By Russell Bennett
WEST GIPPSLAND FOOTBALL NETBALL COMPETITION
PREVIEW – GRAND FINAL
PHILLIP ISLAND v CORA LYNN
Grand Final – Saturday from 2.10pm at Garfield Recreation Reserve
Ladder positions: 1st (17 wins, 1 draw) versus 2nd (15 wins, 2 losses, 1 draw)
Earlier this season:
Round 9 at Cowes: Phillip Island 11.9 (75) drew with Cora Lynn 12.3 (75)
Phillip Island players to watch: Cam Pedersen, Brendan Kimber, Hayden Bruce
Cora Lynn players to watch: Nathan Langley, Nathan Gardiner, Heath Briggs
Garfield coach Hayden Stanton: “I think Phillip Island will win the grand final. They’re very experienced and have the best player in the competition’s [short] history playing for them (Cam Pedersen).”
Dalyston coach Mark Lafferty: “Phillip Island. They’ve been the best team all year. I think the predicted rain will help them a lot – (Brendan) Kimber in the wet is very hard to stop. If it was to be a dry day I would have taken Cora Lynn, to be honest. They have good momentum.”
WGFNC advisory committee member Col Rielly: “Phillip Island – they just have too many stars across the board, with the league best and fairest (Pedersen), the previous league best and fairest (Kimber), and the likes of (Jaymie) Youle and (Jason) Tomada. Cora Lynn is probably more balanced, but that’s a lot to cover.”
If Round 9 was the mouth-watering tease of an entrée, it’s only fair that West Gippsland footy fans were dished up this grand final match-up for the main course.
The WGFNC’s top two sides haven’t faced off since that fateful day back in early June at Cowes where they fought out the most thrilling of results – a nail-biting draw.
That won’t happen this time around, but all signs are pointing to another astonishing chapter of the two sides’ story.
They’re very different outfits in most ways, but what unites them is their quality across every line.
They each have genuine depth in all departments, but are led by some of the competition’s biggest, genuine stars.
There’s no doubt this clash on the pristine deck of Garfield’s Beswick Street ground will be either won or lost in the midfield.
The Bulldogs are well aware that they need to curb the Cobras’ thrilling run in transition from defense to attack – not just their powerful forward arsenal.
But by the same token the Cobras have to be aware of the goal-kicking prowess of the Island’s biggest midfield stars – and that includes star ruckman Cam Pedersen, who has taken all before him in his first season in the WGFNC.
Pedersen has booted 51 goals so far this season, with Brendan Kimber (27 goals), Jaymie Youle (25), Zak Vernon (25), and Hayden Bruce (21) also slotting over 20.
Phillip Island hasn’t once experienced the bitter taste of defeat since 16 June last year.
That’s almost 450 days ago.
Just let that sink in for a second.
But neither Beswick Street – where the Island obliterated Kooweerup in last year’s grand final – nor the Bulldogs should intimidate the Cobras.
In all likelihood, it’s the Cobras who were best-placed all season to beat them if they produced their best footy.
Last time the two sides faced off in a final at Garfield, Cora Lynn won by a whopping 18.8 (116) to 4.3 (27) back in the 2017 preliminary final.
Of course, much has changed since then – and the Bulldogs’ bite is infinitely more dangerous, as is their snarl.
Both sides could have a number of changes to their respective line-ups this week, but this is the Cobras’ 37th senior final since the Chris Toner era in 2006.
And skipper Tim Payne has played in more than 35 of those.
He and a plethora of his multiple-premiership winning team mates will be able to impart all of their years of finals wisdom on to their younger team mates this week – or at least, they’ll be aiming to.
Despite boasting such an incredible run since his side’s last defeat, Bulldogs coach Beau Vernon and his group no doubt took something genuine out of their last clash with the Cobras earlier this season.
“The last few weeks we’ve watched them play quite a bit as well, and we understand their method,” Vernon said of the Cobras, adding that even though his group didn’t get the chance to watch them up close much this season, they’ve been able to over the past few weeks – such is the luxury of finishing on top of the ladder and storming through the finals to this point.
“They’ve got a well-balanced side – everyone talks about their forwards, but (Mitch) Wallace, (Rylan) Smith and (Shaun) Sparks down back are just as good,” Vernon said in analysing the Cobras.
“They’ve got good strength on the inside, good runners, and they put good pressure on around the ball.
“They’re also probably the best moving side in the league (in transition from defense to attack).
“We’ll have to be on our game
“It’s been a long couple of weeks not playing and we’re champing at the bit to play in another grand final.
“I suppose the biggest thing in finals is winning the contest and trying to get the ball in our front half.
“That’ll be the biggest thing for both – winning it, and locking it in.
“We’ve got your Kimbers and Youles, but they’ve got Jaxon and Heath Briggs, and Chris Johnson – I rate their midfield very highly.
“We’re just happy to be there, ourselves, but I’ll be an exciting game – the energy they bring is great, and we’ve got a lot of respect for them as a club.
“Cora Lynn has been just as good as us all year – maybe we’ve been a little more consistent.
“People look at the ladder and think we’re out and out favourites, but we played them once on our deck and drew with them and thought we were pretty lucky to get that.
“I just think we’re hungry and very, very competitive.”
That’s definitely a sentiment echoed by Cora Lynn coach David Main.
“I think we’re just excited to be back into another grand final,” he said.
“There are two guys who haven’t played in a senior grand final (in our lineup) – everyone else has.
“But everyone’s excited for the butterflies.
“Both sides have had a long time to reflect, and Phillip Island has had the chance to study us and pick us apart in their weeks off
“For us – we’re riding the wave we’ve been on.
“We have a small idea of how Phillip Island might play, but it’s how we set-up and nullify them.
“Our guys know they’re one win away from a premiership. The guys want that taste again.
“That’s the hype again for this game. Two sides are very similar – they have a history of success, and it’s there for the taking.
“It’ll be a prime example of a team effort on Saturday – they’ve not got one or two A Graders, they’ve got six or seven.
“It’ll take all 21 blokes.
“It’s the unknown going into this – it’s exciting that both teams will be pretty much at full-strength.
“They’re so damaging around the ball, but they also go forward and kick goals – that’s their greatest strength.
“They deserve to be favourites going into Saturday. They’ve got a phenomenal record.”