Wonthaggi Power players line-up for the National Anthem before Saturday’s Gippsland League grand final against Morwell.
MORWELL captured its ninth premiership and first back-to-back flags since 1952-53 when they defeated a courageous Wonthaggi Power team.
The match was an entertaining and close low-scoring contest that was still in the balance well into the final quarter.
Conditions were perfect for the big day at Morwell and a good sized crowd turned out to witness what was always expected to be a hard, tough game.
Interestingly, this was only the second time these two clubs have met in a senior finals match.
Power went into the game as underdogs, with a young and spirited group of players looking forward to the challenge against the league’s top club, Morwell.
It was one win apiece during the season but Morwell, the reigning premiers, had the greater experience and the obvious finals experience.
On the other hand Wonthaggi had shown its fighting spirit, heart and never give in qualities by storming into the final with a record-breaking effort in the preliminary final.
These were the two best performing defensive teams in the competition so it would predictably come down to who was more efficient through the middle, the delivery of the ball under pressure and who could stick to the team plan.
As it turned out goals were hard to get with the dominance of the strong defence on top from the first bounce.
The strong tackling and intensity of both sides early set the tone for the game and this was maintained through to the end.
Neither side was prepared to allow the other team an easy possession and this resulted in a high number of stoppages which kept the umpires busy.
Morwell was getting greater numbers to the ball and a free kick to the experienced Tarkyn Lockyer gave them the first goal for the day.
Jack Blair, Aaron Ware, Aiden Lindsay and Michael Kelly were doing well for the Power across the midfield with ruckman Earl Shaw giving the team first use of the ball but Wonthaggi was only managing behinds when goals were needed.
Down back the ever reliable Chris Wylie, Byron Dryden, Matt Coyne and Shannon Bray were combining strongly to keep out the dangerous Tiger forwards.
Tiger defenders Michael Duncan, coach Harmit Singh and Rob Michaelides were in turn putting pressure on the Power forwards while Tim Ryan, Adam Bailey, Lockyer and Ashley Close were busy midfield and into attack.
With only four points in the game at the end of the first quarter Wonthaggi had settled and handled the initial burst from the Tigers.
Morwell continued to look dangerous into the second quarter but were missing chances up front until Lockyer got his second goal from a great snap.
Shaw and Tom Crosby were having a good battle in the ruck as the game moved between the half back lines.
Dangerous forward Dean McDonald goaled for the Tigers and when Ben Kearns goaled they looked like drawing away on the scoreboard.
A great pass from Bray to youngster Toma Huther brought up Power’s first goal in a game of real pressure and tactics with some heavy tagging and tackling.
Dom O’Connor goaled from a free kick to bring Wonthaggi closer but Hutchison goaled to give Morwell back a handy three goal lead at half time.
Morwell had applied a lot of pressure but Wonthaggi were not intimidated, had absorbed everything thrown at it and were ready to take the game on.
The difference between the two sides at this stage was Morwell’s ability to hit their targets better and Wonthaggi would have to lift to stay with them as they were playing with confidence.
A goal off the ground to the dangerous Lockyer pushed the lead out further and the game could have easily slipped away.
However Lindsay, Joel Liddle, Eli Richards and Kelly in particular continued to work hard under this pressure to keep the side competitive. Nathan Jones goaled for the Power but McDonald replied on the run to maintain the lead.
Kelly got one for the Power from a great snap to round off what had been an even quarter.
However, they still trailed by 18 points and the pressure was clearly on Wonthaggi.
Morwell’s Joel Souter, Close, Lockyer, Bailey and Ryan were still very busy around the packs and provided consistent drive for the team.
It was game on in the final term and there was no doubting Power’s ability to keep running and take the game on.
They would not be giving in without a fight.
Richards used his pace around the ground to set up opportunities for the forwards and Wonthaggi was now pushing Morwell all the way.
Bray was strong across the half back line and he also was providing plenty of drive into the midfield.
Wonthaggi just couldn’t find the goals with some shots narrowly missing, including two that hit the post.
The pressure was building even further and Wonthaggi was showing some very positive signs.
When Richards goaled they found themselves down by only 10 points and the crowd was rallying behind the underdogs.
But Morwell were not about to give up their lead with Mannon Johnston goaling late to secure their precious lead and ultimately victory by 18 points.
It had been a hard fought win in a terrific game.
Morwell had gathered a handy lead at half time by outscoring Wonthaggi by 18 points and had kept that lead safe in a very even second half.
Whilst Morwell had deservedly won the premiership again, there was a lot to like about Wonthaggi’s performance this season, a point made humbly by retiring Morwell coach Harmit Singh in his acceptance speech.
He acknowledged the respect between the two clubs and the terrific effort of the young Wonthaggi team led by coach Rob Railton.
Wonthaggi has been rewarded for its hard work in the Gippsland League since returning and is quickly positioning itself for success on grand final day in the near future.
The award for best player on the ground went to Morwell’s Ashley Close.