By Russell Bennett
WEST GIPPSLAND FOOTBALL NETBALL COMPETITION
FINALS PREVIEW – WEEK 2
PHILLIP ISLAND v KOOWEERUP
Semi Final 2 – Saturday from 2pm at Cora Lynn
Ladder positions: 1st (14 wins, 4 losses) versus 3rd (14 wins, 4 losses)
Earlier this season:
Round 1 at Phillip Island: Kooweerup 13.8 (86) d Phillip Island 11.13 (79)
Round 10 at Kooweerup: Kooweerup 8.11 (59) d Phillip Island 6.9 (45)
Phillip Island players to watch: Zak Vernon, Brendan Kimber, Hayden Bruce
Kooweerup players to watch: Dom Paynter, Nathan Voss, Luke Walker
Garfield coach Hayden Stanton: “Kooweerup to win – the main reason being the week off for Phillip Island. That sometimes doesn’t help a team, and Koowee (also) beat them twice through the year.”
Outgoing Dalyston coach Paul Brosnan: “Just from us playing both of them through the year, I just don’t know if Phillip Island has the big blokes to go with Koowee. I thought Koowee may be a bit slow, but watching them on Saturday – no. I think they’ve got the most even team in it now.”
WGFNC committee of management member Col Rielly: “I think Phillip Island will win that by three goals – only because Koowee will be a bit sore after Nar Nar Goon game.”
The second season of the WGFNC has already been one to remember, and this finals series looms as its perfect crescendo.
Hot off the back of stellar performances on the weekend by Kooweerup against Nar Nar Goon, and of course Cora Lynn against Inverloch Kongwak, the series has received one hell of a shake-up.
It wasn’t that Kooweerup defeated the Goon on Saturday at Denhams Road – it was how convincingly Ben Collins’ men got the job done.
Their trademark defensive intensity and pressure around the contest was there right from the outset, and practically never wavered.
And front and centre to watch it, as part of the near 2000-strong crowd, was Phillip Island coach Beau Vernon.
Kooweerup defeated the Island in both of their home-and-away meetings this season, but by a combined 21 points.
The results were enough to give Collins and his boys real confidence and belief, but they were certainly nothing to get carried away by.
He knows that better than anyone – having just coached his side two a win over Nar Nar Goon, which defeated the Demons twice during the year, and much more convincingly than the Demons had knocked off the boys from the Island.
Collins knows the form-line of Vernon’s boys – that they haven’t lost a game since their Round 10 loss to the Demons.
“On the one hand, they’re probably due (for a loss),” Collins said.
“But the other they’re going to be the hunter because we’ve beaten them twice this season already.”
While the Demons, as a group, will be more familiar with the Cora Lynn surface this week, the Island – through former Cobras player-coach Brendan Kimber and Will Van Diemen – will have no shortage of experience there either. So the bigger playing surface may not come into play as a huge factor for either side.
“The last two times we’ve played against the Island we’ve come from behind both times,” Collins said.
“It’ll be interesting to see what happens if we get a good start.
“Beau (Vernon) is a great coach, and he’s a footy head like me. They videoed our game (against the Goon) and they’ll be ready for us, so we’ll have to throw them some elements they’re not ready for.”
Every time Kooweerup advances through a finals series, there’s always this elephant in the room that everyone is fully aware of – both inside the club and out: their senior premiership drought, which now spans 37 years.
Collins and his players know that better than anyone, but they can’t change the past. They can only look to control what’s in front of them.
“At our best, I feel we can do what we did (against Nar Nar Goon in the qualifying final) to every side in the finals, but if we’re off 10 to 20 per cent we can get blown away by any side in the finals too,” he said.
“We’re pretty similar, us and Phillip Island. We’ve both got big-bodied midfields, and I think that’s where the game will be won or lost.”
Collins was quick to praise the efforts of lion-hearted Rory Connelly so far this season, but in Nick Higginson on the finals stage his biggest challenge awaits.
The same goes for the Demons’ core midfield group against the likes of Brendan Kimber, Zak Vernon, Jaymie Youle and the super exciting Hayden Bruce.
“They’re very much the same as us – big bodied mids who tackle hard and like the contest,” Collins said.
“That’s our driving force, and we need to be at the top of our game – and they do too.
“I’m really aware of not making it all about them. We want them to worry about us a bit too. Our best offense comes off the back of our best defence – that’s where we’ll focus our energy, not necessarily on one or two players. It’ll be a battle of the midfields. If they get on top, it’ll go a long way to them winning the game.”
NAR NAR GOON v CORA LYNN
Semi Final 1 – Sunday from 2pm at Kooweerup
Ladder positions: 2nd (14 wins, 4 losses) versus 5th (11 wins, 7 losses)
Earlier this season:
Round 4 at Cora Lynn: Nar Nar Goon 12.17 (89) d Cora Lynn 10.9 (69)
Round 13 at Nar Nar Goon: Cora Lynn 10.13 (73) d Nar Nar Goon 8.11 (59)
Nar Nar Goon players to watch: Trent Noy, Trent Armour, Matt Stevens
Cora Lynn players to watch: Billy Thomas, Chris Johnson, Tim Payne
Garfield coach Hayden Stanton: “Cora Lynn to keep this hot run going. Nar Nar Goon seem like they’re cooked with some injuries late in the season, and the Cobras’ ruckman is in some great form – giving them first use around the packs.”
Outgoing Dalyston coach Paul Brosnan: “I think Nar Nar Goon, but it just seems to go back to an even game when these sides from that neck of the woods play each other. I think Nar Nar Goon will bounce back and should win.”
WGFNC committee of management member Col Rielly: “I think Nar Nar Goon will win that just, by maybe just a goal, again because of how hard the game against Koowee was, and I don’t think the young kids from Cora Lynn will be able to back up that performance (against Inverloch) in another big final. ”
Just like it is against Kooweerup, Nar Nar Goon’s rivalry against Cora Lynn is the stuff of Gippsland footy legend. This week Dean Blake’s men will have to refocus straight away on the task at hand if they’re to overcome a Cobras side riding an incredible wave of momentum following their win over Inverloch on Sunday, but no Goon side ever needs any added incentive to stare down the Cobras.
A number of the Goon’s best players were particularly well-held against Kooweerup on the weekend, but Cobras coach David Main knows the danger that lies within their ranks.
“I think Nar Nar Goon is one of the best sides in terms of stopping teams from scoring – defensively, and in the midfield battles,” he said.
“(Trent) Armour, (Brent) Hughes, and (Brendan) Hermann – those guys have been clear standouts for the past couple of years, and they’ll be up against our guys with Johnno (Chris Johnson), the Briggs boys (Jaxon and Heath), and Kev Vanders (Kevin Vandenberghe.
“And then you’ve got Billy Thomas up against Trent Noy and (Jake) Blackwood, and Battaglin has been one of the best defenders in the comp this year and he’ll probably end up on Dalts (Jackson Dalton).
“We were pretty clear at recovery (the day after the win against Inverloch) that our focus has gone to Nar Nar Goon straight away. There are no more second chances now.”
The pressure game is where this contest will likely be won or lost. The young Cobras will again throw everything they have at their highly-fancied opponents – just like they did on Sunday. And, again, if those opponents don’t match their intensity around the contest, there could be another upset on the cards. Fortunately for the boys from the Goon, the Demons delivered them a stark reminder of just how impactful a four-quarter pressure game really is and that’ll be front of mind on Sunday.
The Cobras lost star midfielder Jaxon Briggs to VFL duties on the weekend and are hoping he can return this week to take on the Goon.