Hamilton Wildcats pluck Eagles feathers

Hamilton Wildcats open their Australian Football Season with a win over Toronto. (Photo: Rob Colburn)

Despite having many new faces wearing yellow and black this season, and dressing five rookies, the Hamilton Wildcats scored a 78-40 win over the Toronto Eagles in opening day play of Ontario Australian Rules Football at Colonel Samuel Smith Park in Toronto.

The Wildcats had 12 scores and 6 behinds while the Eagles had five scores and 10 behinds.

The Wildcats, who finished the 2011 season with an 11-3 record, were led by Brendan Major’s seven scores with Daniel Crouch adding four scores and rookie Thomas Baetz adding one.

The Wildcats’ midfield looked like a well-oiled machine, as Dennis Choi, Justin Settle, and 2012 captain Luke Lombardini flowed through the guts and cleared the center square with ease. Hamilton’s forward line of Major, Crouch, Andy Leon and Baetz led well and were taking impressive overhead marks from the accurate center clearances.

Hamilton took an early lead, with Major kicking the first goal for the ‘Cats. The talented Eagles replied shortly after, but Hamilton definitely seemed to have an answer in defense after Toronto’s first goal, repelling the footy and spoiling several easy marking opportunities. The Wildcat midfield continued to win contest after contest across the ground, pushing the ball forward into the sure hands of Crouch and Major, and at 1/4 time, Hamilton took a 5.0.30 to 2.1.13 lead into the break.

The second quarter started relatively the same, but the Eagles backline seemed to really lock things down, making life difficult for the Wildcat forwards who had a very hard time missing the goals in the opening 20 minutes. Stiff tackles and tight defensive coverage definitely seemed to be the biggest story in the frame, as well as the play of Wildcat rookie Choi, who had only played one game of footy prior to Saturday’s (May 5) game and that was an exhibition match on April 28.

Hamilton’s back 6 played incredibly well all day, with Wildcat veteran Justin Johns looking like he found the fountain of youth in the off-season, and Ed Debruijn working hard in the ruck as well as filling in to help shutdown the Eagle’s forwards. Both Clubs traded scoring shots in the 2nd quarter, with Hamilton still holding onto a healthy lead heading into the half; 9.0.54 to 3.2.20.

In the third quarter, newcomers Andy Leon, Baetz, Eric Kovacs, Choi and Deion Ratcliff looked like seasoned veterans no matter where they were asked to play around the oval.

The Wildcats are back in action on Saturday (May 12) against the Broadview Hawks at Colonel Samuel Smith Park. Game time 12:15 p.m.