Norths young guns defy major threat
WITH four representative players interstate, Norths' A-Grade hockey captain Jeremy Dalais couldn't wipe the smile off his face.
That wasn't because he didn't want Zac and Riley Profke, Kaleb Christensen and Luke Randle to share in Norths' latest victory.
Rather Dalais' delight was seeing the Norths' youngsters stepping up and showing they can handle the intense pressure experienced in Saturday night's grand final replay at the Ipswich Hockey Complex.
Norths held out defending premiers Hancocks 5-4 in an entertaining match that went from end to end.
In the first three quarters, you couldn't afford to blink or risk missing a goal or sensational strike.
However, it was Norths' defence and especially the work of goalkeeper Cian McLaughlin that repelled the powerhouse Hancocks' attack in the scoreless final quarter.
"He had a cracker game, absolutely,'' Dalais said of McLaughlin.
"I reckon that's probably his best game of the season.
"They (Hancocks) probably dominated possession in goal but Cian had a very good game at the back.
"The other young fella David (Visser) had a very good game as well so it was a very good effort by the young fellas tonight.''
Dalais was also pleased to have his brother Will back this season after he missed last year through injury and overseas travel. Will scored two goals.
The return of Andrew Pratt provided valuable experience at the back.
Jeremy Dalais has been with Norths for seven years "so we've now got the mantle of the older fellas,'' he said.
"And it's good to see the young guys come through now as well. We had a few years where we didn't really have much coming through.
"Norths have been developing the young fellas really well.''
Such players were crucial with Zac Profke, Christensen and Randle at the national under-18 titles in Tasmania.
Zac's younger brother Riley was representing the Queensland under-15 side at Narellan, NSW.
Saturday night's victory showed Norths will be a title contender this year after losing last year's grand final to the well-balanced and skilful Hancocks side.
"It was a very good performance,'' Dalais said.
"We were expecting it to be a very tough battle with Hancocks in their frontline so very happy to only give away four and for us getting five without a few of our main goal scorers.''
Norths remain the only unbeaten men's A-Grade team after three rounds.
Like Norths, Hancocks were missing some pivotal players including Jay Pavitt.
However, Hancocks striker Ryan Smith conceded his team took the Devils too lightly early, knowing they were missing some regular strike power.
"We only started really having a go at those last couple of quarters, which was unfortunate,'' Smith said.
"But they (Norths) are a good team.
"We sort of underestimated them. They had a few good players out.''
Hancocks led 2-1 before Norths upped the ante through goals from Luke Brown, Keelan Morrow and Kye Hey.
Smith's hat-trick in the third quarter reduced Norths' lead to 5-4.
Although Norths held on, Smith's strikepower highlighted the potency of the Hancocks' attack. He never stopped running, zigzagging around the Norths' defence countless times and regularly turning defence in attack.
Hancocks continued to pepper the Norths' goal in a desperate attempt to find a late equaliser.
"You've got to give it to the (Norths) goalie (Cian McLaughlin),'' Smith said. "He played awesome, saved all our good shots.
"He's a really good player.''
After Hancocks' first loss of the new season, Smith was happy to see most of last year's grand final-winning side back and ready to defend their title after a productive pre-season.
"We've just got to keep building,'' he said.
"We've got a new goalkeeper now (Reid Jackwitz). He's only young so he'll come up really good and hopefully we can get the lollies again at the end of the year.''
Smith is in his sixth year of A-Grade, chasing a fourth grand final appearance if Hancocks make it this year.
His best goal-scoring haul was six last season. He's also been scoring heavily in Reserve Grade, including a hat-trick against Easts on Saturday afternoon after netting five against Bellbowrie in the previous round.
In the other A-Grade men's match, Wests held out Easts 3-2.
The Hancocks women beat Norths 2-1 in a scrappy Friday night game before defending premiers Wests accounted for Swifts 11-2 on Sunday night.
A week after scoring five goals, former international striker Amy Kickbusch netted eight in the latest game.