LEONGATHA has scored the sweetest of victories in the local derby over Wonthaggi Power in wet and slippery conditions at Wonthaggi on Sunday. The win not only gives Leongatha a much needed four points, but also seriously hurts Wonthaggi’s push for a finals berth. The match marked the first time the Parrots have returned to Wonthaggi since Beau Vernon’s life changing injury last year, paving the way for tears and emotional scenes in the rooms following a stirring rendition of ‘The Road to Leongatha’ of which Vernon, now involved in a coaching role, was a part of.
The loss sees Wonthaggi drop from third position down to fifth, just four points clear of Bairnsdale in sixth. The clash between these traditional rivals always attracts a big audience and this one was no different despite the conditions and, as always, the game was a fierce contest from the very first bounce. Injuries and illness have taken their toll on both sides this season and this game would test the character and depth of both clubs. The intensity was well set in the pattern of the day’s play from the outset and it was obvious that scoring would be difficult. There would be no easy gather or disposal. Wonthaggi started well but as usual had difficulty finding the goals. Both sides were going in hard and it was Wonthaggi’s small men Andrew Murray, Leigh Warnett, Michael Kelly and Joel Liddle who were most damaging around the packs. The game was not pretty but the crowd was enjoying the solid tackling and attack on the ball, appreciating also the enormous challenge of the slippery conditions.
Wonthaggi’s defence was solid with Tim Gilliland, Matt Coyne, Byron Dryden and Aaron Guilmartin standing up to the pressure but Leongatha’s defence and midfield was equally as defiant, led by Rhett McLennan, Pat Contin, Hayden Browne, Zak Vernon and Jason Tomada. Lucas White was doing well around the ground for Wonthaggi and Chris Wylie was playing a lone hand in the ruck. It was obvious that the backmen of both sides were on top as the ball rebounded between the half forward lines. The only goal for both sides came from a 50 metre penalty against Wonthaggi and Blake Van Rooy made no mistake. The Parrots made a good start to the second term with majors to Cade Maskell and Nick Nagel but the Power responded with strong play and goals to Troy Harley, who continued to present well up forward and the ever dangerous Travis Krause. Parrot defender Jake Mackie was stretched off with a knee injury after colliding with the goal post at the town end, suffering a suspected PCL injury.
Wonthaggi’s points tally continued to mount as it missed important shots at goal. Parrot big man Matt Willcocks was providing a target around the ground and goaled, but Krause replied with another goal, running beautifully into space and into goal. Tensions erupted in front of the Power coaching box with a fracas but play quickly resumed when the umpires got the ball moving. Power youngster Andrew Murray put Wonthaggi in front at half time, 4.6 to 4.2. The visitors kicked the first two goals of the third term through Nick Nagel, the second of which was a 50m bomb after marking on the lead. Parrots captain, Chris Verboon and ruckman Jason Tomada were outstanding for the Parrots. It was obvious that Leongatha had lifted their work rate and were applying even more pressure on Wonthaggi who were now trying to play catch up football. Wonthaggi failed to score this quarter and it was hard to see where their goals would come from. It was getting darker, the lights were on, and a great snap goal from Pat McGrath gave the visitors the advantage at the last change, 7.4 to 4.8. The loss of Krause didn’t help Wonthaggi’s cause but on the scoreboard they were still not out of the game.
Wonthaggi lifted and continued to attack but again their inaccuracy was costly in the fourth term, booting eight behinds. Leongatha were defending well, standing up to the pressure they knew would come and didn’t panic with Joel Renden among those stepping up to the challenge. Their disposal was cleaner than Wonthaggi and when they had an opportunity to go forward into their scoring zone they didn’t waste it. A sensational boundary line goal from Aaron Hillberg gave them the buffer they needed and Maskell provided the sealer running into an open goal approaching time on. Two late goals to Jack Blair brought Wonthaggi closer and it was game on once again, but they were beaten by the siren. Leongatha had worked hard all day in tough conditions and they were rewarded with a character building victory. They had squared the ledger for the season and earned the bragging rights that go with a win against a local rival. With two great wins in two weeks, could the Parrots be making a late charge into the finals, something that seemed out of the question only a few weeks ago?