning side.
Teammate Claude Taylor, the league’s top goal-kicker, scored two.
David Walley and Deon Alec were multiple goal-scorers for the Sharks, with three and two apiece.
Sharks league coach Beau McDonald said it had been a tough loss for his team, mainly due to a slump in the third quarter, but praised his team for putting up a good contest and congratulated Wickham on the win.