By David Nagel
The two previous champions of the West Gippsland Football Netball Competition (WGFNC) have raised the bar to new heights to set up a mouth-watering top-of-the-table clash at Phillip Island this Saturday.
The 2017 premiers – Inverloch-Kongwak – could hardly have been more impressive, dismantling a disappointing Nar Nar Goon by 84 points, while back-to-back reigning champion Phillip Island delivered a 31-point reality check to Tooradin-Dalmore.
The Seagulls five wins this season have come against the bottom teams in the competition and they remain winless against their fellow finals’ contenders.
The emergence of perennial powerhouse Cora Lynn, the steadiness of Garfield, and hard-fought victories to Bunyip and Kilcunda-Bass were additional highlights on a day that saw the regional aspect of the WGFNC bring excited crowds back to local sport.
But we start this week at the Inverloch Rec Reserve, where the Sea Eagles delivered a high-octane and entertaining second-half performance that led to a 23.14 (152) to 10.8 (68) victory over the Goon.
The Sea Eagles led by 21 points at half time, making the most of their 12 scoring shots to 11, but unleashed a devastating display after the main break – scoring 14.11 to 5.2 to run away with the contest.
Tristan Van Driel stood out like a beacon for the winners, booting eight goals in an unlikely scenario after he missed his first shot at goal from 20-metres out.
The Goon looked up and about early, with Jake Smith kicking the opener, before Van Driel fluffed his lines with his first attempt at the big sticks.
The talented forward made amends a short time later, after a jumper hold from Jake Blackwood, and then confirmed his danger by running into an open goal after out-marking Luke Bettio.
The Goon then locked things away after Kyle O’Sullivan kicked to Shannon Stocco for the first of his three goals for the afternoon.
Tom Hams then slotted a goal from the pocket to give the Sea Eagles a hard-fought five-point lead at the first change.
The Sea Eagles simply made the most of their opportunities in the second quarter – kicking 6.0 to 3.2 to take that 21-point lead into half time.
There were small indications of what was to come, but the contest looked very much alive as we headed into the second half.
But the home team emerged dominant, booting out to a 49-point lead at three-quarter time and showing absolutely no mercy in the final term.
Van Driel was exceptional for the winners, slotting eight goals to take his season tally to 13, while Hams finished the day with four and Cooper McInnes kicked three goals for the third time this season.
Jack Hutchinson has been super-consistent this year, but played his best game for the year, while Lachie Scott joined the always effective Shem Hawking on an impressive best players list.
Coach Ben Soumilas also enjoyed the luxury of having Ryan Sparkes back in his team for just the third time this year, with the gun midfielder all quality through the guts and topping his day off with a six-pointer.
The Goon will take heart from the opening exchanges but be extremely disappointed at how it fell away in the second half.
The Goon missed the class and dash of Ryan Bromley off half back, while emerging centre half back Nat Pipicelli was also missing from the side.
Luke Young will be keen to bolster his defence, with former Beaconsfield star Daniel Battaglin playing his first game in the reserves on Saturday after injuring himself in his only senior game for the season in round three.
Brad Homfray and Ant Young did their best for the Goon, while Smith showed promising signs in his best game for the season.
There are no panic stations for the Goon, they’ve built enough credits this year for that to be the case…but they will take plenty of learnings away from just their second loss of the season.
Much like the game at Inverloch, it took a strong second-half effort from Phillip Island to shake free of a brave Tooradin-Dalmore at the Cowes Rec Reserve on Saturday.
The Bulldogs eventually prevailed, 14.12 (96) to 9.11 (65), after turning around a four-point deficit at half time.
The Seagulls are knocking the door down at the moment, continuing to show they can match it with the best teams in the competition – but are ultimately falling short.
In all three losses this year, against Inverloch, Nar Nar Goon and now the Bulldogs, they’ve looked the better team at times, but just can’t put the full four quarters together.
Jarryd Roughead had a major influence for Inverloch, Troy McDermott kicked a late flurry of goals for the Goon, while this time around it was another superb performance from Cam Pedersen that sunk the Seagulls’ chances.
Pedersen was enormous, producing probably his fifth best-on-ground performance in eight games to confirm his ranking as the best player in the league.
The former Melbourne and North Melbourne utility dominated the third term, when the Bulldogs kicked five goals to one to take a three-goal advantage to the final break.
And he also played a key role in the final term, when the Bulldogs kicked four goals to two to secure victory.
Bulldog Max Blake kicked the all-important first goal in the last quarter, before Seagull Blake Grewar kicked two in quick succession – one from a free kick and one from a snap – to drag the margin back to two goals.
Pedersen then marked and goaled before Hayden Bruce dribbled one through from long range. Skipper Jaymie Youle then put the rubber stamp on victory with a calm conversion after a free kick in front of goal.
Pedersen then unleashed a huge torpedo punt, after a free kick from the centre bounce, that fell in the arms of Bruce. He didn’t convert, but the damage had been done.
Pedersen ended the day with three for the winners, while Blake, Bruce, Jordy Patullo and the returning Orlando Kane-Gillard all chimed in with two each.
Jason Tomada, Alex Duyker and Daniel Pearce made life tough for the Seagulls’ forwards, while Youle was at his prominent best through the midfield.
Grewar ended the day with three for the Gulls, and was his team’s best player, while boom-recruit Adam Oxley and veteran Julian Suarez chipped in with two apiece.
And Adam Galea and Brad Lenders did what they do best – give nothing away in defence.
We’ll know a lot more about the Seagulls over the next three weeks, in games against Bunyip, Garfield and Cora Lynn.
Cora Lynn full-forward Nathan Gardiner has reclaimed a familiar place at the head of the league goal-kicking ladder after a stunning nine-goal effort against Dalyston.
Gardiner, who topped the league with 84 goals in 2019, was at his powerful best, leading and marking strongly and proving far too good for an under-pressure Magpies’ defence.
Gardiner’s peak performance of the season wasn’t the only good news for the Cobras in their 124-point victory, with some talented and familiar faces returning to the fray and putting a big smile on the dial of coach David Main.
Brady White returned for his first game since round three, Heath Briggs appeared for the first time since round one, while Jeremy Monckton returned for his first game for the season after suffering complications with a lower-leg injury.
Star defender Ash Williams also returned to the side after missing round seven through soreness.
We’ve known it all season long and it was only a matter of time…the Cobras are coming!
Gardiner deserves the top accolades for his goal-kicking exploits, but four goals to Travis Woodfield and Ryan Spierings, and three to Jaxon Briggs were also positive signs moving forward.
Skipper Tim Payne and gun mid Chris Johnson were also on fire for the Cobras, while Matt Rosendale was the shining light – on a dull day for the Magpies – with three goals.
Kilcunda-Bass coach Stevie Wright will now have his sights set on challenging the mid-range teams of the competition after the Panthers clawed out a nail-biting 9.10 (64) to 9.8 (62) victory over Kooweerup on Saturday.
The Panthers had lost their last two – to Korumburra-Bena and Cora Lynn – by less than 10 points, so were overdue a victory.
The Panthers gained the advantage in the first quarter, kicking out to an invaluable 17-point lead in a game where scoring opportunities were precious.
The Panthers most consistent players this year, Darcy Atkins, Jack Soroczynski and high-flying forward Taylor Gibson were at it again, driving their team to victory, while Jake Weightman was also impressive in his best game for the season.
Zach Rolph continued his good form in his second game back from a spell, while Jackson Nolan booted two goals in his first game since round four.
Gibson booted three for the winners, while Jimmy Phillips tormented his former Berwick coach Rhys Nisbet with two important majors.
There’s no doubt it, the Demons lost this game in the first quarter and Nisbet will be driving home the message that you don’t win games of footy with three-quarter efforts.
Apart from three disasters the Demons have been pretty competitive this year, but Nisbet is used to success and will be trying to build resilience in his young group before some reinforcements get recruited at the end of the season.
Nathan Voss continued his outstanding season for the Demons with four goals, with Tom Deighton and youngster Archie Whitta chiming in with two each.
Caleb Milojevic and Trav Bindley also continued their recent run of good form.
Garfield remains firmly entrenched in the top-six after the Stars produced a strong second-half performance to score a 63-point victory over Korumburra-Bena.
The rusty Stars struggled to break the shackles in the first half, but stretched their 15-point advantage at the main break into an ultimately impressive victory.
Coach Hayden Stanton made four changes to the side that lost by 14 points to Inverloch back on May 22, with Ryan Hillard the best of the incoming brigade, dominating with two goals in a best-on-ground display.
Angus Emery was also impressive for the Stars, in his first game for the club since making the move across recently from Warragul in the Gippsland League.
Matt Rennie booted three for the Stars, and Lachie Schreurs two, while Sam Batson and Sam Russell were other standout performers.
Paul Alger will be disappointed with this performance, with his side kicking their lowest score for the season and being basically non-competitive in the final term.
Matt Lello, Troy Brown and Jay Walker were three players that could walk away with their heads held high.
And Bunyip has continued its recent resurgence with a fast-finishing 26-point victory over Warragul Industrials at Western Park.
This was a very tight and physical game of football for three quarters, with both teams keen to defend and clear shots at goal a rarity. The pressure applied to the ball carrier was immense, leading to wayward kicking and plenty of mistakes.
Highlights were few and far between in the opening three quarters, but an acrobatic goal to Michael Debenham did bring the crowd to their feet.
The Bulldogs led by two points at three-quarter time and dominated the last term, with more decisive ball movement and clearer avenues to goal.
The Bulldogs kicked five goals to one in the final term to record consecutive victories after a nine-point win over Korumburra-Bena in round seven.
Beau Runnalls and Heath Morgan-Morris contributed three goals each for the Doggies, while Brent Heus chimed in with two. Jeb McLeod showed true leadership and continued his fabulous form for Bunyip, with Ryan Quirk, Jackson Dalton and Michael Collins all valuable contributors on the day.
This was a game the Dusties certainly would have expected to win and almost puts the final nail in their finals aspirations. Debenham ended the day with three for the Dusties, while Will Gibson, Kyle Beveridge and Shane Brewster all gave their best until the bitter end.