Finalists set in concrete
The penultimate round of the Hooker League went basically to script with the big four Easts, Souths, Tintenbar/East Ballina and Casino sealing a spot in the finals with wins against lesser placed opposition. Just outside the four, the Ballina Bears push for a spot in the finals floundered as they went down to fellow mid-table titans, Marist Brothers.
Although things played out as expected it wasnt easy sailing for any of the top four, bar Souths. In the Souths versus Hawks game King Richard Nind guided his team to victory with a patient 53 on a slow Nesbitt Park pitch. Paul McLean and Rex Parrish also dug in on the dead track as Souths hauled in the moderate total of 152 for the loss of five wickets. Left arm quick Michael German cut the ball off the pitch and showed good control to capture 3 for 34 for the Hawks. Barring a very improbable outright over Easts in the last round Souths are now assured second spot.
Meanwhile, Easts nailed down the minor premiership when they finally hauled in the Pirates first innings total of 181 on Nielson Park. However, the win didnt come without jitters, as the Waratahs lost 4 for 7 after a solid opening start. Once again Bruce Jobson (70) and Paul Simes (46) were Easts mainstays but their middle order looked a bit fragile coming into the finals. The Pirates Jake Lewis proved himself as quite the prestidigitator during the game, catching a shin high bullet at short cover from the bat of Simon Milenko. However, Lewis must have wanted to shoot himself in the foot, because he then over-stepped and bowled Jobson. If they had got Jobson early it could have been a very different game. The Pirates also dropped Jobson twice on his way to his match winning 70. Although Easts should capture the minor premiership their match against Souths this weekend on Nielson will be vital in the battle for psychological dominance in the finals.
Casino, on a travesty of a pitch at Queen Elizabeth Park, struggled to eclipse Alstonvilles meagre 115. Indeed, had it not been for an unusually dogged display of batting from fast bowler Wade Sweeney (45 n.o.), the Cavaliers could well have come undone. The Cavaliers attempt to wrest an unlikely outright from the match was stymied by a solid opening batting effort from Michael Barnes.
The Bar also made very tough going of their match against a very young Workers Club team, losing 5 for 11 as young left arm opening bowler Jeremy Cowin tore through a lower middle order. However, the Bar hung in there to win by one wicket in a gripping match, which could have ruined their finals chances. Now they sit in third, one point ahead of Casino.
In the Bears versus Marist game a diving goal keepers catch by Ben Layton at mid off to remove Bears skipper Andrew Gordon proved a vital turning point. Needing 100 with only four wickets in hand on a slow deck, the seasiders were resting their hopes on their representative champion, Gordon, but Laytons phenomenal catch put paid to that. Brothers went back into bat in the hope of an outright but the slowness of the wicket and the accuracy of the bowling made that impossible. So ended the finals hopes of each of the clubs.
This Sunday Souths will play Marist Brothers and Easts will play Casino in the semi finals of the Byron Private Life one-day series. Although Souths will be strongly favoured to knock off Brothers on Oakes Oval at 5.30pm, the Casino vs Easts game should be a ball tearer. Both sides have solid openers and aggressive lower orders, both sides have powerful bowling attacks, and both sides field well. And whats more you can sit and watch the match, beer in hand, from the balcony of the East Lismore Bowling Club. Noice.