Werribee has suffered a heartbreaking four-point loss in its season-opening clash with Geelong at Torquay’s Spring Creek Reserve, but the new-look side has won itself plenty of plaudits in the process.
Facing a heavily favoured Geelong side boasting 14-AFL listed players, Werribee looked set to pull off an Easter miracle when it led by nine points late in the final term after trailing by as much as 25 points early in the third quarter.
But two quick goals in the dying moments saw the Cats snatch the lead back to retain the K rock Cup and cruelly deny the visitors victory in their first VFL match as a standalone outfit since 1999.
Having identified the need to begin games better after the practice-match phase, Werribee senior coach John Lamont said his side was again hurt by a slow start, which saw Geelong kick five of the first six goals to take a 23-point lead into the first change.
“We made a few mistakes late in the game, but the story again was our first quarter,” said Lamont.
“We weren’t poor, but we were just a bit slow out of the blocks defensively, so we were playing catch-up footy.
“There were a lot of pleasing aspects, but to have lost the game is really disappointing.”
But while Werribee will rue what might have been after again being caught on the back foot early, it will also take far more positives than negatives away from Torquay.
After ramping up their defensive effort after the first change, the visitors were able to nullify the Cats' attacking brand of football and pare back the advantage, Sam Collins leading the drive out of the backline as Kurt Aylett, Matt Hanson, and Ben Moloney provided the engine-room grunt that ultimately saw their side prevail 67-39 in the final tackle count.
Then, just as Geelong threatened to again stretch clear, Werribee began to fire up forward through Matt Munro, Andrew Hooper, and Kye Declase, piling on seven goals to one from the six-minute mark of the third term to the 25-minute mark of the final quarter to put itself in a match-winning position.
With his side having gone down to Geelong by 67 points in the two sides’ practice-match encounter just two weeks earlier, Lamont paid tribute to his players for being able to turn things around so dramatically.
“We spoke about [that game] in terms of being a real step sideways for us that night and addressed a few things, so to have turned that around and got to a position where we could have won the game was really pleasing,” said Lamont.
“I’d like to think the boys will get a fair bit of belief from that.”
One of eight debutantes in action for Werribee, Collins showed just why he has been one of the most-hyped recruits of the VFL off-season, the former Fremantle defender finishing with 26 disposals – 21 of them kicks – and 13 marks down back to claim the Damian Drum Medal as best on ground.
Hooper also made an impressive start to his time in the “big W”, topping the scoring tally with 3.1 and providing a strong lead-out marking target, but it was Munro who was the standout in front of goal.
In perhaps the finest of his 37 VFL games to date, the fourth-year forward netted a return of 2.4 from his 21 disposals, played a crucial hand in a further two final-quarter goals, and provided relentless chasing and tackling pressure all day.
Further aiding the resistance down back was Harry Boyd, who showed he is continuing to mature as a key defender, while young gun Jack Henderson enjoyed a stellar debut in defence as 23rd man, laying some big tackles and taking a number of strong contested marks.
Also among the first-gamers were ruckmen Jack Berry and Nick Nott, who battled gallantly all day to turn out a fine combined performance against 109-game AFL veteran Zac Smith.
Having endured a long build-up to its season opener, Werribee can now enjoy a week off as it gears up for a long-awaited return to the redeveloped Avalon Airport Oval, where it will take on the Casey Demons under lights on Saturday, April 14.
Geelong: 5.2 7.4 10.9 12.12 (84)
Werribee: 1.3 4.9 7.10 11.14 (80)
Geelong: S Crameri 2, A Black 2, W Buzza 2, G Miers 2, L Kiel 2, C Constable, J Jones
Werribee: A Hooper 3, K Declase 2, M Munro 2, J Robinson, N Nott, L Pinnuck, J Berry
Geelong: C Floyd, J McLachlan, J Cunico, S Selwood, N Horbury, J Tsitas
Werribee: S Collins, K Aylett, M Munro, A Hooper, H Boyd, J Henderson