Wickers chasing history

Friday 27 September, Toomuc Reserve, Pakenham, 2.20pm

Semi final, 2019: Berwick 14.9 (93) defeated Narre Warren 7.16 (58)
Round 18, 2019: Berwick 16.11 (107) defeated Narre Warren 10.15 (75)
Round 1, 2019: Berwick 10.17 (77) defeated Narre Warren 10.11 (71)
Grand final, 2018: Berwick 8.25 (73) defeated Narre Warren 2.10 (22)

Berwick – 2018
Narre Warren – 2013

Berwick – Harrison Money (62)
Narre Warren – Daniel Jackson (48)

While Berwick is glittered with star power capable of tearing apart a game, the Wickers’ defensive structure is arguably its most important area of dominance, and especially in finals. The back six down at Edwin Flack Reserve are the stingiest in the competition, actually conceding under 50 points per game on average during the home-and-away season, and just 58 in the semi-final against the Magpies a few weeks ago. What’s so impressive about the Wickers is that they have so many players capable of performing a shut down or running role, and are just so well-drilled. Will Arthurson is a player the Magpies need to be wary of, with the young star’s intercept marking and great foot skills such a weapon in defence, and if the pressure up the ground is strong enough, it will play right into the Wickers’ hands to get the ball flowing off their half-back.

On the flipside, Narre Warren are the highest scoring side in the competition, but were badly let down by their goal kicking conversion against the Wickers, kicking 7.16 and squandering a chance to potentially take in a five or six goal lead at half time. But the Magpies matched the Wickers in almost every area before the champion side got their game going in the second half. The Magpies were 200 points clear over the course of the season than the next best side (Berwick) in total points scored, so there are plenty of avenues to goal. It’ll come down to whether the Magpies can put the Berwick defensive unit under enough pressure, put the forwards in dangerous positions, and ultimately kick a winning score.

Berwick players to watch: Travis Tuck, Madi Andrews, Lucas Jellyman-Turner, Will Arthurson
Narre Warren players to watch: Trent Cody, Mitch Cox, Jake Richardson, Dylan Quirk

Outer East commissioner Ryan Ford:
“Narre Warren’s Matt Shinners will need to think back to season 2010 when as huge underdogs he was able to engineer an incredible grand final victory in a game that most thought they weren’t capable of winning. He will again need to draw on his creative coaching genius. Berwick will start as strong favourites on Friday at Pakenham and deservedly so. Despite Narre Warren’s best efforts in games against Berwick they can’t seem to find a way to overcome their closest rival in recent times. Berwick know what they need to do as a group to win games and execute it well. Over four quarters Berwick will have a bit too much firepower. Berwick by 22 points.”
Best on ground tip: Tim Gunn (Berwick)

Outer East media manager Matt Fotia:
“Don’t know how, don’t know why, but I’ve got a feeling. This strikes me as the Cats (Berwick) just being able to get the wood over the Hawks (Narre) for a period of time, with experienced players making the big moments count. Narre have been able to get out in front before being reeled in, so maybe their best bet -although I doubt they’ll try and execute this – is to stay in touch for as long as they can, before riding the wave home in the last. Narre Warren by two points.”
Best on ground tip: Mitch Cox (Narre Warren)

There are literally not many bigger game players in the competition, or entire south east region than Travis Tuck. The 32-year-old former Hawthorn midfield has enjoyed another strong season in the Wickers’ engine room, but seriously relishes the big moments, and the finals stage. His finals series last year – which included the best afield medal in the grand final and two more dominant performances in the qualifying final and semi-final – was something to behold, with Tuck lifting to a gear not many can reach in the competition. He has steadily built his form over the course of the season, and could be preparing to once again tear the game apart on the biggest stage of them all.

Narre Warren star Trent Cody is one hell of a footballer, and has been a dominant figure through the midfield and forward line all season, and seems to always lift for the big games. Cody was the best for the Magpies, and by a fair margin, in the semi-final loss to Berwick, and kicked four among a heap of possessions against Beaconsfield in the preliminary final. Cody’s searing run, precise kicking and natural goal kicking ability makes him a serious threat to any opposition, and if he can be given enough supply and be able to break the lines, the Magpies are every chance of ending Berwick’s golden run.

For a third straight year, the powerful football sides from Berwick and Narre Warren will do battle on the grand final stage, and each will undoubtedly leave a legacy whichever way this contest pans out.

The Wickers are revered in the south east, an utterly dominant football side shooting for a third straight flag, and fourth in just five years. It’s a record to be proud of, and a testament to their sustained performance over a long period of time.

And the Wickers could very well be on the podium on Friday defeating the Magpies for the third straight time in a grand final, in one of the most interesting chapters of their epic local footy rivalry, one that always leaves spectators wanting more.

Rhys Nisbet’s incredible football side – including names such as Madi Andrews, Travis Tuck, James Magner, Ash Smith, Harry Money, Will Arthurson and Lucas Jellyman-Turner – are one giant task for the Magpies to overcome, with all these stars gradually building into the season and now in peak form ahead of the biggest game of the season.

The Wickers know how to win in any conditions, or under any sudden change of circumstance in a game, but more importantly, know how to win grand finals.

It took a major lift in the third quarter from these stars when these two sides played in a fascinating semi-final at Toomuc Reserve a few weeks back, needing to claw back from a deficit to earn its place in yet another grand final. But the Magpies were well and truly in it, and were probably the better side for two and a half quarters, but kicked poorly at goal, ultimately costing them crucial momentum against a side where taking every chance possible is vital.

Friday will be more of a mental battle for the Magpies than anything, with Matt Shinners’ group needing to put behind them a string of consecutive losses, not going into their shells, and just take the game on at all costs.

The wide expanses of the ground certainly do suit the Magpies’ style, and they have enough bigger bodied players to match the Wickers around the contest, so in certain areas, there is very little separating the two sides.

But the Wickers are one of the great sides, ingrained with an impenetrable winning culture, and stars that always lift when the heat arrives.

Bring it on!

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