Monday Musings: Blues blitzed with first-half frenzy

From the moment Bior Malual put through his second goal inside the opening five minutes against the Northern Blues at Ikon Park on Saturday, you got the feeling it was going to be Werribee’s day.

Barely a minute earlier, the former Blue had flown for a big pack mark against his old side to put through a straightforward set shot and the first goal of the afternoon. The bit of niggle that then followed as the ball made its way back to the centre square was deemed to have crossed the line, and in an instant, Malual was on the receiving end of a free kick and 50m penalty and was lining up to repeat the dose.

It was a forewarning of things to come. Not much had gone right for Werribee across the opening three quarters against Geelong a week earlier, but in the half of football against the Blues that was to follow, not much would go wrong. When Louis Pinnuck marked and goaled at the 19-minute mark, he left the “big W” with three of the first four and kicked off a run of eight straight goals to the visitors that would put them 53 points clear approaching half time and provide the bulk of the damage in what would be a 58-point end margin.

Against the Cats, Werribee had struggled to assert itself in the middle for much of the game or restrict the opposition from going forward. Against a Blues team that had upset that same Geelong side on the road just two weeks earlier and was already looking a vastly improved outfit in 2019, the visitors could ill afford a repeat performance.

Fortunately, Max Augerinos was ready to pick up where he left off. His huge final quarter against the Cats had almost turned the tide, and in concert with Matt Hanson (three first-quarter clearances each), he set a strong early tone against the Blues to help Werribee take control of the early stoppages. Joe Maishman proved the chief driver into attack as Jack Henderson emerged as the main ball-winner in front of goal, a combination no better exemplified than when the latter gathered the former’s bouncing kick inside 50 to curl through Werribee’s fourth. Minutes later, Timm House gave the first glimpse of the role he would play as the day’s dominant forward with a mark and goal in the square to set up a 25-point quarter-time lead.

Though the Blues better imposed themselves around the contest after the break, they were unable to stem the flow. Each time the hosts put the question to the visitors with a foray forward, the likes of Max Spencer and Nick Coughlan were ready with the answer as Dane McFarlane lay waiting to launch a dangerous counterattack. Most damaging of all, the Blues proved their own worst enemy at times through their ill-discipline. House scored his second and opened Werribee’s second-quarter account from a free kick, while both Coughlan and Maishman followed Malual in getting on the board from 50m penalties.

But the “big W” made plenty of its own luck in front of goal as well. Already more than holding his own in tandem with debutante Darcy Bennett against the AFL experience of Andrew Phillips and Matthew Lobbe, ruckman Angus Clarke expanded his repertoire with a soccer goal from a bounce deep in attack, while Jake Riccardi gave another fine demonstration of his ability to find space on the lead and convert from long-range, marking a Ryan Hebron bullet at full stretch before kicking truly from beyond the paint of 50.

When Malual got in on the soccer act inside the opening minute of the third quarter with his third, it looked as though the procession would continue. Ironically, what would prove to be Werribee’s most dominant quarter of play was the one where it was least able to take advantage on the scoreboard. Matt Munro exploded into the action with 12 disposals, three marks, and a goal, and Josh Clayton (10 disposals), Tom Gribble (eight), and Pinnuck (eight) also found themselves in the thick of things, yet Werribee could only extend its advantage from 47 points at the main break to an even 50 at three-quarter time. Through Patrick Kerr and Alex Fasolo, the Blues found responses to Malual’s bit of midair magic and Munro’s burst and goal from the clearance, while Ryan Kemp’s charge into an open goal at the 23-minute mark was also met with a late Blues reply.

As Gribble and Augerinos (29 and 28 disposals respectively at game's end) worked overtime in the middle to cover for the final-quarter loss of Matt Hanson, the Blues threatened to undo some of the visitors' good early work as they got on top of forward entries for the first time all day, but still the "big W" managed to keep the chips falling its way in the scoring stakes. Led by Spencer, who finished with 19 disposals and a team-high nine marks, the Werribee defence held strong to restrict the hosts to two final quarter goals. Meanwhile, at the other end of the ground, Timm House bookended the quarter to finish with four and Gribble and Kye Declase chimed in to round out the list of single goal kickers at an even 10.

The end result made for a memorable VFL debut for Bennett, who made a solid contribution in complimenting Clarke’s 25 hitouts with 13 of his own and collecting seven disposals. Perhaps his best moment came in the final term when he neatly gathered the bouncing ball and deftly sidestepped an opponent. The hurried kick forward that followed seemed to nicely sum up Werribee’s favourable fortunes for the afternoon, skewing awkwardly off the instep yet perfectly into the path of the leading House and then into the hands of the waiting Henderson at the fall of the ball. As they say, when it’s your day, it’s your day.

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