To suggest a run of five losses in three years amounts to a hoodoo might be a stretch, but Werribee’s 11-point loss to Footscray on Saturday did nothing to quash any growing sense the Bulldogs might be emerging as a bit of a bogey team for the “big W”.
Such analysis can perhaps be attributed less to the length of the streak and more to the feeling that, for much of Saturday’s contest – played out in pristine autumn conditions at VU Whitten Oval – the game looked to be there for the visitors taking if they could only find a semblance of their best football.
With the Dogs’ penchant for fast-paced, free-flowing play on the outside, Werribee had a prime opportunity to dictate the terms by imposing its physicality on the game and winning the hard ball. Instead, it was the hosts who emerged superior on that front. Matt Hanson and Dom Brew (seven clearances each) helped their side hold sway at the stoppages, and Jack Henderson and Ryan Hebron were both outstanding with their defensive mindsets as they squared off against Bailey Williams and Tory Dickson respectively at either end of the ground, but Footscray’s 31 more contested possessions – not to mention its more polished ball movement – ultimately proved telling.
For the second week in a row, Werribee allowed its opposition an early jump, though errant kicking for goal was the decisive factor on this occasion. When Josh Schache marked strongly and kicked truly early in the second term to give the Dogs their fifth, the visitors had just the one Jake Riccardi goal and five behinds to their name, and the margin stood at 21 points.
But if a sluggish start had been almost entirely to blame for Werribee’s undoing against Port Melbourne last week, the same could not be said this time around. Indeed, with the returning Michael Barlow leading the charge in the middle with a massive second quarter that saw him to 18 disposals by half time, the visitors proceeded to kick five of the next six goals to snatch the lead shortly after half time.
That, however, would be the most momentum they would generate for the afternoon, the Bulldogs wresting back the advantage before twice getting on rolls to kick three unanswered goals and establish their control over the second half. Tom Gribble (29 disposals) caught fire after the main break to provide the chief resistance in the engine room, and two third-quarter goals to Max Augerinos and two each in the second half to Timm House and the returning Joel Bennett kept the visitors within touch; but with Werribee lacking its usual fluency going forward as it sought to close the deficit, the chase felt out of reach for much of the final term despite the margin never extending beyond an even four goals.
The result leaves Werribee’s win-loss ledger square at three apiece, but the “big W” will have a prime opportunity to get its season back in the black when it travels around the bay to take on Frankston at Skybus Stadium next week. Importantly, the Dolphins’ proclivity for a similarly fast-paced and uncontested game style presents an opportunity to put the learnings from the loss to the Dogs to good use straight away.