The Seagulls advance to their 10th preliminary final from the past 11 seasons and face the Casey Scorpions next weekend.
As the only VFL stand-alone club remaining in the finals, the Seagulls, guided by coach Andy Collins, have been remarkably consistent in an AFL dominated environment.
Collingwood will meet the winner of Sunday’s semi-final between Footscray and Essendon in the other preliminary final.
Seagulls skipper Ben Jolley, who racked up another 41 disposals on Saturday against Sandringham, admits it will be a “really big challenge” against the Scorpions next week, saying “they’ve been the best side of the year for a reason”.
Jolley, along with Michael Gibbons and Willie Wheeler, are the three top ball-getters in the competition.
It is no surprise as to why all three should feature heavily in Monday night’s J.J Liston Trophy count.
Gibbons, in particular, is a strong favourite to take out the medal. Gibbons, who has been likened to a young Sam Mitchell, has become a major draft target for AFL recruiters this season.
He already has a Frank Johnson Medal for best Victorian player in the state game, and Norm Goss Medal for best on ground in last year’s grand final.
In his 50th match, Gibbons was again among the best. Wheeler was tireless, as usual, in the clinches.
Ruckman Nick Meese had the better of opponent Billy Longer in the ruck. Meese, too, would be a handy back-up ruckman on an AFL list, since he is the premier ruckman of the competition, and has been for some time now.
Sam Dunell was a key difference in the first half, helping to set up a 26-point half-time lead. He kicked three goals, including the first of the match.
The game opened up after a break in play, in which Sandringham’s Jack Noone, suffered a broken leg and was taken on a stretcher off the ground. It was only a two-point lead to the Seagulls at the point, before they kicked four consecutive goals to end the half.
Ayce Cordy extended the lead into the third term, before Tom Curren finally stopped the run with a goal to the Zebras. Kade Answerth showed plenty of dash and brought some life into the game with two consecutive goals, to reduce the deficit to 17 points at the final change.
Zebras coach Paul Hudson said his team changed up their ball movement in the third term.
“We spoke about it at half time; our ball movement was way too slack… we started to move the ball and started to test them,” Hudson said.
The Zebras were unable to continue the momentum into the final term, however. Successive goals to Cordy, Sean Hetherington and Dylan Conway sealed the Seagulls’ path to a preliminary final.
The Zebras may also struggle to retain some of their VFL-listed players as there will be fewer senior opportunities under a new alignment deal with St Kilda from next season.
Williamstown are hopeful Arryn Siposs can return from a knee injury in time for next week’s clash against the Scorpions.
There are plenty of positives to suggest the Seagulls can upset Casey; Conway and Anthony Anastasio returned from the development squad last week, regaining some form.
Jolley believes the club needs every player to have personal bests next week if they are going to compete with the minor premier.
Meanwhile, it isn’t just Williamstown’s Gibbons, Jolley and Wheeler in the mix for Monday night’s J.J Liston Trophy.
Footscray’s Mitch Honeychurch, Jordan Russell and Lukas Webb are expected to be among the leading contenders, along with Sandringham’s Eli Templeton.
Casey’s Melbourne contingent of Viv Michie, Alex Neal-Bullen and Jack Grimes should also be strong vote-getters.
Semi-final: Footscray v Essendon, North Port Oval, 2.40pm