Cobras shine on the big stage

Heath Briggs slotted three classy majors on Saturday afternoon in Kooweerup, while big brother Jaxon kicked the most crucial goal of the contest. 197361 Pictures: STEWART CHAMBERS


By sports editor Russell Bennett

In front of a bumper crowd in picture-perfect conditions at Kooweerup’s Denhams Road ground, Cora Lynn once again proved its big game prowess – advancing to its fifth grand final in the past six seasons with a comprehensive 50-point win over Tooradin-Dalmore 15.11 (101) to 7.9 (51).

The clinical win marked a 92-point swing from the Cobras’ qualifying final loss to the Seagulls at the same venue just a fortnight ago.

Crowds once again flocked to Kooweerup this time around under sunny skies, and with the ground’s surface in immaculate condition.

Cars lined Denhams Road from the Moody Street roundabout all the way to the gravel well past the ground in a sign of the interest from far and wide in the clash.

And what the crowd was treated to was a vintage big game display from the Cobras, who this time around were led by a combination of their young guns, and more experienced leaders.

Troy Tharle (two goals) opened proceedings less than 10 seconds into the first term with the game’s first major and the Cobras dominated the opening stanza, despite kicking to the Denhams Road end.

Though they had six scoring shots to four in the first term, they led 4.2 (26) to 1.3 (9) at the opening break after getting the early ascendency in the centre of the ground.

The Cobras used their size advantage to great affect at the stoppages with first choice ruck Billy Thomas and Tharle both having a significant impact, along with the likes of heart-and-soul midfielder Brady White.

But it was on the outside that the Cobras were perhaps most impressive. Jaxon Briggs’ explosiveness from stoppages, in combination with his gut-busting running out wide was a clear difference-maker – shining for the second time in as many weeks on the big stage.

But as the best sides so often are – the Cobras are only as strong as the sum of their parts in defense, the midfield, and up forward.

And they stood tall in each facet – particularly down back.

Their transition from defense to attack typified their workrate, as did their sheer number of avenues to goal – with five multiple goal-scorers.

They’d constantly give up shots on goal to find team mates in a better position, in a continuance of their forward half dominance from their 10-goal win over the Demons at Korumburra.

But after the Cobras piled on the opening three majors of the second term to lead 7.2 to 1.3 at one stage, the Seagulls sprung to life.

The side that had impressed massively in its first season back in West Gippsland had too much quality across the ground to be pinned down for too long, and responded.

In a big way, too.

Right when they faced the prospect of being blown away, the Seagulls stood strong in the second half of the second term and the opening of the third to at one stage reduce the margin to just four points.

Cobras coach David Main emphasised at half-time that his side had started to over-possess the footy, and it was starting to show. They’d gone away from what delivered them their lead in the first place.

But that was in no small part to the Seagulls’ lift in work-rate around the stoppages.

Yet just as they’d claimed the bulk of the momentum, Jaxon Briggs produced a moment of incredible class to hand it back his side’s way.

The speedy Casey Demons-listed player bent a superb snap through the big sticks at the Denhams Road end from about 40 metres out to extend the margin back out to 10 points, 8.4 (52) to 6.6 (42).

The goal led to audible gasps in the crowd, and one fan to even say: “That’s just outrageous”.

From around the 7:20 mark in the third, the Seagulls would only manage one more goal for the rest of the day as the Cobras stormed home.

The clash looked more like the season-opener between the two sides than it did the qualifying final, with the Cobras overwhelming the Gulls with their intensity at the contest and creative flair moving forward.

The clash was effectively iced in the third term, as the Cobras turned a 22-point advantage their way into 40 with just a quarter to play.

Brad Lenders continued his fine individual season for the Gulls, as did Andrew Dean with his five-goal haul, but when the time came for the Cobras to stand up on the preliminary final stage and take their opportunity with both hands, they grabbed it.

They, along with the Island, remained undefeated until Round 14. And while Beau Vernon’s side kept its incredible run going, the Cobras, too, comprehensively proved they deserved their place in the big dance.

While the Bulldogs are the reigning premiers and will deservedly go into next week’s blockbuster decider at Garfield as the hot favourites, it’s worth nothing just how much finals experience the Cobras have to fall back on.

Heath Briggs, for example, will next week play his 10th senior final…. despite being just 18.

Click below for video of the Cobras belting out their song in front of a packed away room full of their faithful. 197361 Pictures: STEWART CHAMBERS