Nuriootpa is officially the best side outside of the Barossa, Light and Gawler Football Association top four, after beating Willaston by 32 points at Willaston on Saturday.
With finals’ action off the agenda for both clubs, they have been changing things up, with the Tigers nurturing players in different roles and the Donnies auditioning some of the young pups for next season.
The game was even in the first half, with Nuriootpa's accuracy proving the difference, as it led by three goals at quarter time, then 7-4 to 4-7 at the long break.
A six-goal third quarter broke the game open for the Tigers, while Willaston stuck to the task at hand and won the last term.
There was some controversy in the game, when Donnybrook captain and reigning Mail Medallist Sam Walton was allegedly ‘king hit’ behind the play in the first term, and was forced to leave the field and go to hospital.
It was first feared the courageous leader had his jaw shattered, but fortunately for the champion it turned out to be ‘only’ a badly split lip, which required some stitches.
“Three weeks ago we sat down as a group and after some feedback made some changes, and since then we have been playing our best footy for a long time,” said Nuri coach Nathan Salter.
“It is part of a four-week block, and we are aiming to finish it off this Saturday. We are playing the way we want to be playing now. All the guys have grabbed their opportunities in different positions, which has been working well.”
Two big changes have been using Charlie Edwards and Jack Scholz in on-ball roles, which has added pace and enthusiasm, and helped invigorate the side.
Against Willaston, three youngsters made their debut and showed promise.
James Graetz did not look out of place on the wing, Dave Honnor did a good defensive job on dangerous Donnybrook Shaun Baker, while Tim Honnor was solid in several roles.
Some of the major match-ups for Nuri included Craig Gogoll at centre half back, mainly on Jarred McDonald, Aaron Modistach at full back on Jamie Williams, Ryan Byrne (eight goals) at full forward, and Jarrad Byrne and Brett Thiele on-ball.
For Willaston, it was time to look to the future, with five players from the senior colts suiting up - two finishing high in the best players.
Jarrod Smoult started in the centre - not bad for a 16-year-old - and showed he was more than up for it, with a committed effort and giving as good as he got.
On the wing, youngster Tyson Irlam picked up 25 possessions, and was outstanding with his delivery, while Zach Hentschke at half forward, Jon Hurst in various roles and Tyson Heintzberger in defence, showed promise.
Of the more senior players, Mathew Brooks was solid down back, Geoff Taylor displayed plenty of pace on the wing, and Adam Pepe was a rock at centre half back.
“Since we couldn't make the finals, we decided to try five kids, as they are the future of the club,” Willaston president Wayne Smith said.
“It was a huge learning curve for them, but they all enjoyed themselves, and they will be given another opportunity this week against Central, which is our Donnybrooks day - a club within the club that raises much needed funds.
“The day is being sponsored by Carlton United Brewers, with the guest speaker former Adelaide AFL player Kym Koster, and there will be plenty of Crows stuff to auction.”
While Willaston host Gawler Central this week, Nuriootpa is at home to Freeling.