Seasons are on the line for both Werribee and the Northern Blues when the two sides square off at Preston City Oval on Saturday.
Saturday, August 19
10am and 1pm at Preston City Oval, Preston
PLEASE NOTE: No free entry for Werribee members
The Story So Far
Werribee has been playing a high-stakes game for a while, but it’s now officially crunch time. Last week’s loss to Williamstown has seen the Tigers slip outside the top eight for the first time since round four, and with a number of other results already needing to go their way over the last two rounds, they must win this week to feel confident of keeping their season alive.
To do so, they’ll have to overcome a Northern Blues side that remains a mathematical possibility of a top-eight finish itself but which has found its season in freefall of late. Having opened the year with six wins from its first seven games, the Blues have since won just one of their last nine games to slump to 7-9 and sit a game outside the top eight.
Werribee produced one of its best performances for the year when it faced off against the Blues in a high-scoring encounter at Ikon Park in round nine, overturning a 28-point deficit early in the second quarter to lead the match by half time before going on to record a 14-point win. The result saw the Tigers notch their sixth straight win while ending the Blues’ run of victories at the same number.
• The absence of Dom Brew last week left Werribee without one of the leading tacklers in the competition, but Ethan Petterwood and Harrison King both stepped up to fill the pressure void, Petterwood laying 12 tackles in his shut-down role on Michael Gibbons and King keeping Seagulls captain Ben Jolley quiet in his 250th VFL game. Throw in the tackling work of Matt Hanson, who led the competition with 15 last week, and the Tigers should again be well placed to bring some serious defensive grunt in the middle.
• Werribee’s aforementioned midfield pressure will be especially important for curtailing the influence of Nick Graham. The AFL-listed player returns from suspension this week and is a hugely valuable addition to the Blues’ lineup as one of the three top-rated midfielders in the VFL this year.
• With Tristan Xerri vacating the 23rd man position after an admirable two-week stint, Jade Cleeland gets another opportunity to step up to the number-one ruck role in his return to the VFL ranks. The former Wangaratta Magpie has been a solid contributor both up forward and on the ball in his senior outings so far this season and will be ably assisted by Brad Xavier and Harry Boyd against the Blues’ duo of Michael Korchek and returning big man Daniel Gorringe.
• A couple of key line-up changes to both sides leaves Werribee with some important defensive match-up decisions to make. Dangerous small forward Andrew Gallucci was well held back in round nine by Nick Buykx, a notable out this week after dislocating his shoulder against Williamstown, while Blues leading goalkicker Kristian Jacksch is set to bring some added forward firepower with his return.
• Wet-weather footy doesn’t lend itself all that well to silky smooth skills, but Werribee will nonetheless need to be as precise as possible with its forward entries. Led by Cam O’Shea, the Blues defensive unit has established itself as one of the top teams in the VFL for intercept marks this season.
The Bottom Line
Werribee’s midfield should back itself in to win the clearance battle against the Blues, in which case a strong defence will be the key to success. Despite their free-flowing encounter back in round nine, neither the Tigers nor the Blues have been particularly high-scoring sides this year, so the result could hinge on the simple question of which side is better able to defend. Werribee should also be well helped by Preston City Oval’s muddy conditions and small dimensions, which lend themselves to a contested-ball game that will suit the Tigers’ tough inside midfielders more than their high-kicking, hard running opponents.