IT COULD not have been a more emphatic statement.
Sunbury stamped itself as the team to beat for the Red Onion Ballarat Football league premiership race with a 70-point demolition of finals rival East Point on Saturday at Darley Park.
After an even first term, where the two teams were tied on 3.5 apiece, the eastern Lions comprehensively outplayed the Red Lion Kangaroos with 16 goals to five after half time.
Sunbury coach Rick Horwood described the performance as “an emphatic statement” about Sunbury’s intentions after finals disappointment in previous years.
“With what happened last year (grand final defeat by just two points) the players have given themselves a great opportunity to go one step further,” Horwood said.
“They’ve done the work to get there, now they can sit back and find out who their opponent is.”
East Point threw up the challenge to Sunbury early in the match and were breaking even, at least, in the centre clearances in the first term.
Disaster struck when prime mover Jason Delaney suffered an ankle near quarter time, however.
Thereafter, the Lions controlled the middle of the ground, winning clearance after clearance.
Jay Cheep, Jamie Lobb and Ross Sleight took turns in driving the Lions forward.
Sunbury kicked seven goals to one in the second term, and six to three in the third.
The Lions even had the luxury of moving Sleight and ruckman Pat Cariss forward. Sleight finished with five goals, Cariss with two.
However the dominant forward was Simon Clarke, who proved too tall and too strong for East Point youngster Simon Mitchelhill.
Clarke kicked six goals and had a hand in several others.
East Point never stopped trying, kicking the first of the final term before the match ground to a halt.
However the Kangaroos were simply overmatched by a bigger, more experienced opponent.
Horwood praised his back six in particular for giving East Point few opportunities to challenge on the scoreboard.
“They were really solid. You look at Allan O’Connor to keep DJ (East Point player coach Dan Jordan) to just two goals as an example.”
Horwood denied the Lions had revealed all their cards, insisting there was room for improvement, particularly with kicking to position.
He also flagged possible changes with Dale Ciunik and Xavier Linton likely to be available for the grand final.
East Point’s stocks were hit even before Delaney’s injury, with Sam Cooper and Brad Whittaker late withdrawals through injury. All three are 50-50 chances to play in next weekend’s preliminary final, Jordan said.
“You take Cooper and Delaney out of there and that’s a lot of our midfield structure. We had 19-year-olds in the middle and Sunbury got on top,” Jordan said.
“Obviously they’re the team to beat. Clarke got on top, and Sleight.
“That second quarter hurt us. At half time we were 43 points down.
We’ve had a few second quarter fade outs and it is something we have to work on.
“The good thing is we have put ourselves in a position where we have another chance.
“All we can do is put our best team on the park, so maybe it can be ‘beware the wounded animal’.”
Toby Boyle and Alex Bartlett were among the Kangaroos’ best.
SUNBURY 19.16 (130)EAST POINT 8.12 (60)