AS EXPECTED with all the finals matches so far, the first semi-final between Morwell and Wonthaggi had a huge build up, especially with both sides recording a win over each other in the lead up games during the season. With such a hot contest it was disappointing that there was only a very small crowd in attendance at Traralgon to see this battle, won comfortably in the end by Morwell. Morwell began well, doing all the attacking but had trouble getting the range in front of goal.
A free kick to former Collingwood star Tarkyn Lockyer resulted in a goal for the Tigers but Wonthaggi returned fire with a goal through Dom O’Connor. Aaron Ware, Nathan Jones and Joel Liddle were providing plenty of drive for the Power but it was Morwell who were controlling the centre and running the ball wide into their forward line. Morwell’s backline lead by Tom Crosby, Adam Bailey and Michael Duncan were doing a good job on the Power forwards and rebounding the ball into attack. Morwell’s captain Joel Soutar was providing strong leadership around the pack along with Lockyer. When O’Connor marked strongly again and goaled scores were even but it was the Tigers who had most of the play. They had caught the inaccuracy bug from the opposition. Jack Blair, Aaron Guilmartin and Matt Coyne were working hard to hold the Morwell forwards as the ball moved back and forth between the half-back lines.
A great snap by coach Harmit Singh gave Morwell a narrow lead of five points at quarter time in a very tight struggle. With cleaner disposal of the ball and with their running game going well the Tigers should have been much further in front. But to Wonthaggi’s credit they worked hard and were never going to let this happen. The battle lines had been drawn. Troy Harley put Wonthaggi in front with a great spin out of the pack for a goal but Dowling got the lead back with a goal immediately. A turnover down back was costly for Wonthaggi allowing an easy goal to Michael Ross. Byron Dryden provided plenty of run out of the backline and did a great job on Morwell’s gun forward Dean McDonald. A free kick gave the reliable Nathan Jones a goal and the difference at half time was six points. First goal of the second half went to Jeff Ryan but Wonthaggi responded with a long goal to Aaron Ware. Then Morwell’s McDonald swept into the action with two telling marks and goals and it looked like the Tigers were taking control of the game. But true to the pattern of play Wonthaggi responded through Chris Wylie’s goal.
The tackling of Morwell had lifted and the contest had gone up in intensity. Johnston goaled for Morwell with some strong body work and Morwell’s defence continued to hold back the attack of Wonthaggi. Tom Crosby in particular took several telling marks at full back. With four goals to two for the quarter Morwell was putting the pressure on the opposition. The game had slowed noticeably and the Tigers were still first to the ball. The crowd were waiting for the challenge to come from Wonthaggi as they have done so many times before but where was that elusive spark? Wonthaggi’s backline was still in there battling hard and Morwell was held scoreless for the quarter. The only problem was that Wonthaggi, even in these excellent conditions, was also struggling to get a score on the board to mount this challenge. Youngster Andrew Murray helped himself to a great running goal but time was against Wonthaggi who were looking tired. The damage had been done and the running game of Morwell, along with their clever handball and team balance had delivered them the well-deserved win to go forward to the next round of the finals.
Next week they face traditional rivals Maffra in what should be another fierce game with the prize being a shot at red hot favourite Sale in the grand final. Wonthaggi has had a great season, fronting the finals for the first time since rejoining the Gippsland League. It has a tremendous line up of talented youngsters who will be eagerly awaiting the start of the new season. Roll on 2014.