Werribee Districts dig deep to claim Wyndham derby

Rhyce Prismall gets a kick away under pressure for Werribee Districts. Picture Damjan Janevski

You can bank on Andrew Panayi kicking a lot of goals for Werribee Districts in the Western Region Football League division 1 this season.

But there will be none more important in the home-and-away rounds than Saturday’s game sealer in a stirring two-point win over rivals Hoppers Crossing in the Wyndham derby at Soldiers Reserve.

With the Tigers trailing with a minute to go and all the momentum shifted in Hoppers Crossing’s favour on the back of five consecutive last-quarter goals, Panayi did what he does best and split the big sticks to wrestle back the lead for his side.

What could have been a mentally-draining loss – the Tigers were up by 24 points at three-quarter time and saw that lead evaporate – turned into an unforgettable moment for Panayi and a significant win for his team in the context of the season.

It kept Werribee Districts undefeated and preserved their spot at the top of the ladder, but more importantly showed the resilience needed to be a premiership contender this season.

Tigers co-captain Matt Dean was thrilled with his side’s ability to dig deep when all looked lost late on.

“Most teams, if the momentum is against them, find it hard to find things to go their way,” he said.

“The fact we could create an opportunity and for Andrew to finish it was massive.

“It helps us big time to have those four points in the bank.”

It was an emotional week for Werribee Districts.

The Tigers had to cope with news that ruckman Tate McCutcheon and centre half-back Jacob Graham would be out for the rest of the season after serious knee injuries sustained the week prior.

Not only was it tough for the Tigers players to see two teammates go down, but it was two players that were so important to the structure of the side.

Smaller in stature than most sides, the Tigers could ill-afford to lose big men, and lost two in one fell swoop.

“That was pretty shattering for the group last week to find out that,” Dean said.

The last minute of the local derby was agonising for Werribee Districts.

After Panayi’s goal, Hoppers Crossing won the centre clearance and the ball was parked inside their 50. The Tigers players could only exhale on the sound of the final siren.

“We didn’t really know how long there was left,” Dean said.

“We tried to call to the bench to see if they knew, but they sort of put their hands up to say your guess is as good as ours.

“The siren came at the right time for us.”

Trent Lee was best-on-ground in the midfield for Werribee Districts.

A former junior at the club, Lee has returned home after an exciting football journey that took him to the VFL to play with Williamstown and to the EDFL to captain Maribyrnong Park.

“He’s a very good footballer and a smart one, so it’s good to have him back at the club after quite a few years elsewhere.”

The biggest praise was reserved for Jarryn McCormack, who rucked one-out all day.

Sure Dean, with his work at the coal face, Stephen Plumridge, with his drive off half-back and Panayi, with his three goals were influential, but the Tigers could not have won if McCormack did not step up in the absence of McCutcheon.

“Jarryn had to ruck the whole game by himself and was probably the most influential player on the ground,” Dean said.

Werribee Districts will be put to the test on Saturday when they meet a desperate Altona at Grant Reserve, while Hoppers Crossing will be hot favourites to bounce back against newly-promoted Caroline Springs at Hogans Road Reserve on Saturday.