‘The Game-Changer……….’ – KB Hill

Michael Newton is blessed with the rare ability to change the course of a sporting contest.

 

In recent years his feats as a high-marking, long-kicking, goal-scoring forward with Wangaratta, have made him the most eye-catching player in Ovens and Murray football.

 

But last Saturday he reproduced that unique trait on the cricket field, to rescue his WDCA side Ovens Valley from a precarious situation.

 

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It was a sweltering 39 degrees at the W.J.Findlay Oval – home of their opponents, Rovers-United-Bruck. Obviously the side winning the toss held the aces. Ovens Valley grasped the opportunity to bat, and so avoid the discomfort of an afternoon in the field under under a blazing sun.

 

But things didn’t quite go to plan. Their progress was snail-like. The oppressive heat intoxicated both batsmen and bowlers, as just 31 runs came in the first 23 overs.

 

Then, as so often happens in modern-day club cricket, a clatter of wickets brought the game to life.

 

Ovens Valley slumped from 1/31 to 6/34 in a jiffy. Newton, who had strolled to the crease at the fall of the fourth wicket, could merely spectate at the other end, as a couple of teammates played indiscreet shots, with inevitable consequences.

 

The consensus of a few onlookers in my vicinity was that they’d possibly scramble to a total of 60 or 70 – if they were lucky.

 

‘Juice’ had other ideas. He was a touch rusty early on. Talk was that a tender calf was causing him grief and may hinder him at the crease .

 

But once he hit his straps, the Hawk bowlers were at his mercy.

 

 

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He was circumspect for a period, and defended sternly, for a fellow with a reputation as a sporting ‘dasher’. Then he’d unleash the odd off or straight drive which would skelter to the boundary.

 

Suddenly, he was set; and motoring through the thirties and forties, whilst doing his utmost to protect numbers eight, nine and ten, who nevertheless, lent good support.

 

The heat – and a lack of success – took their toll on the Hawk bowlers, who had lost their vim. The big fellah was in total control.

 

A ton was staring him in the face until he injudiciously propped his lanky left foot in front, and was adjudged LBW to part-time medium-pacer Jordan Blades.

 

He had scored 96 of the 127 runs which came whilst he was at the crease – a knock which had been peppered with 13 boundaries and a hefty hoik over the mid-wicket boundary. His side had advanced to a rather more healthy, competitive 161.

 

The runs are on the board, and now Newton must don his other cap – as an express opening bowler, to protect that total on Saturday……….*

 

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Michael Newton was a childhood prodigy.

 

From renowned sporting stock which had faithfully served the the township of Whorouly for generations, he took the usual career path of a gifted country football talent.

 

He was spotted by the Murray Bushrangers, then recruited by Melbourne, who took him at Pick 43 in the 2004 AFL Pre-Season Draft.

 

The stand-out characteristic of his game was his height ( 6’4”) and agility, and, of course, that freakish ability which could drop the jaw of the most judgemental recruiting scout.

 

But that was no ‘free pass’ to League football. He laboured for almost three years with Sandringham – the Demons’ VFL ‘feeder’ club, before being handed his AFL debut in Neale Daniher’s final game as coach – Round 13, 2007.

 

Three games later, he sprung to the attention of the wider football public when he pulled down a ‘screamer’ against North Melbourne; soaring high above the pack to pluck a Colin Sylvia ‘long bomb’ from the clouds.

 

It was almost an exclamation mark in the youngster’s football journey, signifying that he had ‘arrived’. He was awarded the AFL’s Mark of the Year and the accolade as an ‘up and comer’.

 

But footy’s never that easy. He was plagued by a series of injuries, and made only six (2008), five (2009), and four (2010) appearances in the following three seasons.

 

Newton was delisted at the end of 2011, after 28 senior games over seven seasons……….

 

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Famous Adelaide club Norwood snapped him up, but he was again at the mercy of the ‘injury stick’ which had played havoc with his stop-start career.

 

After settling in well at The Parade he damaged an ACL, which required a full knee reconstruction and put paid to his efforts to make an impact on the SANFL for more than a season and a half.

 

Having played just 10 games in his first two years at Norwood, he came back in style, to boot 57 goals, and play an important role in their 2014 premiership – the club’s third straight title.

 

In front of 38,000 fans, Norwood held off a powerful Port Adelaide – comprising 19 AFL-listed players, to win by four points, in a classic encounter.

 

 

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At last, it seemed, the football public would see an unrestrained Michael Newton, as he moved into his late twenties.

 

Alas, he was again frustrated by injuries, which restricted him to just nine games in 2015. Compounding that was a falling-out with Redlegs coach Ben Warren, which prompted his decision to return home to the family dairy farm……..

 

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Naturally, when footy clubs get wind of a giant, goal-scoring forward with a considerable reputation returning to their midst, there’s a flurry of activity. Four clubs were in the hunt for him, and the Rovers who felt they held a strong family affiliation with him, stood at the front of the queue.

 

His dad Rod, a classy half-forward, had played 49 games with the Hawks in the eighties; sister Kristy had won a Netball B & F; twin cousins Josh and Andy were both wearing Brown and Gold. The stars certainly seemed aligned…….

 

But, in a shock announcement, he chose to join arch rivals, Wangaratta.

 

The touchy Newton soft tissues restricted him to just nine games in 2016. One of those was the much-awaited opening stanza of the ‘Local Derby’, when he limped from the field early on.

 

To the delight of Hawk fans, the Pies struggled to recover from the loss of their star recruit and were over-run late in the game. But, with 42 goals in his other eight games, there was proof that, if Wang could keep ‘Juice’ on the field, he’d hold the key to their success.

 

No doubt his most memorable performance – and probably the finest of his career – came in the 2017 Grand Final, when he provided the inspiration for one of Wang’s finest flag wins.

 

Red-hot favourites Albury – chasing their fourth straight title – were caught on the hop, as the Pies continually attacked in the first quarter. With 7.0 to 2.2, they built a ‘bridge too far’ for the shocked Tigers, who were unable to contain the champion skipper.

 

 

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He kicked four of his eight goals in that first term and provided a master-class, on the way to being awarded the Did Simpson Medal as best-afield.

 

He has the knack of polarising opinion amongst opposition fans. I witnessed it in a clash against Yarrawonga at the Minns Oval last season, when the Pies were beginning to lose touch during the third term.

 

In an blatant piece of gamesmanship, ‘Juice’ started to niggle his opponent, who could take no more, and retaliated, in full vision of the ump. It resulted in successive goals to the big number 3. Pigeon fans cried blue murder, but too late, the game had swung Wang’s way and they went on to a comfortable win.

 

 

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He’s now booted 197 goals in his 47 games in Black and White. His tally of 81 in 2018 was enough to clinch his first Doug Strang Medal.

 

He’s nudging 32, and it’s debatable how long Michael Newton can pamper those unpredictable hamstrings, calves and thighs. Obviously, those fly-in fly-out trips to the Far North where he’s occasionally strutted his stuff with NTFL club Waratahs in the off-season, will have to go on the back-burner.

 

But you’d think he still may be able to change the course of a few more sporting contests……….

 

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* Michael’s batting heroics were not enough to hold off Rovers-United-Bruck who replied with 220 on the second day of this match. Michael did his bit taking 3/13 with the ball.
For more KB Hill stories, click here.

Comments

  1. KB Hill has been a fair bit of merriment and stirring up of Juice on face book re this article good fun
    ( I posted on Norwood Supporters page hope helps re hits )

  2. Another cracking read, KB.

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