Wangaratta’s tall timber and the class of youngsters Brad Melville and Joe Richards ended Yarrawonga’s season on Sunday.
The underdogs led 15-0 after two minutes, but the premiers quickly seized the initiative with a six-goal burst in 16 minutes in posting an impressive 19.12 (126) to 11.12 (78) win in the first semi at Wangaratta Rovers’ WJ Findlay Oval.
Wangaratta captain Michael Newton bounced back to his best with a stunning six-goal haul, 199cm Jade Cleeland took a stack of marks, Melville kicked two majors and racked up 20 disposals, while Richards also posted 20 touches and set up a host of goals.
“I’ve improved from last year, I was a permanent forward pocket, but I moved into the midfield this year, just to try and keep that work rate up and play forward,” Richards said.
But while that quartet starred, the entire team was strong as it sounded an ominous warning to Wodonga Raiders for next Sunday’s preliminary final.
“Obviously going forward Michael Newton doesn’t really drop a mark and he doesn’t miss, scoreboard pressure is what the game’s about,” Yarrawonga coach Damian Sexton said.
“I thought Cleeland was good early, he catches most things which come his way.”
Yarrawonga’s early blitz shocked the Pies, with five successive scoring chances.
In a stunning development, Mark Whiley returned after three months out with a broken hand and played a leading role in the early surge.
The Pies hardly touched the ball, but undersized James Elliott was given an early indication of his day when Newton grabbed an early mark and goal.
Melville landed a belter from 50m and suddenly, after 25 minutes, the Pies had a 23-point break.
The favourites lost gritty on-baller Will Reilly to concussion, but nothing could stop the Pies and when Elliott pushed Newton late in the second quarter, the former AFL player unloaded from 55m for a match-winning 40-point lead.
When Brad O’Connor received a 50m penalty, the Pigeons were back to 25 points with nine minutes left in the third, but they couldn’t peg it back with a classy Melville roving goal and Matt Hedin (four goals) stealing back the momentum.
Pies’ defenders Jamie Anderson and Ben Douthie were also terrific and with the return of backman Michael Bordignon from suspension, Raiders face a monumental task to generate goals.
Brandon Symes took a mark of the year contender in the second quarter and while he took a series of grabs, he struggled to convert, finishing with two goals.
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