Round 21 report: Werribee vs North Melbourne

This was no forlorn farewell.

Far from providing a sombre send-off for John Lamont, everything about Werribee’s 50-point home victory over North Melbourne – from the fast-paced, free-flowing goalfest of the game itself to the jubilant scenes that followed – felt like a joyous celebration, a showcase of just how exciting the departing senior coach’s brand of football can be at its best and of just how bright a future the club he leaves looks to have just 12 months on from its return to standalone status.

Reflecting post match on an impressive run for home that yielded three straight wins, Lamont said it was only natural that his young side would be “coming together and playing [its] best footy at the end of the year.” Indeed, with a first-up victory against its old on-field ally up for grabs and the chance to give their coach of five years a fitting finale, the boys in the “big W” may well have saved their best for last.

Though it took a run of four consecutive goals approaching three-quarter time for Werribee to break its rival and open up a commanding lead, the home side looked to be in control all day, leading from start to finish as North Melbourne fought to keep pace with the frantic tempo.

Andrew Hooper seized on the glorious conditions Avalon Airport Oval served up to set the early tone. By the seven-minute mark of the second term, he had four of his side’s six goals and looked to be making an unlikely bid to overtake Nick Larkey – his rival at the other end of the ground – in the race for the Frosty Miller Medal.

Hooper’s scoreboard impact ended there, but the momentum he established carried on. Through a series of electric coast-to-coast plays, Werribee extended its seven-point quarter-time advantage to 19 at the main break.

For two and a half quarters, the Kangaroos hung tough, finding responses as necessary to remain within touch; but late in the final term, as Jake Sharp kicked his second and Tom Gribble and Ben Moloney both opened their accounts, the hosts looked to be stretching clear.

So restrained all year as his side’s tenacious lockdown small back, Jack Henderson gave the first indication that Werribee might be starting to loosen the reins a little and revel in its control over the contest when he finally unveiled his natural flair by flying for a screamer on the wing at the 28-minute mark of the third term.

Moments later, Joe Maishman whirled out of the pack to snap through his first and put the home side 41 points clear, and it was officially party time. With a full term to play and in a near unassailable position, the home side had licence to enjoy its last quarter of season 2018 while still heeding the coach’s final invocation to keep “foot on throat”.

Stellar performers were easy to find for the home side, standouts less so in what was perhaps the most even team contribution for the year.

Dane McFarlane again led the drive out of defence, Kurt Aylett and Keegan Gray provided key link-up options through their ability to find marking space, and skipper Michael Sodomaco completed the chain with his trademark bursts through the middle.

Maishman, Moloney, and Dom Brew all proved crucial in both winning the ball from the stoppages and providing the bulk of their side’s defensive grunt in the middle, ultimately enabling Werribee to prevail 65-44 in the final tackle count.

Sharp (three goals) and Joel Bennett and first-gamer Scott Carlin (two each) formed a handy support network for Hooper in front of goal, the latter’s poise under pressure as 23rd player giving an exciting glimpse of his future, regardless of whether or not it lies at Avalon Airport Oval.

Quite literally standing tall through a huge final term – what may well have been his last ever in the “big W” – Sam Collins put the final exclamation point on an extraordinary year to finish with 22 disposals and 11 marks. With yet another move to the ruck from his key defensive post late in the game, he further underpinned the case for his versatility, and the Werribee faithful must now surely be well prepared for the possibility of needing to call in replacement stocks down back for season 2019.

All in all, the day could hardly have provided a better end for Lamont, not just for the result but for the fact it came against his club’s old alignment partner, which gave the North Melbourne players – some of whom had spent three years under the Werribee coach’s game-day tutelage – the chance to show their class by joining the post-game guard of honour.

As Lamont walked from the field and acknowledged the applause of the crowd and players alike, he wore the smile of a man satisfied with a job well done, as well he might. If the results of his final few weeks at the helm are anything to go by, he leaves his club in good shape and in a state he can rightly be proud of.

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