Round 15 report: Werribee vs Essendon

Werribee produced an incredible one-point win over Essendon at Avalon Airport Oval on Saturday in one of the VFL games of the year.


Werribee: 3.4 6.7 11.10 15.13 (103)
Essendon: 2.5 5.10 12.11 15.12 (102)

Werribee: J. Porter 5, A. Hooper 4, J. Sharp 2, N. Buykx, M. Munro, M. Sodomaco, H. Boyd
Essendon: M. Leuenberger 3, J. Stewart 3, T. Mynott 2, J. Laverde 2, L. Collins, J. Merrett, N. Lazzaro, D. Younan, J. Green

Werribee: J. Porter, A. Hooper, S. Collins, D. Brew, D. McFarlane, E. Petterwood
Essendon: J. Stewart, J. Laverde, J. Merrett, M. Leuenberger, A. Heppell, K. Mutch


It had to be Sam Collins. Who else could it be but Sam Collins?

With 31min on the fourth-quarter clock, after an astonishing 12 second-half lead changes, and with Werribee leading Essendon by a solitary point, it all looked to be coming down to this.

Bombers’ big man James Stewart was streaming down the southern wing of Avalon Airport Oval and looked to have found his man on the half-forward flank in an open Danny Younan. Essendon had found a response for everything the hosts had thrown at it through the day, and with the visitors in full flight and charging towards goal, it was hard to imagine they wouldn’t be able to do it again one final time.

But with a quick burst forward and a deft bit of body work to send Younan sprawling, Collins clung to the most important of his incredible 16 marks for the day and promptly called for calm from his frantic teammates.

Werribee’s key-defensive king had done it again. Throughout the afternoon’s play, he had risen to every challenge, first curtailing Stewart’s early influence in front of goal early and then taking the crucial job on resting ruckman Matthew Leuenberger after Nick Coughlan was put on ice as a precautionary measure. Along the way, his intercept and contested marking and precision kicking had set the platform for the dangerous drives out of defence that would define much of his side’s performance.

Now, with the Channel 7 cameras focused in and the home crowd watching on with bated breath, he had produced his final masterstroke: he had saved the game.

In truth, there was one final twist left in this remarkable tale. Moments later, Essendon regained possession and gave Stewart one last chance to send his side into attack, but a desperate smother from direct opponent Matthew Brett – who had fought gallantly in Coughlan’s absence on an AFL-listed opponent standing half a head taller than him – again brought him undone. Within seconds, the siren had sounded, sending the Werribee crowd into raptures and drawing the curtain on perhaps the VFL game of the year.

By that stage, though, Essendon too had looked desperate, hacking forward in hope rather than charging forward with assuredness. If Brett had snatched up the dice before the final roll, Collins had ripped up the track and de-railed the oncoming freight train.

Of course, matches must first be won before they can be saved, and Werribee had earlier unearthed a pair of match winners at the other end of the ground in Josh Porter and Andrew Hooper. With the former emerging as his side’s key forward target after the main break and the latter displaying all his trademark wizardry at ground level, the two finished with nine goals between them and kicked seven of their side’s nine through the rollicking second half.

Hooper kept reaching into his bag of tricks and kept pulling out something new. When he threw his boot at a fall-of-the-ball half-volley early in the third term for his second goal, he also threw his hat into the ring as a goal-of-the-year contender. A tumbling left-foot “leg break” on the run to break a rare stalemate gave him the first of the last and yet another potential entry.

Then, denied the chance to dish off to first-gamer Ben McNamara at the 29min mark of the last quarter, he calmly went back and sent through the match winner with a left-foot snap from tight in the pocket. In the context of the game, and for the wildly jubilant scenes that followed, it may have been the best of the lot.

Porter’s avenues to goal were more conventional, though he too found a way to mix things up. His sticky fingers pulled in big pack grabs and marks on the lead at full stretch. He first outsmarted his opponents, then outbodied them, and finally outworked them. He sent through set shots from dead in front, snaps from the pocket in play, and long-range bombs from bang on the arc. Both his final tally of 5.1 and his performance as a whole were the best of his career and gave an exciting glimpse into what his VFL reboot might have in store.

With Jake Sharp also providing an early brace, the attack fired truly and was well fed by a strong supply of ammunition. Dane McFarlane’s trademark dash drove the counterattack of half-back. Keegan Gray pulled in 11 marks as a key pivot point in the middle and combined with fellow wingmen Ryley Barrack and Nick Buykx for a total of 16 inside-50s, the latter getting on the scoreboard himself with an important third-quarter goal. Shunted in and out of the team and between the midfield and defence in recent weeks, Ethan Petterwood thrived in a new role closer to goal and seemingly had a hand in almost every successful foray forward, while Werribee’s other debutante in Fabian Brancatisano also emerged as a crucial link in the forward-movement chain.

Underpinning it all was the tireless work at the coalface of the Werribee midfield, which clamped down on an Essendon side renowned for its ability to win the ball out of the middle to all but break even at the clearances and edge its rival for forward entries. Tom Gribble (30 disposals) was busy as ever, and Kurt Aylett kept the Bombers’ most dangerous midfielder in Dylan Clarke to a modest 19 disposals, but Dom Brew was the clear standout, leading the way for his side for both clearances (six) and tackles (12) for a second straight week.

Still, for all the individual bits of brilliance right across the board, it was hard to look past that man Collins and that mark as the defining moment of the game. If the post-match feedback of the pundits and punters who watched on enthralled in lounge rooms across the state is anything to go by, he may again prove hard to look past come November.

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