The decision to stage a “home” game three hours from home may appear an odd one, but Werribee’s choice of Wangaratta Showgrounds as host venue for this weekend’s clash with Collingwood makes a lot more sense than it seems to on the surface.
For one thing, the local population’s love of footy is almost certain to ensure a bumper turnout, with the 18,000-strong rural city of Wangaratta having drawn in huge numbers for recent AFL pre-season fixtures, most notably a whopping 11,000 spectators for a 2014 fixture between Richmond and Collingwood.
More importantly, though, the Tigers will be able to count on strong support given their current list features no less than 16 players hailing from north east Victoria and southern New South Wales.
The club has recruited heavily from the region since 2008, with former recruiting manager Mark Stone – now the club’s football manager – a key figure in establishing and maintaining the relationship.
“It was just an idea that we try to find other areas of recruitment outside our catchment areas,” recalls Stone, whose experience of growing up in Tallangatta on the shores of Lake Hume led him to explore Victoria’s north east as an option.
“We just thought, ‘Why don’t we see if some of the country boys want to go to school or work down here, have a Melbourne experience or lifestyle change?’”
Working with TAC Cup club Murray Bushrangers, the Tigers have been able to tap into a rich vein of talent in the time since, which has seen names such as Michael Barlow, James Saker, Brad Mangan, Will Martinello, Sam Martyn, Daniel Boyle, and Josh Porter all find their way to Avalon Airport Oval in recent years.
The Werribee environment has proved a good fit for the boys from what Stone affectionately refers to as “God’s country” given the club’s community-minded focus.
“They have a sense of community, a sense of togetherness,” he says.
“They come off the land and they make good footballers because they’re prepared to work hard.”
Werribee senior coach John Lamont is another with links to the northeast, having grown up in Benalla, and he believes the Tigers’ current lack of home base due to the $11.75 million redevelopment of Avalon Airport Oval has provided a chance to give something back to the region.
“John Henry from Wangaratta Footy Club first spoke to us a couple of years ago about having a game up there, so they’ve been keen to promote their facility and venue,” says Lamont.
“It was a perfect opportunity this year to go up and have a game in the north east, and hopefully the likes of Matty Munro and Jake Sharp and Jade Cleeland will have really good games up there.”
“The support those boys get from their families coming down to Melbourne has been terrific, but now we get the opportunity for them to have a game a bit closer to home.”
Werribee takes on Collingwood at 2:10pm on Saturday, May 13 at Norm Minns Oval in Wangaratta and follows the TAC Cup curtain raiser between Murray Bushrangers and Sandringham Dragons at 11:45am.
Some of the current Werribee talent to hail from north east Victoria and southern New South Wales. Back row: Matthew Munro (Albury), Nick Meredith (Lavington), Jade Cleeland (Wangaratta Magpies), Harry Boyd (Shepparton Bears), Brydan Hodgson (Lavington), Louis Pinnuck (Strathmerton). Front row: Jake Sharp (Myrtleford), Aiden Adams (Mitta United), Nathan Laracy (Wodonga), Dominic Brew (North Albury), Charlie Bance (Wagga Tigers), Jake Marshall (Deniliquin)