Lonsdale Reserve could have been mistaken for Rome’s Colosseum on Saturday.
The strong crowd was treated to much more than a football match between Mulwala and Nathalia — it was a gladiatorial battle of epic proportions.
Both sides went toe-to-toe for the entire game, with the clash only decided by an Ash Froud goal after the final siren.
When a classic contest such as this one is presented, there is a tendency to over-analyse every huge play and costly mistake, but in the end the difference in this battle boiled down to just a singular match up — Froud against Nathalia’s full-back Harley Cobbledick.
Mulwala’s spearhead finished with 6.4 and two goal assists, but with the mountain of forward entries directed his way it was only Cobbledick’s scrap and fight that kept the tally that low.
The Purple defender’s influence was highlighted in the second term, where the Lions targeted Froud eight times for just one mark and no score.
It showed up the other end, with Nathalia extending its one-point quarter-time lead to 21 points at the main change.
However, Froud would not be kept quiet and with his Mulwala teammates finally putting the ball out in front of him the superstar dragged his side back into the game with three majors for the term.
Despite their best efforts, all looked lost for the Lions when Kyle Archibald was shown a yellow card halfway through the final stanza with his team still 17 points down.
Again Froud lifted, kicking two of the last three goals to secure a galvanising victory for his new club.
‘‘It’s fantastic, to beat Nathalia who are the premiers is really good with such a young team, it’s great,’’ Mulwala coach Michael Tout said.
‘‘It was a great game I thought, it was quick and there was a lot of pressure.
‘‘He’s a beauty Froudy, but unfortunately he can miss a few easy shots, so I panicked a bit in the end and didn’t really want to watch.’’
Hamish Hosking was monstrous in the ruck for the home side, willing the ball forward at every opportunity, while Cody Howard was electric early in the match and Sean Robinson put his body on the line all day.
For Nathalia, Brodie Ross finished with five goals of his own to dominate at his end of the field, while Bailey Bell booted three of his side’s last four goals — any of which would have been the sealer on another day.
‘‘We probably had our chances, but in the end they were the better side on the day,’’ Purples coach Craig Kellow said.
‘‘We made some fundamental errors late in the game and we just couldn’t lock it down, but full credit to them.
‘‘It was always going to be a tough day, but we probably just ran out of legs.’’
As with any hard and bruising affair, many players finished the game worse for wear, but Nathalia gun Bowen Smith hobbling from the field late in the game stood out as an important factor in the final result.
As one excited onlooker said in the throes of emotion after the goal umpire had signalled that Froud had kicked truly — ‘‘That was as good as a grand final’’.
It was certainly the kind of win that reverberates throughout a competition, and will surely serve as a precursor to what Murray Football League fans should be treated to at the pointy end of this season.