Box Hill’s dream of back-to-back flags is over, with the brave and gallant Hawks falling to Werribee by 41 points in Sunday’s Elimination Final at Adcon Stadium.
In a story of two halves, Box Hill booted four unanswered goals in the second term to take a hard-fought eight-point lead into half-time.
But as the rain pelted down and darkness fell over Adcon Stadium, the Hawks were no match for the rampaging Werribee, who slammed home an eight-goal-to-none second-half on its way to recording its first finals victory in five years.
Entering the cut-throat final with five straight wins, Mark Williams’ men continued their train of momentum, taking only 30 seconds for Jack Henderson to hit the scoreboard with a maximum.
As the term unfolded, the midfield match-ups became clearer. Young Hawk defender Stuart Horner had the ominous task of tagging prolific ball-winner Michael Barlow, while Werribee’s Dom Brew had his sights on shutting down Box Hill Skipper Andrew Moore.
The ‘Big W’ continued its fast start, taking advantage of the strong breeze to jump the Hawks. Three goals on the trot followed, including two to dangerman Joel Bennett.
It wasn’t until Jacob Koschitzke marked and kicked truly after the siren that the Hawks had their first, providing an animated spirit-lifter for the quarter-time huddle.
Timm House got Werribee off to a flyer in the second term, leaping high and reeling in a grab from the clouds – before making no mistake with his conversion from directly in front.
Upon his return to the side, Box Hill’s ‘September Specialist’, Ollie Hanrahan, flexed his influence on the contest, pouncing on an errant turnover and capitalising with a running goal.
Hanrahan’s crafty nous kickstarted a prolific brown and gold revival.
Koschitzke made the most of a free-kick in front of goal, Adduci got reward for his desperate efforts at ground level with a clever snap, while Meadows let fly from beyond the arc with a booming set-shot that bent back with the wind to perfection.
Four unanswered goals later and Box Hill had made its move in its biggest match since Grand Final day last year – taking an eight-point lead into half-time.
But as the Hawks entered the rooms in bright sunshine, they ran out for the second half to sheeting rain and a floodlit Adcon Stadium.
And as the heavens opened up, so too did Werribee’s surge.
Werribee once again drew first blood within the opening minute, courtesy of a Matt Hanson dribbling snap from a stoppage. However, this time, one goal quickly became three within five minutes, and in a blink of an eye, Werribee had reclaimed the lead.
The ‘Big W’s’ on-ballers got to work, dominating the contested possessions and clearances, to lock to ball inside 50 with the aid of the scrappy conditions and a swirling breeze.
Despite the Hawks being ranked top two for average disposals and marks in the VFL, they struggled to possess the ball in the slippery settings. While Werribee, ranked third for tackles per game this season, enforced themselves on the contest, led by tackling-machine Dominic Brew (18 tackles for the game).
Six unanswered goals later and Werribee had wrestled back full control, and dominance, of the do-or-die affair.
If not for a goal-saving run-down tackle from Teia Miles in extra-time, the game may have been iced then and there.
Instead, as the three-quarter-time siren sounded, all eyes were cast on the Adcon Stadium scoreboard. The equation was simple; 31-points needed for Box Hill to keep its season alive.
It begged the question on everyone’s lips.
Did the come-back Hawks have one last thrilling finale left in them?
One last rev-up from Coach Max Bailey and a manic final term followed. But as the minutes passed without any chip into Werribee’s lead, Box Hill’s premiership-defence faded as quickly as the seemingly advantageous Bob Bonnett End breeze.
At the 18th min, Werribee’s Bior Malual hammered the final nail into Box Hill’s coffin. Malual out-marked opponent Damon Greaves and played on with pure instinct to dribble through the check-side goal – putting the icing on the cake.
It capped off an entertaining season for the reigning premiers. But despite thrilling come-backs, clutch highlights and touching moments, the Hawks proved right up until the end to be no match for the VFL’s cream of the crop in 2019.
Ruckman Marc Pittonet was the Hawks Silvertop Taxi Player of the Match, digging deep to conquer the ruck battle, winning 54 hitouts along with 16 disposals and four tackles.
Skipper Andrew Moore toiled valiantly in trying conditions, desperately attempting to lift his side despite a heavy tag, finishing with 21 disposals and 14 tackles.
Midfielder James Cousins battled hard against Werribee’s strong-bodied engine room, gathering a team-high 26 disposals and laying four tackles, while key-position swingman Jacob Koschitzke drew praise from Coach Max Bailey post-match for his two first-half goals.
Ollie Hanrahan (18 disposals, one goal), Kaiden Brand (18 disposals, eight marks) and Teia Miles (21 disposals, six marks) were all prominent on the day.
Despite the loss, Box Hill Coach Max Bailey remained philosophical on his first season as Senior Coach post-match.
“They played the wet conditions really well,” Bailey said.
“They had lots of numbers at ground level, and really tore us up in ground ball gets.”
“Every time the ball was kicked really long, they’d have numbers at the fall of the ball to win it and keep it going forward.
“We couldn’t seem to combat that, we couldn’t win the ball at ground level, we couldn’t stop their momentum forward, and they were able to kick goals off that.
“The third quarter was the difference really. They played it really well, and we failed to adapt.
“I’m really proud of the way the club has carried itself throughout the whole year.
“It’s a disappointing way to finish, but we still see it as a success.”
BOX HILL HAWKS 1.0 5.5 5.7 5.10 (40)
WERRIBEE 3.3 4.3 10.7 12.9 (81)
Box Hill Hawks: Koschitzke 2, Hanrahan 1, Meadows, Adduci
Werribee: Bennett 3, House 2, Munro 2, Hanson 1, Maishman, Declase, Henderson, Malual
Box Hill Hawks: Cousins 26, Miles 21, Moore 21, Meadows 19, Brand 18, Hanrahan 18
Werribee: Gribble 28, Coughlan 22, Hanson 22, Barlow 22