The Gippsland Power travelled up to Sydney and was challenged by the Greater Western Sydney Academy, but eventually got over the line in a hard-fought contest on Saturday afternoon.
The Power got off to a commanding start thanks to a terrific first half from midfielder Riley Baldi, who booted Gippsland’s first two goals of the game. Baldi was involved in everything and at the main break, the Power owned a 22-point lead, 8.5 (53) to 5.1 (31).
To Greater Western Sydney’s credit, they came out firing in the second half and put on four goals to one in the third term. Gippsland was unable to get its running game going and with a quarter to play, the Power held a one point lead, 9.5 (59) to 9.4 (58).
The fourth term was an epic end-to-end battle and despite the contest being a great one, neither team was able to score a major as they combined for eight behinds.
The Power led by three points with one minute to play and the ball locked in its forward half. Gippsland’s relentless pressure eventually resulted in Harry Pepper marking the ball 15 metres out with 20 seconds remaining.
Pepper lined up and kicked the goal after the siren to see the Power get home by nine points, 10.10 (70) to 9.7 (61).
Coach Rhett McLennan spoke after the game about his team’s ability to get the job done.
“Our first half I thought was really good; we stuck to the game plan that we’d set out to play really well and then the third quarter, whether it was coming out of the blocks slow or tired legs, they really came back hard at us in the third quarter and it looked like we were out on our feet,” he said.
“The last quarter, I asked for a big effort and to scramble out a win that was only cemented in the last minute was a really special effort from the guys.”
The backline duo of Tye Hourigan and Brock Smith (20 disposals) was sublime, while Harry Pepper (27 disposals) was impressive up forward. Meanwhile, the work in the middle from Josh Smith, Ryan Sparkes and Riley Baldi (22 disposals and two goals) was crucial.
#6 Riley Baldi
Baldi was the most dangerous player early on from Gippsland, in his first game of the year he was unstoppable in the first quarter through the midfield and up forward. Baldi despite his size took a good contested mark 15 metres out from goal and would kick the set shot and later in the first quarter would spin around and snap a nice goal, in the second quarter he was also hard to stop taking a nice intercept mark and quickly play on with a good handball and he would have another shot at goal on the run on the boundary but would just miss. Baldi was smart with his ball use with a nice kick to the hot spot in the second quarter followed by a nice opposite foot kick to teammate Kyle Dunkley. Baldi was hard to stop both in the air and at ground level where he would attack the ball hard and would always look to move the play on, Baldi finished with 22 disposals, 8 inside 50s and 2 goals.
#11 Kyle Dunkley
Dunkley was a tough customer through the midfield attacking he ball hard and tackled like a man possessed. His only goal would come from a mark and set shot in the 2nd quarter but his hard work set up plenty of others, he showed good vision under pressure to hit a nice switch kick in the 3rd quarter and later that quarter would lay a bone crunching tackle. Dunkley would finish the game with 18 disposals, 6 marks, 11 tackles and 1 goal.
#12 Brock Smith
Smith was the main playmaker for Gippsland down back setting up the play and setting the standard for attack on the ball and body contact on the man, his first quarter had some good and bad moments with the good coming from a lovely long kick inside 50 to teammate Riley Baldi and showing good composure with link up play from defence, the bad was a Clanger kick on a kickout. Smith loved the push and shove and was happy to let the Giants forward know he was there and it was hard not to notice him both defending his man and also linking up with good composure in defence showing why he is the captain. Smith finished the game with 24 disposals and 7 rebound 50s.
#19 Fraser Phillips
Phillips had another game with nice flashes but the consistency over 4 quarters to impact the game is still not at a level he would like. Phillips would take till the second quarter to hit the scoreboard with a nice quick snap and goal, he was more involved in the 3rd quarter taking a nice mark on the wing and quickly playing on inboard with a nice kick and he showed he could also do the team things with a good hard tackle to lock the ball in. Phillips has a fantastic left foot kick and it was on show with a laser pass to teammate Riley Baldi in the last quarter, Phillips finished the game with 5 disposals, 3 tackles and 1 goal.
#37 Harrison Pepper
Pepper was one of Gippsland’s busiest players throw out the day and was particularly noticeable in the 2nd half where he stood up when the Giants where making their comeback. In the 2nd quarter he would take a nice contested mark deep in the pocket and showed his team thinking with a pass inboard to a teammate in better position, in the 3rd quarter he would show his quick thinking with a quick play on and nice low kick which was a feature of his game opening up the play with his kicking. His last quarter was sensational taking a good intercept mark and playing smart football in the last quarter running down the clock and finally having a sealer mark and goal on the siren running towards goal which was a nice mark on its own. Pepper finished the game with 26 disposals, 7 marks, 4 inside 50s and 1 goal.
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Match review written by Hayley Wildes reporting for Pakenham Gazette. To view original article in full online subscribe to Pakenham Gazette here.
Scouting notes written by Ed Pascoe reporting for Aussie Rules Draft Central. To view original article in full online click here.