Werribee fell short in its bid to exact revenge on Geelong for its round-one heartbreaker, going down to the Cats by 16 points at GMHBA Stadium on Saturday.
Geelong: 5.4 7.10 8.15 12.16 (88)
Werribee: 4.3 5.7 7.10 10.12 (72)
Geelong: R. Gardner 3, W. Buzza 2, T. Atkins 2, D. Menzel 2, R. Abbott, Z. Smith, L. Kiel
Werribee: Goal Kickers: A. Hooper 3, J. Porter 2, N. Buykx 2, M. Augerinos, J. Bennett, B. Moloney
Geelong: T. Atkins, S. Simpson, L. Henderson, J. Keras, L. Kiel, J. Jones
Werribee: S. Collins, K. Aylett, M. Brett, J. Henderson, A. Hooper, D. Brew
A powerhouse performance from Sam Collins in defence, a lively Andrew Hooper firing up forward with three goals, Kurt Aylett controlling the game in the middle, and a formidable Geelong side laden with AFL talent as opposition – it was all a familiar scene for Werribee. Unfortunately for the black-and-gold faithful, the end result of a mighty effort against the Cats for no avail was also all too familiar.
Unlike in the two sides’ Easter Sunday season-opening clash, Werribee could not rightly claim this to be one that got away. On that day, the “big W” had overcome an early deficit to haul itself into the lead, only to be brought undone by two quick Geelong goals in the dying moments.
On this occasion, the hosts were never headed from the moment big man Wylie Buzza put through his second goal at the 14-minute mark of the second quarter to reclaim the lead, but nor were they ever really safe until the dying minutes of the game. Three times in the final term the visitors closed to within a kick but were unable to get their noses in front, the final margin of 16 points the biggest of the day.
The round-one encounter had set the scene for a tantalising rematch, though the two sides had travelled somewhat different trajectories in the intervening weeks. Werribee arrived at GMHBA Stadium buoyed by a rousing win over Frankston that had seen it produce its most consistent and dominant performance for the year, but it also found itself up against a side chasing its fifth straight win and looking in ominous touch. Even with the late withdrawals of Nakia Cockatoo, Corey Gregson, and George Horlin-Smith, Geelong’s side boasted 16 AFL-listed players and looked a daunting prospect on its home deck.
But right from the first bounce, Werribee looked up for the fight. Key forward Jade Cleeland pulled in a big contested mark at half forward before calmly squaring up Ben Moloney straight in front of goal. With a single act in the opening minutes of the game, the man who had just weeks earlier had been searching to rediscover his best form in the Wangaratta reserves had made himself look right at home on the big stage of the VFL, and just like that, Werribee was away.
As an early shootout gave way to an old-fashioned arm wrestle through the second term, the Cats edged clear and began to get on top in possession and forward entries; but the visitors kept themselves in the hunt through their superior pressure and by seizing more of their opportunities inside forward 50, finding a response each time the home side threatened to break clear to keep itself within two straight kicks throughout much of the second half.
The work of the Werribee’s back six went a long way towards setting its strong defensive tone, and no one stood up taller than Collins. With 21 disposals and a whopping 14 marks – six of which were contested – his colossal effort rivalled that of his season-opening blinder against the Cats and saw him well and truly have the measure of Buzza, and it seemed telling that it was only through the rare moments when not lined up on Collins that Geelong’s number-one forward target was able to hit the scoreboard.
But if Collins played a major hand in proceedings down back, he certainly didn’t play a lone one. Matthew Brett took another big step towards cementing himself as a key part of Werribee’s defensive setup, finishing with six marks and a few big contested grabs in his intriguing battle with the dangerous Daniel Menzel (two goals), while Jack Henderson produced another outstanding performance in a lockdown role on former Geelong Falcons teammate Gryan Miers to keep the lively small forward goalless.
At the other end of the ground, the absence of the injured Josh Corbett meant Josh Porter (two goals) and Cleeland faced a big task against a key defensive setup led by Lachlan Henderson, but Werribee’s small forwards stepped up admirably to shoulder the extra load. Hooper seized his opportunities at ground level and in the air and combined beautifully with the likes of Matt Munro and Max Augerinos to help lock the ball in his side’s attacking half with strong forward defensive pressure, while Nick Buykx also provided a handy scoring option in pushing forward from the wing to finish with two goals.
Werribee had plenty of contributors in the middle of the ground, Tom Gribble (27 disposals and five clearances) again finding plenty of the footy and Dom Brew (10 tackles) again providing the grunt, but none played a bigger role than Aylett. His 26 disposals also included five clearances as well as a number of play-making bursts through the middle; in combination with his team-high 12 tackles, they constituted a complete offensive and defensive midfield performance.
Ultimately, the end result reflected another opportunity lost against the Cats, but Werribee can and should take heart in having banked its two most consistent four-quarter performances for the year in consecutive weeks. That sort of sustained effort – something too often lacking across the first half of 2018 – will hold it in good stead if it can replicate it over the remainder of the year and should give it every confidence of being able to turn the tables on Collingwood at Victoria Park on Sunday morning.