A six goal final term wasn’t enough for a new look Lions side as they went down by three points to Werribee in yesterday’s opening practice match at RAMS Arena in Cragieburn.
While Coburg produced a disappointing first half, outscored eight goals to three, their daring play after the long interval will give fans of the red and blue genuine hope for season 2017.
Of the Lions’ 25-man squad, almost a dozen were making their first appearance in Coburg colours, youngster Mitch Conn was in his first senior outing and key players such as leaders Peter McEvoy and Josh Iacobaccio and recruits Liam Kidd, Tom Wallis, Christian Burgess and Hisham Kerbatieh were sidelined.
Mick Mattingly, Liam Hunt and recruit Nick Mellington were industrious in the midfield all day, taking good advantage of the ball given to them by ruckmen Tom Goodwin and Mark Kovacevic, who had the better of former Sydney rookie Kyle Galloway.
Tassie recruit Tom Cleary was impressive with his defensive work on Majak Daw, while young forward Cameron Holdsworth proved tough for the Tigers’ defence with two goals and five marks inside 50.
Werribee fielded 15 North Melbourne-listed players hungry to break into the Kangaroos’ team for round two of the AFL season, producing some quality football from the first bounce and presenting a tough challenge for the Burgers.
Kicking with the wind in the first quarter, they made the most of their chances with goals to Cameron Zurhaar (twice in the opening 12 minutes), Jordan Jones and Ben McKay, who converted from a free kick after Coburg’s Mark Orr was penalized for a deliberate rushed behind.
Despite Cleary’s best efforts on Daw and the clever work of Holdsworth, who converted an angled set shot from close range late in the term, the Lions trailed by 19 points at the first change.
Goals to New South Wales pair Mattingly and Connor Byrne raised hopes of a Lions revival with the strong wind at their back in the second term, but Werribee continued to show their class and kicked away for a handy 31-point lead at the main break
Coburg upped the defensive ante around the ground in the third quarter and started to wrestle back control of the game, goals to recruits James el Moussalli, Pat Lawlor and Tyler Curtis bringing the deficit back to 21 points.
However, after drying up the Tigers’ ball movement for most of the quarter, a Lions lapse in the final minute allowed their opponents a soft goal that extended the margin to almost 30 points.
At the final change, Peter German implored his troops to stick to their aggressive game plan with a final quarter breeze going their way, and it worked.
The Lions repeatedly raced the ball into the forward line, catching the Werribee defence napping as Goodwin, Tasmanian small forward Nick Dodge and Ricky Schraven all converted six-pointers.
When Holdsworth courageously marked a high ball and duly converted for his second the margin was back to eight points and a comeback win was on offer.
The Tigers responded through Wagner, but Ovens and Murray recruit James Svarc came to life and booted two majors – the first a dribbling ball from the pocket which snuck over the line, then a hard-running effort from the wing which he converted from 45 out.
With the Lions within two points both teams locked in for a frantic final few minutes, Werribee creating a shot on goal from a turnover but were unable to convert.
Conn then took a courageous mark to repel another Tiger attack, then Coburg had their opportunities but couldn’t find the opening, a potential Schraven game-winner brilliantly smothered to ensure a tight Tigers win.
Coburg fell agonizingly short but will be sure to find positives from the match given the majority of Werribee's players were in round one mode. However, post-game German reminded his players not to be happy with a close loss as they build to round one against Collingwood at Piranha Park on Saturday 15th April.
The next practice game for the Lions will be this Saturday April 1st at North Port Oval with the Development League starting at 11am, and the Seniors 2pm.
Coburg 1.0 3.3 6.5 12.7.79 defeated by Werribee 4.1. 8.4 10.8 12.10.82
Best: Mattingly, Hunt, Mellington, Kovacevic, Cleary, Holdsworth
Goals: Holdsworth 2, Svarc 2, Mattingly, Byrne, el Moussalli, Lawlor, Curtis, Goodwin, Schraven & Dodge.