WARRNAMBOOL’S 64-point thumping of Koroit in Saturday’s grand final rematch underlined the changing fortunes of two Hampden league powerhouses.
Koroit defeated Warrnambool three times last year, once by 34 points. But Warrnambool won the one that mattered — the grand final. The Blues kept their playing list together, the Saints didn’t.
On Saturday Warrnambool’s 21 included 17 of its 2013 premiership players. Of the other four, one played in the under 18½s and another is injured. Critically, only two players left the club. Koroit had just 12 of its grand final 21 on Saturday after eight players left the club in the off-season, with a ninth injured.
The reality is Warrnambool is as strong, if not stronger, than last year; the Saints are not. As for the rest of the competition, it is more even than last year, as the ladder shows after six rounds, with one win separating second and sixth and just two wins separating second and ninth.
Blues coach Scott Carter isn’t convinced his side is a standout in a tight competition but admits it is evolving.
“No side has been able to kick more than 12 goals against us this year so we definitely feel defensively we have got better but we also realise for us to maintain our position from last year we had to get better,” he said.
“The sign we have up there (in the rooms) sums us up, ‘... if you are not getting better you are almost certainly getting worse’.
“So far these blokes have given me every indication the hunger is there. Our blokes have got fitter and I feel our depth has improved. People know they have to be putting in and performing or they will lose their place. There’s competition for spots and I think our depth is the best it has been for the three seasons I’ve coached.”
Is Warrnambool a 10-goal better side than the second-placed Koroit? Saints coach Adam Dowie hopes not but given the way the Blues played, it was easy to hear his concern after the game.
Dowie said the Saints’ golden era of 14 consecutive finals series, including three premierships, wasn’t over but knew he had some big challenges ahead with a lack of depth in their ranks.
“We have a real battle on our hands,” he said after losing key defender Chris McLaren for a yet-to-be determined period with a calf injury.
“We’ve got very little in our reserves and very little in our under 18s (in terms of players ready for seniors). You can only do what you can do. It’s really going to test the resolve of the group. They are pretty proud and pretty determined.
“At the end of the day, we’ve probably got seven, eight, nine players I don’t think they’d get a game at Warrnambool. Sooner or later it will catch up with you, as much as you don’t want it to. We feel like we are running and this monster is right on our tail. We are in a really interesting period. I worry now that Chris is out and Harry (Brett Harrington) is off overseas soon.
“When you play Warrnambool and they are like that, all the things you are not good at get exposed.”
Saturday’s result also exposed a gap between the unbeaten Blues and the chasing pack. The Blues have now crushed second-placed Koroit by 64 points and third-placed North Warrnambool Eagles by 70 points, plus they defeated fourth-placed Cobden by 22 points.
Do those results make the Blues a minimum of a four-goal better side than their closest rivals?
“We definitely don’t feel we are ahead of the competition,” Carter said.
“We think we are performing really well. At the 10-minute mark of the last quarter (against Cobden) we were behind so we don’t think we are ahead of the competition. We think we are right in the mix.”