All good things must come to an end.
For Werribee, that thing was an unbeaten run of six, the end coming in the form of a 24-point loss to Footscray at Victoria University Whitten Oval on Saturday.
Despite having gone down to the Bulldogs by 51 points back in round two, the Tigers had every reason to believe they could turn the tables and extend their streak to seven. A rousing come-from-behind win over the Northern Blues a week earlier had shown them capable of serving it up to the best teams in the competition, while the reigning premiers - despite their ability to bury teams at their high-scoring best - had looked a little shaky in recent weeks.
But from the time it took control on the scoreboard through the opening term, the home side looked the more likely victor, Werribee always in the hunt but never seeming to fully hit its stride on a day where it trailed at every change.
Against the Blues, the Tigers had shown themselves just as adept as the Dogs at playing a fast-paced, free-flowing brand of football, but the early arm wrestle that ensued quickly put paid to any predictions of an old-fashioned shootout, the first major of the day coming at the 10-minute mark through Footscray’s Anthony Bruhn.
A Matt Munro snap goal was met with two in a row from the Dogs before Tom Gribble posted a long-range set shot approaching quarter time to cut the margin to nine points.
The second term started more positively for the visitors, Munro again involving himself in the scoring action with a run and bounce before dishing off to Louis Pinnuck in a vacant goalsquare.
But the scoring then dried up as the two sides each sprayed a couple of shots on goal, the drought ultimately broken by a third major to Bruhn and a first to Declan Hamilton to give Footscray a 15-point advantage at the main change.
Things finally began to open up through the second half, and it was here Werribee looked most threatening. Twice it managed back-to-back goals to cut the margin to within a kick, but the Dogs found an immediate response on both occasions.
Set-shot goals to Nick Larkey and Matt Hanson within the space of a minute were met with two from Footscray in a similar timeframe, and consecutive majors to Cam Zurhaar and Nick Larkey – the former a kind-bouncing grubber under pressure from 40 metres out, the latter a set shot from a tight angle in the pocket – saw the Dogs hit back with four in a row to take a 28-point lead into the final break.
When Munro and Gribble both put through their second to kick off last term, the Tiger faithful were daring to dream, but it was as close as the boys from Werribee would come, Footscray kicking two of the next three to run out 24-point winners.
Coach John Lamont said the final margin was an accurate reflection of the difference between the two sides on the day.
“We were beaten by a goal a quarter, and that’s how it felt,” said Lamont. “We were close, but we could not get our noses in front.
“We just couldn’t execute on our game plan well enough. Our ball use and our pressure at times wasn’t at the required level to beat a good team.
“I’m not taking anything away from the opposition. Footscray were good right from the word go. They had the initiative and took the ascendancy early.
“We’re feeling a little bit disappointed because we weren’t out of the contest but just didn’t do enough to win. We just came up a bit short against a better team.”
While the result was a deflating one given Werribee’s recent run of success, there were plenty of individual performances to take heart in.
Always a prolific ball winner, Gribble outdid himself with 36 disposals, eight tackles, seven clearances, and two goals in a midfield masterclass, while Munro finished with three goals and 18 disposals in his best game for the year, his third coming courtesy of a bit of boundary-line brilliance from the ever-reliable Hanson, who was again a workhorse at the stoppages.
Big man Braydon Preuss was at his dominant best in the ruck with a monster haul of 63 hitouts, and second-gamer Dom Brew also kept the statisticians busy in piling on the pressure with a whopping 15 tackles.
Three games into his return to the senior ranks, Dane McFarlane racked up 19 disposals running out of defence to finish among his side’s best for a second straight week, while Joe Maishman (14 disposals) backed up his three-goal haul from last week’s recall with another strong performance.
Having played out his three games as 23rd man earlier this year, Pinnuck was a solid contributor in his first match as part of the 22, finishing with one goal from his 16 disposals.
The news was more positive for Werribee’s development team, which ended a streak of its own by notching its first win of the year, holding on for a thrilling five-point win against Williamstown at Burbank Oval.
Having earned their only points of the year with a draw against the Seagulls back in round six, the Tigers saw this as a big chance to get on the winners’ list and made the most of their opportunities through the first half.
After a slow start that saw the two sides manage just one goal each in the opening term, Werribee sent home five goals to two through the second quarter to take a 14-point lead into the main change.
The Tigers extended their advantage to 23 points by the three-quarter-time break and looked to be home and hosed when they pushed it out to an even five goals early in the final term, but four straight goals to the home side saw it close within a kick with minutes to play.
When Nick Ebinger lined up for a set shot after the siren to tie the game, it seemed the footy gods had conspired against Werribee once more, but the kick drifted wide to seal a thrilling and memorable first-up win.
Ethan Petterwood headed a host of standout individual performers for the Tigers, racking up possessions in the middle of the ground to strongly press his case for a senior recall, while Josh Corbett was equally impressive up forward with three goals and a number of towering marks.
Better known as a key forward in his junior days with the Murray Bushrangers, new recruit Harry Boyd continued to show his versatility and ability to play a key defensive role and is among a growing list of young players in the mix for a call-up as 23rd man.
With the seniors looking to get back on the winners’ list and the development team hoping to gain some momentum from its maiden win, both Werribee sides will head to Trevor Barker Beach Oval on Sunday for a double-header against Sandringham.
2017 Peter Jackson VFL
Footscray: 3.6 5.10 11.12 13.17 (95)
Werribee: 2.4 3.7 7.8 10.11 (71)
Footscray: A Bruhn 4, L Nash 2, L Webb, A Tashevski-Beckwith, B Gowers, C Smith, D Hamilton, N Mullenger-Mchugh, P Lipinski
Werribee: M Munro 3, T Gribble 2, N Larkey 2, L Pinnuck, C Zurhaar, M Hanson
Footscray: K Collins, M Boyd, L Nash, W Hayes, F Roberts, T English
Werribee: M Munro, B Preuss, D McFarlane, M Hanson, N Larkey, R Barrack
2017 AFL Victoria Development League
Williamstown: 1.4 3.6 4.6 8.8 (56)
Werribee: 1.2 6.2 8.5 9.7 (61)
Williamstown: J Owen 2, C Yeo, F Carroll, L Bramble, J Burke, T Davies, B Monk
Werribee: J Corbett 3, H King, B Houlihan, A Liberatore, B Shelley, J Edwards, T Ellard
Williamstown: B Monk, T Condon, K Gray, F Carroll, J Owen, C Yeo
Werribee: E Petterwood, B Iles, J Corbett, H King, J Edwards, H Boyd