GIPPSLAND Power was unable to back-up from its first win of the TAC Cup football season on Saturday, losing to the North Ballarat Rebels at Port Melbourne.
The Rebels won 13.16 (94) to 8.9 (57).
The Power went into the match with renewed self-confidence after its maiden win. Although the Rebels sat well above the Power on the ladder, there was justifiable belief it could be competitive and play the sort of team oriented football which had been evident in the win over the Northern Knights.
Complicating the Power’s issues going into the match was it would missing vice-captain Will Leslie because of state team duties in Perth. Leslie had risen to the challenge of leading by stellar example and had played a major role in their improved performances in recent weeks.
The Rebels were also without their state representatives and it meant both sides wold be without vital, experienced players.
The match was played at the Port Melbourne ground and, despite the heavy rain in recent days, the ground was in fine condition but for the cricket pitch area in the centre of the ground.
The pressure being applied by the Power early in the match was exceptional but it was struggling to convert this advantage on the scoreboard. In contrast, the Rebels were able to score relatively easy goals, often on the rebound after Power turnovers.
Later in the quarter, the Power used the ball intelligently through, Austin Hodge, Changkouth Jiath and Nick Hogan and Deven Costigan was able to put a vital goal on the scoreboard. A late goal by the Rebels gave them a 13-point lead at the first change.
The Power had only scored one goal from 16 forward 50 entries and needed to be more efficient if it was to as competitive as it deserved to be based on their work rate.
The pattern of the first term was repeated early in the second quarter with the Rebels capitalising on a turnover. A very direct and accurate piece of team football by Hodge and Costigan was finished off by Josh Patullo and then Anthony Young applied some hard forward pressure to kick the Power’s second goal for the term.
Two majors by the Rebels meant that they went to the long break 24 points up, but there were important positives for coach Leigh Brown to focus on.
The most obvious was the statistic which showed the Power defence was under extreme pressure because the Rebels had dominated the inside 50 stat but had only managed three goals.
Some disciplined and team-oriented defence was a major positive and gave the Power the belief it could remain competitive in it maintained this level of commitment.
If the long break gave the Power the opportunity to refocus, the first six minutes of the third quarter blew such a possibility out of the water.
The Rebels kicked four easy goals and it should have meant that it was game over for the Power. To its credit, the Power regrouped and some excellent forward pressure by Hodge and Will Stephenson set up Patullo for his second goal.
A Power “clanger” gifted the Rebels with a vital reply but, from that point on, the Power upped the ante and dominated the rest of the term. Austin Hodge got the ball rolling with a long bomb from the fifty metre line and the combined with Jiath and Hogan to provide Patullo with the opportunity to kick his third major.
In the final minutes of the quarter, Ryan Hearn and Sean Masterton again went long and direct into the danger zone and Jai Rout roved the ball off the pack to reduce the Rebel’s lead to 33 points when a cricket score margin looked likely early in the term.
Once again the problem issues for coach Brown were obvious based on the ease with which the Rebels were able to capitalise on unnecessary turnovers.
Despite this, he had to be pleased with their willingness to reduce these errors and, more importantly, use the ball efficiently when inside their own forward line.
The Power’s opening minutes of the final term gave him even more to be pleased with as they defended stoutly, stemmed the errors leading to turnovers but couldn’t convert their own hard-won scoring opportunities. It took the Rebels over fifteen minutes to break the Power defence’s resistance but Hogan and Tate Marsh used the ball skilfully to set up Keenan Hughes for a morale boosting reply.
Almost as if following a script, the Rebels kicked the last goal of the match to extend their winning margin to 37 points, but this didn’t accurately reflect how well the boys had played for much of the game. It was a further indication of how far the Power has progressed up the all-important TAC Cup learning curve this season.
The Power has decreased the amount of errors which resulted in turnover goals and have been competitive for greater parts of the games. This match further reflected the growing optimism among the Power coaches because the bottom-agers are the ones who have made the biggest progress up the learning curve. It provides plenty of reason for optimism for the rest of this season and even more for the possibilities in 2017 and beyond.
Midfielder Will Stephenson collected 30, often contested, possessions, four marks, three spoils and 14 crunching tackles.
When the defence was under such extreme pressure, leadership was required as they attempted to minimise the scoreboard damage. Keenan Hughes again stood tall and stopped the impact of his opponents with tackles, spoils and clever use of his body.
Hughes won his own possessions with strong marks and the willingness to back his own judgement.
Up forward the Power needed some real class to turn less than efficient ball use into a scoreboard impact. The skill, pace and uncanny ability to read the play and be in the right position exhibited by Jai Rout was a vital factor in this vital process.
Joining Stephenson in having a really positive impact in the midfield was fellow bottom-ager Callum Porter, who was again able to be a key contributor in the contested issues with his 20-plus possessions, six tackles and willingness to take opponents on when given half a chance.
In what has become a trademark performance, Josh Patullo was able to be a consistent avenue for attack with his strong contested marks. However he was also vital in rucking contests and made a similar impact when the ball was at ground level where he displayed the flexibility and skill of a smaller player.
Buchan bottom-ager Austin Hodge has also had a consistent impact in vital areas this season and was at his influential best in this tough game. He won twenty plus contested possessions, applied ten tackles and was involved directly in the majority of the sides goals with his team focused play.
Another of the younger brigade to be a positive contributor was Nick Hogan, who has made significant progress up his individual learning curve in recent games. His work ethic in tight situations was reflected by twenty plus hard-won possessions and seven tackles.
The majority of the Power boys now have a week off from TAC Cup duties because of a development weekend. Some will be involved in state football duties, but not all players will return to their home clubs.
The Power will next play against the Dandenong Stingrays on June 18 at Dandenong.