WANGARATTA celebrated the 200-game milestone of one of its favourite sons, Judd Porter, by holding off a tenacious North Albury comeback at Norm Minns Oval on Saturday.
In a frenetic and at times wasteful finish, North Albury came from 30 points down midway through the final term to get within nine points at the siren.
Two team-lifting goals to Hoppers’ skipper Dan Leslie and a ripper from Jarrah Maksymow set up a thrilling final seven minutes.
In an entertaining clash the visitors will look back on two things that influenced the final result.
First was the six-goal effort of Magpie sharpshooter Joel Harris, who kicked three in each half to finish with six straight.
Second was the wayward effort in front of goal from North Albury, with the Hoppers losing despite having six more scoring shots.
Talented Hopper youngster Josh Minogue kicked five behinds, while Leslie and Maksymow both missed chances in the final term.
Harris had several opponents and feasted out on the great supply of midfield dynamos Matt Kelly, Matt Grossman and Jamie Allan.
Wangaratta coach Mark Knobel was not only relieved after the game, but also proud, with his team having limited bench rotations.
“We had a few boys play on under duress and with North charging home I was rapt to see our leaders show the way,” he said.
“We have made a big effort to get some more run and carry into our game and some of our blocks and off the ball work was terrific.
“No doubt with Juddy playing his 200th a win makes everyone feel so much better and it was a satisfying finish to a big day for him and the team.”
One of the highlights was a wonderful chase and tackle from Magpie defender Michael Bordignon which resulted in a crucial third-term goal.
Daine Porter and Patrick Eefting played a huge role in holding out wave after wave of North Albury attack in the final term.
Even in defeat there is so much to like about the daring, attacking and exuberant style Jason Akermanis is rolling out with his youthful and inexperienced list.
Clay Moscher-Thomas, Shaun Mannagh, Jordan Harrington, Ryan Polkinghorne are among many fleet-footed contributors making names for themselves.
Throw in Kristian Cary, Mitch Mahady, Lachie Taylor-Nugent and the three Holman boys and they have plenty to offer alongside Leslie and co.
Akermanis, who coached from the sidelines under the watchful eye of AFL legend David Parkin, was somewhat disappointed but still upbeat.
“More scoring chances indicates our periods of dominance but if you keep missing in a tight game like that one it will hurt you eventually,” he said.
“It becomes demoralising for the group when you continue to miss.
“They pressured well early and on the bigger ground it took us a half to settle and adjust.
“Our average age in the team is 20.4 years so you are going to expect a few ups and downs.
“The effort and commitment was very good.”
Parkin was at the match to observe Akermanis as part of the Level Two coaching accreditation he is in the process of completing.
Wangaratta goes into the bye with a 3-3 win loss ratio and looks certain to be locked into a battle with Corowa-Rutherglen and North Albury for fifth spot on the ladder and the last berth in the finals.