It seems that Widdop St has become our home-away-from-home ground this year, with the team playing here for the 3rd time this season. The Rovers were very familiar with the Vampires team, having beaten them in Round 1 of grading, and all the players were hoping for a repeat. The pre-game instructions reminded the Rovers that this was a great opportunity – for both teams! With neither team with a win after grading, this contest would be won by the team who committed to the contest more. We fielded a full team, welcoming back all players from holidays and the captain for the day was Matteo D. It was also Marco G’s 50th game of footy, and he was keen to do well. Unfortunately, a few late withdrawals meant that we entered the field without a bench so the team needed to do a lot of “gut running” if we were going to get the W. Not only was the team short, but so were the officials, so a big thanks to Kathy Rafaniello who was the team’s manager, Audra Morris who was the game umpire, and Rob Rafaniello who was the team’s runner.
A strong northerly was blowing down the centre of the ground, so when the Rovers won the toss, we elected to kick with the wind for the first quarter. The Rovers burst out of the gates on the back of Alex P’s superior ruck work and Billy M’s run-and-carry from the centre. Christian S kept tapping the ball in front of him while out-sprinting his opposition, kicking into the forward line, then following up the loose ball and kicking true for the Rover’s first goal. The players were on their toes and looking for more. The Vampires were not to be out-done however, with good ball sharing into their forward line, but unfortunately for them, Will S was in their way and he took the first of his many marks for the day. He boomed a kick back into the Rovers forward line, negating all the work done by the Vampires and putting their backline under pressure again. After some intense loose-ball efforts, a hurried kick into the Rovers forward line was marked under pressure by Stanley H, who demonstrated his footy smarts by handballing to advantage, where Marco G received and kicked his first goal of the day. The Rovers continued with their pressure football, with Lucas C chasing hard and laying a beautiful tackle, then following-up and kicking deep into the forward line, where Marco G contested again and kicked his second goal. It was starting to rain goals, and when Marco G marked strongly in the forward line, then selflessly kicked to Stanley H who kicked another, the Rovers were beginning to dominate. Oli A was running hard across the wing, and when he applied physical pressure on the opposition backs, he won the ball kicked and it forward to (who else but) Marco G who goaled again! By the end of the quarter, the Rovers has scored 6 goals without conceding a solitary behind. It was the most impressive full-team quarter by the D6 team, from full-back to full-forward, with every player focusing on winning the ball, pressuring the opposition, helping their team mate, running into space and kicking straight!
The quarter time huddle was a time to reset expectations, with the coaching staff reminding the boys that 3 quarters still remained to be won, and that they would be kicking into the wind for the upcoming quarter. The players were encouraged to lock-down their opposite number with defensive pressure, while playing smart footy into the breeze. The will of the team was going to be tested. From the bounce, the Rovers pressured their opposition, with Max R tapping well in the ruck and showing skill on the ground, Ben D smothering his opponent (figuratively and literally), and Jake M teaming with Ben F to clear from the danger area. The Rovers rebounded with plenty of run-and-carry, and when the ball went forward, Alex P was there to make and kick truly for the Rovers. Heath D demonstrated his skill by tacking a strong mark, then kicking a beautiful, raking kick into the forward line. Afterwards, a line-breaking burst from Oscar G moved the ball forward again, with Zac B taking a strong mark under pressure. He kicked to the hot spot, where the ball spilled and Marco G kicked over his head for another goal! Billy M was generating pace out of the packs, Jace D was stopping the opposition cold on the half-back line, and Lucas C was running hard across the centre. Matteo D tackled ferociously in the backline and kicked to clear the ball out of danger. By the half, the Rovers had increased their lead, and still outscored the opposition despite the wind. The defensive pressure by the Rovers was as good in the second quarter as the offensive pressure was in the first. The second and third efforts by players across the ground were a stand-out.
At the half, the team was confident, but still wanting more. Unfortunately Oli A injured his ankle just before the break, but was willing to remain on the ground in the third as a forward pocket decoy, a gusty effort by a quality teammate. With the wind not letting-up, the Rovers started the third the same way they started the first, with Christian S kicking a booming kick into the forward line, then following-up for a classy goal, a great reward for a player who was dominating his wing. The backline continued to work hard, with Christian B stopping his opponent from getting a kick and Will S positioning himself smartly across the half-back. With the midfielders creating a wall across our forward arc, the Rovers continued to pepper the goals, with Oli A, running on one leg, taking an mark and kicking an inspirational goal. The vision of the team under pressure was also evident, with players looking to handball to advantage rather than blindly kicking, evidenced by Jace D’s linking handballs in the backline. It was with this precise movement by hand and foot that Rovers kept the opposition from scoring for the quarter.
By the end of third quarter, the Rovers had the game well in hand. The players were spent, as without a bench no-one was able to get a rest, but they were encouraged to play-out the game and win the last quarter against the wind to put their stamp on the game. At the bounce, Max P won a strong clearance, and the Rovers surged forward again. To their credit, the Vampires continued to fight hard for the ball, using the wind to put the Rovers under pressure. But Matteo D showed his speed by taking a run out of the backline to clear the ball, Will S performed a textbook spoil in a marking contest and Jake M frustrated his opponent out of the game. The Rovers pushed forward with Christian B, who was moved from full-back to full-forward, contesting strongly and Ben F crumbing the loose ball to kick an opportunistic goal. The Rovers forward pressure was immense, demonstrated by Stanley H who ran hard to contest every mark, and Ben D putting his body over the ball at every opportunity.
At the final siren, the Rovers were triumphant, but even in victory the players were respectful of the opposition and the umpires and saved their celebrations for the rooms, which was a reflection of their growing maturity and respect for others. Once the boys were in the rooms, however, all the players along with their buddies from the D1 team, who watch the game in support, gathered in the circle and sung the team song with gusto. It was great to watch! Once the celebrations died down, the players were gathered by the coaching staff to remind them that this was a win for every of them to enjoy, to reflect on their contribution to the team’s success on this day, but also to appreciate how far they had come, as individuals and as a team, throughout the year.
The season is far from over, as there are more games to play and lessons to learn. But for a moment, this was a game to savour.
Coach Mike & Coach David