Eyre Peninsula finishes in top three

Eyre Peninsula once again performed strongly in this year's State Country Championships, finishing third after suffering a close loss in the first game.

The defending champions faced a strong Southern Districts outfit in their first game on Saturday morning.

The game was an even affair played in tough conditions under constant rain but the EP boys took a five-point lead into half-time with Xavier Watson and Jake Bruce giving them plenty from the midfield.

The second half was a genuine scrap with both sides going in hard and when Jacob Collins kicked a great goal from the pack to put his side two points up with just minutes to go, Eyre Peninsula looked well positioned to win the game.

They were dealt a cruel blow in the dying seconds when Southern Districts' Clayton Mesecke kicked a match-winning goal to put his side in front.

Watson was clearly the best player on the ground in a terrific leaders game, Bruce was all class in the conditions, and Joe Walker, Brayden Martin and Dion Woolford performed solidly.

In their second game, they took on Murray South East in a must-win game for EP to keep the title defence alive.

They started the game strongly kicking with the aid of a slight breeze and once again through the hard work of captain Watson and Riley Maitland were able to give their key forwards Syd Masters and Stephen Crettenden some clean delivery.

They kicked three goals in the first half and their back half, led by the reliable Wright, Norton and Woolford, kept South East goalless to take a 16-point lead at the main break.

The Murray South East side came out strongly after half time to kick an early goal but EP were able to steady the tide and took control of the game in the last 15 minutes as Watson, Maitland, and Jacob Collins found plenty of the ball.

Masters took control in the air to boot three second-half goals with his strong hands a feature, and Crettenden and Tynan Keeley were also prominent up forward.

Their captain Xavier Watson was once again their best player, while Masters, Maitland, David Wright, Keeley and Murphy all had strong influence over the game.

Following Saturday's games, Eyre Peninsula missed out on reaching the final but had plenty on the line to gain some redemption as they took on Southern Districts again in the final game on Sunday.

The game started poorly for EP as Southern dominated the clearances and looked too strong as they piled on three first-quarter goals, while a shell-shocked EP kicked two points to trail by 19 points at quarter-time.

Whatever their coach said clearly worked as the team came out firing in the second quarter with Watson and Maitland getting on top in the middle as Konitzka and Kelsh took ascendancy in the ruck.

Masters looked strong in the air to kick two goals and when Murphy kicked his second for the quarter after a big grab, Eyre Peninsula had hit the front in a matter of minutes.

The EP side went to the half-time break four points up and looked a much better outfit in the second quarter.

They continued that dominance into the third quarter as their back half took complete control, led by Norton, Walker, and Woolford who were impassable, while Watson, Maitland and Bilney dominated the midfield.

When Murphy kicked his fourth on the three-quarter time siren, the EP side looked in complete control as they took a 33-point lead in to the final break.

They continued the onslaught in the final term to kick a further four goals to one, with Billy Byass chiming in with two late ones to run out comfortable 52-point winners in their best performance of the weekend.

Their best player was Riley Maitland, who was outstanding through the midfield and dangerous up forward, Murphy looked a class act kicking four and setting up several others, Watson was his normal workman-like self, and Masters dominated up forward and in the air.

The defensive work was excellent - Norton looks a quality player and the experienced pair of Woolford and Wright and the run off half back from Walker and Ian Jericho was important all game.

Xavier Watson was awarded the Peter Beard Medal as Eyre Peninsula's best player and Jackson Murphy was awarded the Jay Williams Medal for best under 21 player.

Watson also took out the Don McSweeney Medal as the carnival's best and fairest player in a three-way tie with team-mate Syd Masters and Centrals' Leigh Ryswyk.

Five EP players were selected in the team of the carnival, with Syd Masters, Jackson Murphy, Xavier Watson, Jaxen Norton and Jordan Hind all now in line to represent the SA State Country side in Perth in a fortnight.