MORWELL fired the first shot in the Gippsland League premiership battle by downing Sale to secure the minor premiership on Saturday.
The Tigers dictated terms for most of the day and led at every change on their way to a 10.12 (72) to 6.9 (45) win in the final round of the home-and-away season.
It was only the Magpies’ second defeat of the season and allowed Morwell to steal top spot on percentage.
However, neither coach was reading too much into the result.
“It was pleasing to get a win, but Sale had a lot of players out,” Tigers coach Harmit Singh said.
“In my eyes the minor premiership means nothing. It’s a whole new ball game going into finals and the real stuff starts now.
“For the guys that are a bit sore it’s a positive to have a week off and it gives us a chance to work on a few things.
“Our use of the football going into our forward-50 was poor at times and our communication and set-ups at stoppages got us exposed a couple of times.”
The Magpies regained John Gooch and Kane Martin, but were still without Tom Hams, forward Mitch Davis and full-back Andrew Quirkand and lost influential pair Jason Gram and Luke Collins to hamstring injuries in the lead-up to the game.
The latter three, along with the likes of Josh Dunkley, Brad Olsson and Nash Holmes from Gippsland Power, could be available to take on Wonthaggi in next week’s qualifying final.
Morwell welcomed back Tarkyn Lockyer, but lost Jack Weston in the warm up and was still without Boyd Bailey (VFL) and Julian Blackford (injury).
Tom Crosby and Tim Ryan continued their hot form and Joel Soutar was terrific in the centre, as the Tigers registered a winning score, despite getting only four goals between key forwards Ash Close (two), Daniel Hutchison and Dean Macdonald.
Sale saved some face with a strong last quarter and coach Matt Ferguson was measured in his assessment.
“Morwell were too slick, they beat us on the outside and moved the ball really well,” Ferguson said.
“We didn’t defend the middle of the ground well at all and we pride ourselves on pressuring the opposition.
“We had only lost one game for the year and this will be good for us. Last year we had this result in the last game of the year, but this time we can go away, have a look at a few things and get another chance.
“It also allows me as coach to be a bit sterner with the boys about things and I’m looking forward to that.”
Bairnsdale v Moe
Some words of wisdom from legendary AFL coach Kevin Sheedy almost inspired Moe to one of the upsets of the season away to Bairnsdale.
Sheedy took training last Thursday night and the Lions did themselves proud, despite going down 13.11 (89) to 13.9 (87) at Bairnsdale Recreation Reserve.
Redlegs captain James Gibbs booted six goals for the home side, which trailed at half-time, but avoided a confidence-sapping defeat ahead of finals.
Bayden Ashwood and Jack Vickers were also good for Bairnsdale, while James Blaser (five goals), Lloyd Williams and Leigh Sheehan were best for Moe.
Leongatha v Traralgon
Traralgon wrapped up a disappointing campaign with a good win away to Leongatha in coach Paul McCulloch’s final game.
McCulloch informed the playing group of his decision after last week’s defeat to Morwell and the Maroons saw him off with a 12.19 (91) to 9.9 (63) win.
Captain Mick Geary led from the front again, with two goals in a best-on-ground performance, while Josh Jennings, Danny Campbell and Tim Northe were also good.
Nathan Lynch, Chris Verboon and Nick Nagel – who booted six goals to take his season tally to 59 – were best for the Parrots.
Maffra v Drouin
Maffra full-forward Darren Sheen took his place in Gippsland League record books with a 16-goal haul in the 214-point win against Drouin.
Sheen became the first player since Sale’s Shane Loveless in 1987 to kick 100 goals in a home-and-away season.
He also became the fastest player to 200 goals in league history, having amassed 207 in 39 games.
The result was never in doubt, but the Eagles warmed up for finals with a 13-goal final term, with Kelvin Porter, Winston Gieschen and Owen Booth also in good form.
Luke Duffy, Broderick Fraser and Rhys Salter battled hard the Hawks, who finished the season without a win.
Warragul v Wonthaggi
Wonthaggi survived another test from bogey side Warragul at Western Park.
Despite their recent struggles, the Gulls boast a good record against the Power and produced easily their most competitive showing of the season against top-six opposition.
The visitors’ class eventually prevailed, though, with Kane McCarthy, Matt Coyne and Michael Kelly helping the Power to a 14.14 (98) to 9.12 (66) win.
Brad Scalzo, Tyssen Morrow and Chris Lee were best for the Gulls.