If Friday night wasn’t enough drama for the hockey fans who packed out the splendid Riverside Sports Club, the tension was ratcheted up yet another notch Saturday night when Wanderers Jockeys fashioned a remarkable second-half performance to beat frontrunners Kearsney Hockey Club 5-2, but in the final analysis the Johannesburg lads were edged out of the final by Kearsney on goal difference.

Saturday’s late game featuring host club Riverside and defending champions Western Province Cricket Club Badgers was a replay of the 2014 final. Indeed, Riverside won the inaugural title in 2013 while last year’s showdown for the ultimate honour saw the Badgers from Cape Town prevail over the home team.

The Badgers needed a draw this time round to advance to the final, and it was a must-win for the hosts. Riverside gave it all they had and enjoyed the lion’s share of goal-shots, but ran into a Badgers keeper at his best and bravest.

Mark Turner was magnificent under the Badgers crossbar, making several saves that took the notion of selfless courage to a new level, one in particular from the fiercest effort one could possibly imagine off the stick of multi-capped SA striker Taine Paton that knocked the shot-stopper’s facemask clean off his head.

The Badgers defenders were also on their mettle and Greenfields Elite Club Challenge Player of the Day Rhett Halkett made some critical, goal-denying interventions.

As has been their differentiator, the Badgers maximised opportunity. Captain and double Olympian Andrew Cronje’s team stamped their mark from the get-go, outstanding vice-captain Wade Paton opening the scoring with a goal from field play in the second minute. National captain at the 2015 Indoor World Cup, Dale Isaac, took the Badgers two goals clear with a 44th minute strike - and that was it.

Sunday’s 11.15am final could be anyone’s game, but it is going to take a massive effort from Kearsney to unseat the Badgers of Cape Town. The third-fourth playoff between Riverside and Wanderers Jockeys is at 9.30am.

In contrast to Friday night’s nail-biters, Saturday’s morning match-ups produced convincing victories.

Kearsney outplayed tournament newcomers Old Edwardians of Johannesburg 7-1 after leading 5-0 at half-time. The on-fire lads from Botha’s Hill went 3-0 up inside the first 10 minutes thanks to a strike from the penalty spot by Davyn Keuter and two field goals off the sticks of Troy Marais and Dutch player/coach Gijs Hardeman.

After 20 minutes Kearsney had established what turned out to be an unassailable four-goal advantage when TJ Smith got on the scoresheet from field play. Old Eds were unable to recover and Kearsney added further field goals through Jarryd Jones, Robin Jones and Smith. Old Eds grabbed a consolation goal four minutes from the end when Jeremy Hart scored.

The 7-1 defeat was a massive disappointment to player/coach Thornton McDade’s side, who had run Badgers so close on Friday night before losing by the odd goal in five, the Badgers’ winner coming from the penalty spot after the final hooter. To their great credit, Eds came back in the afternoon to account for Old Albanians 2-0. Sunday’s 9am tussle on Pitch 2 will feature the same teams in the playoff for fifth and sixth places.

On Saturday morning, host club Riverside recovered from their disappointing 1-0 loss to Wanderers Jockeys on day one to register a polished 5-1 win over the hard-working Pretoria club, Malik Old Albanians.

Coach Sheldon Klingbiel’s Riverside lads established a 2-0 lead by half-time, both converted from the penalty corner set-piece, the first a powerful drag-flick by Karl Oftebro and the second a great effort off a rebound by Chicken Price.

A Tim Drummond field goal and Terence Kidd’s successful penalty corner put Riverside 4-0 to the good midway through the second half before Mike Wiggett established a five-goal cushion a minute later. Old Albanians worked without reward until the 53rd minute when skipper Mark Holliday pulled one back with this entertaining encounter’s final goal.

In the last match of the morning session, WPCC Badgers were 3-0 winners over the Wanderers Jockeys with Rhett Halkett’s superb tip-in off a 17th minute penalty corner in the first half followed by second-half strikes from Lloyd Norris-Jones and Matt McConkey.

If days one and two are anything to go by, Sunday’s playoffs should be a treat.

GREENFIELDS ELITE CLUB CHALLENGE RESULTS AND FIXTURES
Friday - Western Province CC Badgers 3 Old Edwardians 2; Kearsney HC 2 Malik Old Albanians 1; Wanderers Jockeys 1 Riverside HC 0.
Saturday - Riverside HC 5 Malik Old Albanians 1; Kearsney HC 7 Old Edwardians 1; WP CC Badgers 3 Wanderers Jockeys 0; Old Edwardians 2 Malik Old Albanians 0; Wanderers Jockeys 5 Kearsney HC 2; WP CC Badgers 2 Riverside 0.
Sunday - 09h00 (turf 2) – 5th / 6th place playoff: Old Edwardians vs Malik Old Albanians; 09h30 (turf 1) – 3rd / 4th place playoff Riverside vs Wanderers Jockeys; 11h15 (turf 1) – FINAL WP CC Badgers vs Kearsney HC.