WONTHAGGI Power re-emerged as a genuine threat for this year’s premiership with an impressive 30-point, four-quarter win over flag favourites and traditional rivals Leongatha at Wonthaggi last Sunday.
It was noticeable that fans from many of the minor league clubs were in attendance for the Sunday fixture and they got a lot more than they bargained for, both on and off the field.
Prior to the start of the main game, upwards of 120 people participated in ‘The Long Walk’ to the ground to mark the start of NAIDOC Week. There followed an impressive smoking ceremony and with the players decked out in their specially designed indigenous strip, it was game on!
As expected it was intense from the first bounce, such is the nature of this rivalry between these two teams. Wonthaggi kicking against the wind started well with goals to Phil Young and Travis Krause.
Wonthaggi were combining well as a team and supporting each other at the contests. Players were attacking the ball vigorously and the visitors were keen to get their running game going, kicking wide and using the big ground to advantage. Parrot captain Chris Verboon got the first goal of the day for Leongatha and their second soon after.
Leongatha was using its lightning fast handball to break free of the packs and set up the run into the forward line. Jake Best got into the action with the next goal and they were on top of their running game.
Krause to Andrew Murray brought up Power’s next goal in response but Cade Maskell helped himself to a goal on the run. Rhett Kelly, Shem Hawking, Tas Clingan, Ben Willis in the ruck and the ever-reliable Zac Veron were in everything for the Parrots while Wonthaggi was well served by Michael Kelly, Aiden Lindsay, Jye Read, Ben Eddy and Shannon Bray.
The feature of the game was the fierce tackling. A strong mark and goal to Michael Kelly gave the first quarter honours to the home side but there was little between the two teams.
The big crowd was right into it. They filled the grandstand, parked two deep around the ground, were 15 deep at the canteen and starting to find their voice.
A three-goal to nil second quarter was decisive for the Power in the context of a hard-tackling pressure packed encounter.
It started with an angle goal by Krause followed by a 50 metre penalty and goal to Chris Wylie which extended Power’s lead. It was Wonthaggi’s defence that was holding up well under the pressure, led by Bray, Eddy, Matt Coyne, Byron Dryden and Jarrod Membrey.
Aiden Lindsay, Matt Howell, Troy Harley and Zac Gilmour continued to present strongly for the home side while Leongatha were well served by Verboon, Aaron Heppell, Vernon, Willis and Best. What a game!
Adam Cook marked strongly and goaled to put Wonthaggi further ahead and for the first time this season failed to score in a quarter.
A goal to Aiden Lindsay was a reward for the pressure from all over the ground and the strong work from every team member.
The Parrots were also working hard but just couldn’t get the rewards on the scoreboard, missing some easy opportunities. Best finally goaled to get the third term underway and Verboon added a great captain’s goal to lift his side. Michael Kelly got one back for the home side before Heppell replied for the visitors just before three quarter time.
There was now only 16 points the difference and Leongatha were coming home strongly.
The opening minutes of the last quarter were a real arm-wrestle, back and forth, until a mix-up in the Power goal square saw Wonthaggi’s Matt Howell boot the opportunist goal.
Leongatha key defender Nick Nagle was accidentally kicked in the head in the affray however while several players stopped, expecting a free to be paid, Howell took his opportunity and the centre umpire declined to intervene.
It was a pivotal moment and two goals from Troy Harley brought the crowd to its feet, the second a gem on the run from the big man up forward. It was ‘game over’.
Two late goals to Verboon and Best made the score more flattering for the visitors but the damage had been done with Wonthaggi running out victors by 30 points.
It was noticeable that the absence of Aaron Hillberg up forward changed the focus of the Parrots going into attack and a hamstring injury to key playmaker Tas Clingan was equally debilitating on the day.
But what it also shows is that any one of a number of clubs, that gets a fit and healthy list to the finals, can still take the ultimate prize and both Leongatha and Wonthaggi are well and truly in the race.
Power coach Rob Railton said he was especially pleased with his team’s four-quarter effort on what was a terrific occasion, referencing also the indigenous theme.