It may not have definitively answered any questions about the health of its 2017 campaign, but Werribee delivered exactly what the doctor ordered with a gritty 18-point win over Coburg at Piranha Park on Saturday.
Already starting to look a little sickly after consecutive losses to Footscray and Sandringham, the Tigers’ finals prospects appeared to be taking a turn for the worst when the visitors trailed the 13th-placed Lions by 23 points early in the third term.
But a four-goal second half from Josh Corbett and a Matt Hanson midfield master class helped right the ship to see Werribee notch its seventh win of the season and strengthen its position inside the top eight.
On paper, the contest looked a mismatch very much in the Tigers’ favour, but they weren’t taking their opponents lightly after conceding nine first-quarter goals in the previous round’s loss to the Zebras, a side Coburg had knocked off for its first win of the season only a week prior.
Werribee’s cause was also hampered by a number of high-profile omissions, which included three late withdrawals that sent the coaching staff scrambling for the magnets and replacement stocks alike as the first bounce approached.
With the end result a Tigers outfit lacking the experienced heads of Ryley Barrack, Daniel Nielson, Sam Wright, and Lachlan Hansen down back and the forward presence of Nick Larkey and Cameron Zurhaar, the newly assembled outfit could feel justifiably satisfied at taking a 16-point deficit into the first change as it looked to find its feet, a long-sleeved Will Fordham cutting a distinctive figure and leading the early charge as he racked up the touches in the middle for a second straight week.
Things seemed to be starting to gel for Werribee through the second quarter, a tumbling “leg break” goal to big man Braydon Preuss - a welcome return to the ruck stocks after sitting out the clash with Sandringham due to elbow soreness - setting the tone for a term that saw the Tigers gain the ascendancy despite a number of missed chances to twice close within a kick.
But when the Lions followed a snap goal from the pack on the half-time siren with consecutive majors after the break, the visitors were beginning to look a little shaky, the sight of Preuss hobbling from the field early in the third term only serving to rub salt into the wound.
With its back to the wall, Werribee then rallied. As Jade Cleeland and Ben McKay stepped up to shoulder the ruck load, Hanson and Dom Brew began to dominate at the stoppages, Corbett clicking into gear front of the sticks.
Louis Pinnuck and the hard-running Joe Maishman also chimed in with multiple majors as the Tigers surged into the lead early in the final term on their way to posting seven of the final eight goals.
“The real focus today was to try to start well, and it was a better start,” senior coach John Lamont said of his side’s performance.
“In the third quarter, we showed plenty of character, and then we kicked away in the last quarter.
“After that annoying loss last week with such a poor first quarter, to come here to Coburg and win against a competitive outfit was pleasing.”
Close opposition attention in recent weeks hasn’t stopped Hanson from having an impact in the middle, but he was at his devastating best against Coburg, running riot in the second half to finish with a monster haul of 30 disposals, 12 tackles, 11 clearances, and six inside-50s.
Elevated to the 22 after serving his three-game stint as 23rd player, Brew was also among the Tigers’ best and provided able support for Hanson in the middle, again exerting plenty of defensive pressure with a team-high 15 tackles.
Having presented well and marked strongly without impacting on the scoreboard in his senior return against Sandringham the previous week, Corbett was justly rewarded for his effort on this occasion, his four-goal haul an encouraging sign for the Tiger faithful as the club prepares to go standalone next year.
Among Werribee’s other key contributors, skipper Michael Sodomaco proved influential through the second half of his first senior game since sustaining a glute injury against North Ballarat in round six, while 18-year-old Murray Bushranger Nick Richards made the most of his opportunity as 23rd man, showing a level of composure in the middle well beyond his years.
Brad Xavier and Nick Buykx also handled themselves well in defence after last-minute call-ups, the latter having already played out the first half of the development game before backing up for another four quarters.
The result sees the Tigers sitting a game clear inside the top eight in sixth place, though they will face a stern challenge in the coming weeks as they square off against four of the top five sides in their next five encounters.
It was a less memorable outing for Werribee’s development side, which went down to Coburg by 58 points earlier in the day.
The Tigers were right in the hunt at the main break, trailing by just seven points before the Lions piled on 11 goals to three through the second half to run away with a comfortable win.
Isaac Miller was Werribee’s leading ball winner with a whopping 33 disposals, while Brydon Hodgson was also a strong contributor with his run and dare out of defence.
The Travelling Tigers are set to return as Werribee’s VFL side heads to Frankston for a “home” game against Richmond on Saturday, while the development side will have the weekend off to regroup before the following week’s clash with Box Hill.
2017 Peter Jackson VFL
Coburg: 5.0 7.5 9.7 10.9 (69)
Werribee: 2.2 5.7 8.12 12.15 (87)
Coburg: P. McEvoy 2, H. Kerbatieh 2, A. Tilley 2, T. Curtis, B. Mullane, R. Exon, T. Goodwin
Werribee: J. Corbett 4, J. Maishman 3, L. Pinnuck 2, R. Clarke, J. Williams, B. Preuss
Coburg: R. Exon, J. Iacobaccio, T. Cleary, L. Bunker, S. Gregory, N. Mellington
Werribee: M. Hanson, J. Corbett, L. Pinnuck, D. Brew, W. Fordham, J. Maishman
2017 AFL Victoria Development League
Coburg: 2.6 5.9 11.12 16.16 (112)
Werribee: 2.0 5.2 8.4 8.6 (54)
Coburg: J. Svarc 4, R. Schraven 3, J. Velissaris 2, G. Romios 2, J. Sandric, B. Cannolo, M. Ercolano, C. Haberfield, H. Blythe
Werribee: T. Ellard 2, A. Liberatore, K. Galloway, J. Menadue, N. Buykx, J. Cotter, H. Kershaw
Coburg: M. Ercolano, C. Roberts, R. Schraven, D. Aujla, J. Velissaris, C. Haberfield
Werribee: H. King, A. Liberatore, A. Adams, B. Hodgson