Werribee’s finals dream and 2017 season both came to an end on Saturday night with a gallant 15-point loss to the Casey Demons at Casey Fields.
The Tigers needed a win to snare a top-eight spot following Port Melbourne’s nail-biting victory over Collingwood earlier in the day, and they threatened to produce a boilover against the fourth-placed Demons when they entered the final change with a head of steam and trailing by just three points.
It was as close as they would come, but it took until the 21min mark of a final-quarter arm wrestle for the Demons to put the result beyond doubt, Werribee maintaining a ferocious physical pressure throughout the wet-weather contest to edge the competition’s number-one tackling side in the final tackle count.
In the end, it was the miserly Casey defence that proved the difference, particularly through the first half.
The final inside-50 tally of 38-57 in the Demons’ favour told the story, though the Tigers certainly made the most of limited opportunities early.
The visitors had just nine forward-50 entries across the first half yet managed to score seven times to trail by 21 points at the main break.
It was in the third term that Werribee was best able to produce sustained forward pressure, and it was here it looked the most likely, Tristan Xerri and Brydan Hodgson both kicking their first VFL goals before a set-shot conversion from Jake Sharp cut the margin to within a kick.
It wasn’t enough in the end, but coach John Lamont was satisfied with his side’s performance on the back of a tough few weeks, though he acknowledged the disappointment of the group at having missed a spot in the finals.
“I’m feeling pretty proud of the effort our boys put in tonight. We kept at it and were right in the game until the last five minutes,” said Lamont.
“We’ve had an 8-10 season and missed the finals, but to be live with only five minutes to go in our last game, I’m pretty pleased.
“Casey are playing good footy and had plenty of good efforts, but we had our opportunities and didn’t take as many as we needed to win.
“It’s pleasing overall, but we’re shattered we’ve lost. With the results earlier today, we could have found ourselves in the top eight, but we’ve missed out.”
As has been the case all year, Matt Hanson was a standout in the middle for the Tigers. His 26 disposals included a mammoth final-quarter haul of 11, which provided a nice bit of symmetry with his equally impressive totals of 11 clearances and 11 tackles.
He was well supported by Tom Gribble, who saluted his 50-game milestone with a fine performance that included 18 disposals, eight tackles, and five clearances, while Will Fordham was also lively in the midfield through the second half after a quiet opening.
Josh Corbett looked the most dangerous of the Werribee forwards through his leading and marking, his two goals coming at crucial times and on the back of big contested grabs, while Ryley Barrack’s enormous first half in defence (12 disposals and five marks) was enough to secure his spot in the Tigers’ best by the main break.
In his first senior game of the year, small-forward-turned-defender Billy Iles made the most of his recall to play a key role down back, while Spiros Amarantidis produced a serviceable first-up effort in becoming Werribee’s 14th debutant for the year.
While there will be plenty to play out through the off-season, Saturday’s performance gave the Werribee faithful something of a glimpse into the future, and a pleasing one at that.
Just three North Melbourne-listed players took to the field in what was one of the Tigers’ better performances across the second half of the season, pointing towards the club’s ability to be a competitive standalone outfit in 2018.
Casey Demons: 3.4 7.6 9.10 11.15 (81)
Werribee: 2.2 4.3 9.7 9.12 (66)
Casey Demons: B. Fritsch 3, A. Scott 2, C. Maynard 2, J. Kennedy-Harris, T. Bugg, M. King, D. Gordon
Werribee: J. Corbett 2, M. Munro 2, J. Sharp, W. Fordham, T. Xerri, J. Cleeland, B. Hodgson
Casey Demons: J. Trengove, J. Wagner, C. Maynard, D. Keilty, A. Scott, B. Fritsch
Werribee: M. Hanson, T. Gribble, R. Barrack, B. Iles, J. Corbett, W. Fordham