Werribee has snapped its recent run of poor form with a commanding 47-point win over Coburg Lions in a Victorian Football League match that was hyped up more than might be expected for teams currently 12th and 15th on the ladder.
The result of Saturday’s Piranha Park match was significant for Werribee, which had reached the nadir of its season in the two weeks prior with disappointing losses to Northern Blues and Richmond.
But the extended commentary surrounding the match was not on how Werribee achieved its fifth win of the season. Instead, it was focused solely on the implementation of new rules being trialled for the first time with premiership points at stake.
The AFL used the game, which had no bearing on VFL finals placings, as a guinea pig to test the 18-metre goal square and the 6-6-6 starting formation, which forces teams to have six forwards and six defenders inside the 50 metre arcs.
Werribee onballer Tom Gribble admitted that it was a strange post-game with media preferring talk over how the rule trials went, as opposed to how his team emerged victorious.
“As Johnny [coach John Lamont] said, it was a bit of a circus,” he said. “There was a few post-match interviews going on so we didn’t even de-brief the game.”
Even amid hectic scenes of journalists wanting sound bites on the AFL’s new rules, Gribble could sense a collective relief among the team after ending a worrying two-game losing run.
Werribee was in control for most of the game, apart from the second quarter, which saw Coburg fight back from 35 points down at quarter-time to get within two goals at half-time.
“It was a good feeling in the rooms,” Gribble said.
Werribee kicked away after half-time with a 10-goal-to-four second half.
“In the last quarter we were able to play a bit of possession footy, but also score at the same time and really take the sting out of the game and not give Coburg a chance,” Gribble said.
When the journalists were not asking about rule changes, the next question on their lips invariably was about Sam Collins.
Collins did his draft chances no harm with a best-on-ground display at centre half-back. The Werribee players seem almost resigned to the fact that Collins will be back in the AFL system next season.
“He’s close to, if not the best player that I’ve ever played with,” Gribble said.
“I saw a funny tweet after the game where someone said, ‘Does Sam Collins have the opposition jumper on or something’ because all they do is kick it to him. That must be what it seems like for the opposition. To get through our defence and score, they’ve got to go through ‘Collo’ and good luck to anyone trying to out-do him one-on-one.”
The speed of Michael Sodomaco, Dane McFarlane and Joe Maishman was crucial for Werribee.
So, too, was accuracy in front of goal, with 16.9 a fantastic return on a windy afternoon.
McFarlane, Nick Coughlan, Andrew Hooper and Jake Sharp kicked two goals apiece.
Gribble had the ball on a string with a team-high 32 disposals and Louis Pinnuck made a successful return from his ankle injury.
As for the trial rules, Gribble could see little impact on the way the game was played tactically.
The 6-6-6 rule gave the midfielders slightly more time to clear the centre bounces, but that was the only noticeable change from his perspective.
“It probably wasn’t a great day to analyse the 6-6-6 in terms of it not being a close game,” Gribble said.
“What it avoids is teams not being able to flood back into the defence at the centre bounce late in the game if it is really close.”
The goal square was extended from nine metres to 18, changing the markings on the field. The idea of extending the square is for the defending team to clear its 50-metre arc quicker, with potential for kicks to reach the wing.
“It does give you a chance to clear that area, but again I didn’t notice too much of a difference,” Gribble said.
While Gribble is open to rule trials, he is not keen to see them implemented in the season proper unless there were significant benefits, which he could not see in the trial rules on Saturday.
“It might be worth persisting with it in terms of trial ling,” he said.
“Personally, I think the game is in a great state and there’s no need to change anything.”