By David Nagel
The spotlight of the West Gippsland Football Netball Competition (WGFNC) will focus in on the Inverloch Recreation Reserve on Saturday when the Sea Eagles host perennial finalist Cora Lynn.
With round three split over the Easter and Anzac weekends over the next fortnight, the Inverloch-Kongwak and Cora Lynn game is one of only two to be played this Saturday.
But with Phillip Island expected to prove too strong for an improving Kilcunda-Bass, it’s the Sea Eagles and Cobras game that will certainly attract most interest.
These two have had completely contrasting beginnings to their 2022 campaigns, with Ben Soumilas and his Sea Eagles defeating Korumburra-Bena (99-50) and Kooweerup (119-70) …while Shaun Sparks and his Cobras find themselves in the unenviable and unusual position of being zero-two after two rounds.
A narrow loss to Phillip Island (50-55) – in greasy conditions in round one – was encouraging, but a round-two loss to Bunyip (88-103) was not what Sparks was expecting in his first season at the helm.
The problem for the Cobras, who are missing some seriously key talent right now, is the challenges that confront them in the immediate future.
This week’s tough trip to Inverloch is followed by a home-game against a rampaging Tooradin-Dalmore – with a visit to Nar Nar Goon in round five capping off an extremely tough start to the season.
There’s a lot of football to be played, but it’s not pushing the envelope to suggest the currently ninth-placed Cobras could be facing a zero-five start to the season.
No matter how good you are, or have been, playing a game of catch up like that leaves no margin for error at all!
But the Cobras can transform pretty quickly…because they do have the most transformational player in the WGFNC ready to make his return.
Full-forward Nathan Gardiner has missed the opening two games of the season with a hamstring injury, and was devastated to be ruled out of the game against the Bulldogs on Saturday.
Gardiner is feeling fit and raring to go and, barring any mid-week mishaps, will line up against the Sea Eagles on Saturday.
Who knows, we might be talking a two-zip start to the season if Gardiner takes to the field in those opening two matches of the season.
A combination of Matt Ryan, Cory Machaya and Luke Hartley have tried their best to fill the gaping hole up forward, but Gardiner’s return will certainly be a welcomed breath of fresh air.
Ryan, Machaya and Hartley will drop back a peg or two in the pecking order, while players like Heath Briggs and Gus Da Costa will enjoy the thrills and – more importantly – the spills that Gardiner’s presence will create up forward.
Mid-field bull Chris Johnson has opened his season well for the Cobras, while the return of Jeremy Monckton has certainly made a difference on the wing.
And the Cobras can most certainly draw on their most recent visit to Inverloch, which resulted in a thrilling three-point victory in round one last year.
The problem for Sparks is – and this is how quickly football can change – only 11 of the 21 that ran out against Bunyip on Saturday played in the thrilling win over the Sea Eagles last year.
A combination of injury, retirement and players moving on has given the Cobras a completely different look and feel to previous years.
Sparks and his Cobras will, eventually, settle down, but the problem they face this week is taking on a Sea Eagles’ unit that appears to have hit the ground running.
A five-goal second quarter set up a comfortable victory over the Giants in round one, while an eight-goal last-quarter burst ended the valiant challenge of Kooweerup last week.
The Sea Eagles have already had 12 different players hit the scoreboard this season, with Toby Mahoney having an absolute day out against the Demons last week, booting seven, while Tristan Van Driel added three to his round-one bag of five.
New recruit Ethan Park worked into his game nicely last week, while Dylan Clark, Corey Casey and defender Lewis Rankin have been their usually consistent selves.
The Cobras will come out breathing fire this weekend, they simply have to, but it’s the Sea Eagles to make it three on the bounce with a 17-point victory.
Two last-start winners will lock horns when Phillip Island welcomes Kilcunda-Bass to the Cowes Recreation Reserve on Easter Saturday.
The Doggies have overcome two tough challenges, against Cora Lynn and Warragul Industrials, while the Panthers were dismantled by Tooradin-Dalmore in round one before bouncing back with a thrilling victory over Dalyston last week.
New Panthers’ coach Lee Rowe will be delighted to get that first win on the board in a competition that looks very even between places eight to 12 on the ladder.
The Panthers have some really classy performers, with former Narre Warren star Nathan Foote having an immediate impact, kicking two goals and being a key contributor in the win over the Magpies last week, while Taylor Gibson also slotted two and was the main attraction up forward.
Ben Eddy has also started the season in style, while Marcus Baxter and Jake Weightman have been very consistent performers.
Rowe will have the Panthers pumped up for a fast start in this one, and not fall into the trap of being blown away early as they were against the Seagulls in round one.
Rowe, his new-recruits, and some familiar Panthers’ faces, were shell-shocked after the Seagulls rammed home nine first-quarter goals.
And, if the Panthers aren’t switched on, it could happen again because the Doggies can hit the scoreboard hard!
They haven’t shown that propensity in 2022 just yet, but a slight drop in Panther-pressure could see the floodgates open in a hurry.
Cam Pedersen, Brendan Kimber, Zak Vernon and Harry O’Brien, they are dangerous in front of goal and will need to be watched closely from the outset.
The Panthers have improved…but expect the Doggies to pull clear late and win by 63 points.
WGFNC – ROUND 3 FIXTURE
Saturday, 16 April
Inverloch-Kongwak v Cora Lynn
Phillip Island v Kilcunda Bass
Saturday, 23 April
Bunyip v Garfield
Nar Nar Goon v Kooweerup
Korumburra-Bena v Dalyston (7pm)
Monday, 25 April
Tooradin-Dalmore v Warragul Industrials