PENOLA footballers made a statement to the rest of the Kowree Naracoorte Tatiara league on Saturday they will be a tough challenge for any side.
The Eagles claimed a stunning win over Lucindale at McCorquindale Park in the opening clash of the season, to the tune of 82 points.
The result came from nine different goal kickers and a couple of exceptional personal performances, including former South Gambier utility Brad Bryant.
Bryant had more than 30 touches in a classy mid-field performance, which showed his true value in the league and the Penola roster.
He was joined by a solid showing in front of goals from Brad and Adam Merrett, who bagged three majors each, along with solid running games from Scott Merrett and Simon Berkefeld.
The opening term was a fairly even affair with the Eagles finding just two major scores, but they managed to keep Lucindale to a solitary behind for a 15-point lead at the first break.
From there they began to hit their straps, finding more of the ball through the mid-field and pushing forward to the Merrett boys, who finished off well to extend the margin to 24 points at the long break.
By that stage the scene was set and the Eagles added a further three majors in the third term to add to the scoreboard pressure.
From there it would have been easy to rest on their laurels, but Penola simply pushed on, adding seven final-quarter goals to ram home their authority.
Brad and Adam Merrett provided the perfect targets up forward for their three goals, while Sam Gartner and Dylan Walker added two each.
The Berkefeld brothers – Simon and Matt – contributed singles, as did Jason Nysten, Simon Merrett and Bryant.
The margin could well have been substantially more, with first-game “rust” resulting in 20 minor scores to add to the 15 majors.
For coach Matt Tilby it was a pleasing result.
“We hold them in high regard, but our guys certainly turned up to play,” he said.
“All the work we have done in pre-season paid dividends first up.”
While the Eagles started in steady fashion, the pace soon picked up and Tilby said the pressure applied helped break the game open.
By the time the final quarter arrived the Eagles were in full flight, which pleased the coach no end.
“Being the first game a few of the skills were off,” Tilby said.
“We won the third quarter, but were showing signs of fatigue.
“To finish off like we did in the last quarter, I was impressed with how the lads went about it.”
The worrying thing for other sides is the fact the Eagles did not boast a full roster.
Out was new recruit Brock Egan, ruckman Tom Moore and backman Brad Maney.
Tilby said the players who replaced those names made a good account of themselves, including youngsters Harry Porter, Sam Klemm, Jesse Martin and Sam Gartner.
“Harry Porter did a job on Sam Mardling, who is a very good forward and has kicked a lot of goals in the KNT,” he said.
“He has worked very hard over the off season, as the other boys have and reached a high level of fitness.
“They were all very impressive.”
Bryant was presented with his number 13 playing guernsey by 300-gamer John Coote, who donned the same number in his playing days with the Eagles.
Tilby said his game was exceptional.
“He is naturally professional the way he goes about his footy and looks after himself,” Tilby said.
“He played a reasonable amount on Tom Logan, an ex-AFL Port Adelaide player and his superior fitness really showed out.
“He has exceptional skills which were on show and he slotted in nicely.
“We are very happy to have him on board.”
While Lucindale boasts a strong mid-field of its own, Tilby said he was pleased with his players running the ball through the middle.
“We started with Matt and Scott Merrett and Simon Berkefeld in the mid-field and those boys worked really hard,” he said.
“They all play a different style of game which was good to watch,” Tilby said.
“They worked extremely hard and applied a lot of pressure around the ball.”
While just the first hit out of the season, the Eagles will certainly be one to watch in 2019.
However, Tilby was not getting ahead of himself at this early stage, taking the season game by game.
“That is our first goal ticked off,” he said.
“We realise there are so many more challenges to come and Kingston is the next one.
“They challenged us down there last year – it took us until half way through the last quarter to get on top.
“They have lost a few players, but have picked up a few too.
“They will certainly be another challenge for us and we will have to be on our game this week.”
Best players for the Eagles were Scott Merrett, Bryant, Matt Merrett, Simon Berkefeld, Porter and Klemm.