Werribee is growing increasingly frustrated with its so ‘near, yet so far’ tale over the past month in the Victorian Football League.
For a fourth straight game, Werribee has been in striking distance of victory late in a game, only to fall short for a fourth consecutive defeat.
The Mark Williams-coached team got to within 10 points early in the final quarter, but Richmond steadied to run out 17-point winners at the Swinburne Centre on Sunday.
“We’re just pretty disappointed with four losses in a row,” Werribee defender and pinch-hit forward Nick Coughlan said.
“We’ve never felt like a side is too good for us, but we just haven’t been able to get over the line.
“Every single game we’re in with a fight, but it’s getting to the stage where we’re not really sure what’s making us lose.”
While it left empty handed, it will be remembered as a gallant performance from Werribee. It was a game that highlighted the tremendous depth of young players in the team.
The boys in black and gold went into the game minus three-time club best-and-fairest Matt Hanson, long time AFL player Michael Barlow and former AFL-listed player Josh Clayton – all ripped out of the midfield – so the onus was on some unsung players to step into bigger roles across the field as Williams shuffled the pack.
Even with some top-line players out, Werribee refused to roll over, making a Richmond side that had three AFL premiership players and a host of other stars work hard to time-on of the last quarter to break them.
While the stats across the board were relatively even, Coughlan believes his side was punished for their errors at crucial times.
Ball security in clutch situations is one of the main focuses for Werribee to turn these close losses into wins.
“We’re playing against some very good AFL players and we might’ve fumbled once or twice and they’re able to capitalise because they’re such good players,” Coughlan said.
“That’s things we work on during the week and we’re busting our gut to try to do all these things to make us not panic in those situations.
“I’m sure it will come together over the next couple of weeks because there’s a lot of faith in the group to be able to do those things.”
One player who continues to shine is half forward Bior Malual.
When Malual arrived from Airport West in the summer, he immediately turned heads with his quickness and endurance, but some questioned if his slight body frame could stand up to the physicality of senior VFL football, having previously only played development league with the Northern Blues.
Coughlan recalls one practice match when Malual “absolutely lit it up for us” and quashed those queries.
Malual has shown an ability to avoid contact with ball in hand anyway, which is one of his greatest strengths.
“I’ve never seen a bloke to be able to sidestep so many blokes in one play,” Coughlan said. “He’s really good at showing off what he’s best at.
“He’s dangerous for us and his running is obviously an asset for him.”
Tom Gribble is super consistent in the Werribee engine room, but his importance was magnified in the absence of Hanson, Barlow and Clayton.
“He just finds the pill for us,” Coughlan said.
“His running and his kicking breaks the lines for us.”
Joe Maishman was also a keen for a bigger role at the coal-face and performed superbly.
Maishman not only had to get his own ball, but he was assigned a run-with role on Richmond star Josh Caddy, who had been the most influential player in the game until he was assigned the big task.
“When he was on him one-on-one, he didn’t get beaten once,” Coughlan said. Coughlan, meanwhile, executed his role as a swingman to perfection.
As a defender, the 22-year-old was able to shut down the dangerous Oleg Markov, before moving forward to provide a marking target and kick two goals.
While Coughlan admits he feels most comfortable as a defender, he does enjoy the chance to mix it up and play a role as a forward, which he has done to good effect this season with nine goals in 13 games.
“It’s always good to go up there to the forward line and have an impact on the scoreboard.”
Werribee is clinging to eighth spot by the skin of their teeth ahead of an all standalone clash with Port Melbourne at Avalon Airport Oval on Saturday from 2pm.