THE premiership race in the Murray Football League is wide open.
That’s the opinion of Barooga playing co-coach James Hazelman after the Hawks became only the second team this season to defeat ladder-leader Numurkah on Saturday.
Hazelman, who coaches with former AFL Gold Coast listed player Tyrone Downie, says it was Barooga’s best win this season.
“We’ve been in a lot of games that we haven’t quite played the four quarters like we did on the weekend, and it was definitely pleasing that, when we got challenged at times throughout the game, we were able to find a way,” he said.
With three rounds to play in the home-and-away season and a three-win gap between the top six and the rest, the teams that will play finals is essentially set.
Numurkah and dual reigning premier Nathalia, which Hazelman says are the side to beat, are locked on 13 wins apiece.
Barooga is one of three teams with 11 wins, and Echuca United is one game further back.
“Numurkah has definitely been the best all year, their results week after week, they’ve been dominant in a lot of matches, and up until the weekend had only lost one game,” Hazelman said.
“Nathalia, as they’ve proven in the past, they find a way come finals time ... and sides like Moama and Mulwala have improved as the year’s gone on, and Echuca (United) as well.
“If you’re not on on the day, it’s pretty easy to get beaten by any of those sides.”
It has been 20 years since Barooga last won the premiership.
Only Mulwala (1990) has a longer drought than Barooga of the teams in the top six, while Numurkah won in 1999 and 2000. Hazelman was part of the Barooga teams that were beaten in 2007 and 2008 grand finals by Nathalia, which had also won the 2005 and 2006 flags.
“I was pretty young at the time, and I probably didn’t appreciate it as much as I should’ve,” said Hazelman, now 29. “I’m very committed, but it plays a big part in my time at Barooga now because if I ever left I would be pretty dirty on myself if Barooga won a premiership.
“Obviously I love the place and I live here so its easy for me to keep going back there, but a premiership would top it off.”