Local footy: Pambula Panthers host the Eden Whalers in the season opener

Pambula Panthers v Eden Whalers 2.04.2016
Just hope no one else has selected this match to cover.

The Pambula Panthers hosting the Eden Whalers.

It was a match which shows why the Panthers are the reigning premiers and a force to be reckoned with again this year. For Eden, it could be a long year.

One suspects for Eden there is no number one draft selection on offer at the end of the season. That is something the AFL should look at. When young teachers or NAB trainee bank managers are assigned to the bush, surely a criteria for allocation should be where towns that are crying out for players. Probably closing schools and bank branches is the real issue.

Wonderful day for football. Low twenties, blue skies and the odd cloud. A breeze to the Ben Boyd National Park end which picked up during the day. The ground surrounded by gum trees was in great condition with a thick spread of couch grass. Compliments to the groundsman who had been assisted by some rain over the last few weeks. An amazing array of bird life due to being situated proximate to the Pamboola wetland and bird sanctuary. Near the entrance there was an echidna completely oblivious to the crowd but keeping non locals entertained. The locals were surprised such a creature would create any interest at all.

On arrival was surprised to see an entrance admission of $7.00. But thought it was at least a way of supporting the community, so handed the attendant the money and asked if there was a record or at least a list of player names. It was clear this had never been asked of him before.

When he saw me walk to the oval on the left side of the entrance, he called me back. “You here for the AFL?” This was said with a real degree of surprise. When confirmed that was the case, he refunded the money. That’s for the Rugby. The local League team was playing on an adjacent ground.

The rugby game had drawn a fair audience. The difference in the codes was evident. The rugby had music blaring via a speaker placed on the ground. I kid you not, it was Jimmy Barnes. A song not well known but much like all his others. An amplifier announced teams coming on to the field, tries and conversions. The stands were those banked metal framed arrangement with wooden seats which were heavily populated. It was a healthy and well natured gathering. Such a nice day, hard to think it would be otherwise. Pleased to report local sport continues to remain an important social hub.

Amongst the rugby players, they were some big boys. Really big. That is except for the girls who also played during the afternoon. Still of an era where have some difficulty with the concept of girls playing rugby. Shouldn’t of course. It’s entirely appropriate and a thing to be rejoiced, but it’s such a brutal sport. It’s one thing to appreciate it, it’s quite another thing to play it.

With the AFL game, the crowd was more sparse but certainly not bad by any stretch. Comparable to many local competitions in Melbourne. May have been helped by being a relatively local side – Eden is only 35 minutes by ute.

The Panthers play in a gold and brown strip similar to the Hawks, but with thinner stripes and a panel at the top of the jumper. Their recent premiership flag was proudly on display. Like Hawthorn, they exhibited that self confidence that comes with success and they were ready for the contest.

Expect it was less so for Eden. It was the first game of the season. They appeared to be a side just short of a gallop and perhaps struggling for numbers. That happens in Melbourne without the Rugby code to compete for players. Eden had the look of Essendon taking on the reigning premiers. That is the Essendon before they beat Melbourne.

For the game’s sake it was a good thing that Eden won the toss and kicked with the wind. Expect Trent Cotchin would have gone the other way. Deep into the first quarter it was a goal a piece before Pambula kicked two late goals courtesy of the Smiths who would figure prominently in the goal kickers at the end of the day. Pambula’s eight missed shots and the three more that fell short was probably a better indicator of what was to come.

Pambula were strong across the field but the heavily built Pete Russell was doing well for the Whalers and covering much territory. The Swans outfit did not flatter his body shape, but it was a body that was hard to tackle and dangerous to stand in front of when he gathered momentum. He did his side proud. He was the half back line.

The second quarter was the tale of the day. Being diplomatic it was a two, perhaps three goal breeze to the Panthers advantage. They kicked eleven unanswered. The Whalers didn’t score. Indeed hard to even recall the ball ever being in their forward line.

“RaIning goals”, “on fire”, “unstoppable”,” modern football at its best”. All true except for the last bit. That’s not to say there weren’t good skills on display, but there was more of the old fashion position football. And that’s a good thing too.There was a touch of kick long to the semi-talls down forward. When they drop it, after a few minutes of mad scramble, some one will pick it up or more likely kick it off the ground for a goal. There seemed to be a lot of goals kicked from the goal square.

Sean Smith took the opportunity of kicking quite a number of his dozen goals in this quarter. As an elder statesman who can play the game, he demands the ball and is rewarded. Would be interested to know if he is a school teacher or the local copper. He is sufficiently savvy to make sure he is housed not more than forty metres from goal and within the arc. That is, mid on to mid off so little angle to be concerned of. They may not kick the ton in the AFL these days, but would bet on there being few in the Sapphire Coast League. Pencil in Sean Smith as one of them.

Of the goal scorers young Tom Fergusson playing in his first full season in the seniors, was as impressive as any of them. He led and marked strongly and is a reliable kick for goal. The likes of Cloke, Casboult and Hogan would do well to copy his style. Text book and the results were accordingly. In the third quarter kicked two into the wind from distances where all others had struggled all day.

Yet amongst the mayhem, full back Scott Monday for the Whalers was outstanding. He read the play, attacked the ball, kicked to the flanks to clear the ball only to see it return time and time again. Reminded me of cross between David Dench with his daring attack on the ball and Alex Rance for his reliability and composure. Nevertheless, Scott was like the boy with the cart. A big job ahead of him. Credit to him. By half time when the damage was done, there was a strong argument to say Monday was probably best afield.

Aside from Monday and Russell, the centreman Liam Wilkinson stood out for the Whalers. His penance was having to play on the best players in the opposition. When the other ruckman is having it all his own way, it is far from an easy role. He showed flashes of brilliance. Strongly built and with pace, Wilkinson was one of the few capable of breaking tackles and sending the ball forward. Admittedly to very little. The Whalers forward line included some “whales” and one wondered if that was the real source of the nickname. There were at least a couple up forward who required more rotations than the AFL allows these days. Nevertheless they were there. Not on active duty but at least they were there.

At half time the game was effectively over. The Whalers stayed on the ground. Under a temporary tent type arrangements. Looked like a beer tent from the country races. Suspect the League players have first dibs on the change rooms and they are unlikely to brook any argument on the point. Not that there seemed any hostility between the codes. There was a sense of self absorption in their own games and a complete lack of interest in the other code. They may as well have been in other suburbs rather than playing side by side.

At least one senior player for the Panthers took the opportunity to engage the main umpire in conversation during the long break. Inquired of his kids, work, other matches and where he stood in terms of Brownlow votes. The umpire sensing an ulterior motive remained aloof and proper. Did not see anything in the second half to suggest that the conversation had been influential.

A word must be said for the umpires. Their non matching outfits should be replicated in the AFL. None of this anonymity as though they are High Court judges. Different colours allows you to critique umpires individually including constructive criticism given in the course of the match from the boundary line.

The orange shirt umpire sensibly took the Jim Stynes cap experiment one step further, wearing a white “terri towelling” hat much like the one worn by the spectator that manhandled John Snow from the wrong side of the fence.

Appearances can be deceiving. The umps controlled the game very well. Not only technically good, but also an appropriately sympathetic job. It was clear the game required some reverse discrimination. If a Whalers player made a genuine effort, he was rewarded. The Panthers hard to work a little harder for their frees. Everyone at the ground thought that appropriate.

But It was the orange umpire’s signalling of “holding the ball” that would have justified the $7.00 entrance fee by itself. Never have you seen a more fulsome bow and sweeping arm movements. It was reminiscent of Sir Walter Raleigh bowing to the queen having doffed his feathered cap and where his knuckles all but touch the ground. It was a motion much appreciated by the crowd and frankly the modern day Frankie Virgona seemed to enjoy it as much as we did.

The second half provided one more goal to the Whalers whilst the Panthers helped themselves to another 19. Really felt for Eden. Monday was done and it was only mid afternoon on Saturday. Russell become frustrated but no one was listening nor responding to him which only made things worse. Wilkinson saved his efforts for the odd burst of energy to remind the crowd he could play the game, but those episodes became more limited as the afternoon wore on.

To say a side gives up is unfair. Eden did not do this. It was simply a fact the players were “buggered”. The ball came down back with monotonous regularity and “not all of Australia has talent”. The wind in the last quarter to the home side’s advantage only added to the misery. All this resulted in a lop sided affair. We have all been there, and everyone felt for Eden. Everyone also thought there was merit in the mercy rule.

In the last term the interest wasn’t so much on who kicked the goals for Pambula but whether the strategy of Eden’s Plugger to play as a “stay at home” full forward would be rewarded. Bets were being taken on whether he would touch the ball in the second half.

The one similarity with modern AFL footy was that for much of the last quarter the entire two sides were located in one half of the ground. That is, except for Plugger who remained friendless in the goal square at Pamboola Wetlands end of the ground.

With seven minutes to go Wilkinson stole the ball from the opposition tap, ran through the centre and booted the ball into the all but vacant forward line. Plugger was 50 meters clear of the nearest player. He attacked the ball in slow motion, fumbled once then twice, picked up the ball as though that was an effort in itself allowing sufficient time for the opposition to arrive. He still had five metres on them when he went to kick the ball from 15 metres out. By the time his boot connected with the ball, he was being gang tacked by at least three Panthers. Fortunately those three were the quickest and by definition the lightest and so he withstood the tackles. Indeed he outweighed the three of them which in this instance was a great advantage. His boot made less than solid contact with the ball which was propelled Twiggy Dunne like towards the goals although never rising more than four feet off the ground and with a reverse helicopter spin.

Time stood still, except for the previously unemployed goal umpire who having been alerted to some potential action stood up, took an alert position in the middle of the sticks and was then sent scurrying to the near side goalpost to advise ………….…. the ball had sneaked through. It was a goal! Spectators of all persuasions applauded generously. It was actually Plugger’s second for the day. Indeed Eden’s second for the afternoon. Surely that would mean votes in the club’s best & fairest award.

Plugger remained on the ground for some time. By that I mean lying prostrate on the ground. It may have been for all of the remaining seven minutes of the game. Hard to say. That episode was the only foray into their forward line for the half.

There was some discussion on the Panthers’ bench as to whom should have been at full back. The evidence was inconclusive. Whilst the white board pointed to Mango, as no one had remained in their true position, any QC would secure an acquittal on that charge. What was telling was that despite Plugger kicking the goal, not one went to stand next to Plugger. That may have constituted an admission.

In the last few minutes, even the Panthers were gasping for air, players were cramping, the Whalers waiting for the siren and Sean Smith was yelling ……”kick it to me”.

All in all, it a thoroughly enjoyable day out despite the lop sided nature of the game. Eden didn’t seem overly concerned. Not a match they had pencilled in to win. There would be other matches and this was not one to lose sleep over. They initiated the three cheers but hard to do so when completely stuffed. It lacked vigour but not due to any ill will.

On the football side of things, was impressed with young Kyle Tucker in the ruck for Pambula. Not so much for his ruck work which was fine, but his movement around the ground and skills for a big man. He covered a lot of territory, was agile and kicked a few lovely goals. A good ruckman is critical in local footy and Pambula have a good one in Kyle.

Playing coach Scott Proctor plays out of the centre. He had lots of the ball. He made sure he did not venture too far into the forward line as a demonstration to his young charges the importance of keeping the forward line open, building the wall to retain the ball in the forward line and obeying team rules. Don’t know what level of football he played in the past but he would have been a handy player.

As a coach, his messages were sound and well expressed. He has the respect of his playing group. When it was clear the game was won early doors, the message was to concentrate on sharing the ball, building the wall to lock it in, enjoying being part of a team game and acknowledging mates who did well. They appeared to listen. That is until the last quarter when it was a “free for all” with everyone trying to kick goals. In the circumstances it was tolerated.

12 goals is a good haul by anyone’s standards and Sean Smith is a good player. He has that nuggety six foot’ish build who play across half froward and knows when to lead, how protect the ball and has strong hands. Presume he has been a star in the completion for a long time.

Steve Butterworth is worth a mention. A wingman cum flanker, who actively sought the ball and did his job well. Rewarded with some goals but the recognition is more for his general workmanlike play around the ground.

Across half back, Jake “Mango” Taylor and Dillon Cook, two well built young lads who would have been at home on the other oval were instrumental in ensuring no attacks ensued. They constituted the wall and had good games.

Like to be even handed, so asked the Eden manager as to some of their players. Monday, Russell and Wilkinson were complimented.

Number 7 who had battled hard was apparently Jordan. No surname known, just Lachie’s mate Jordan. To be fair it was the first match of the year. Jordan may have set out from Eden in the morning thinking he was just coming to watch.

In response to my comment that number 8 seemed to have a bit of the ball, not heaps but a serviceable game, was informed there had in fact been two number 8s out there. Bit short on jumpers.

The Panthers won’t have it as easy as this in other weeks. The Whalers won’t have it as hard as this in other weeks. Both therefore have something to look forward to. But am pleased to report football is alive and well on the south coast of NSW. The radio coverage of the AFL may be lousy up here, but the local football is great.


Pambula 3.7 14.10 25.16 33.24 – 222

Eden 1.3 1.3 1.3 2.3 – 15

Goal kickers

Pambula S Smith (12), I Smith (4), T Fergusson (4), K Tucker (4) S Butterworth (4)

Eden Plugger (2)
Best Players

Pambula: K Tucker, S Smith, S Proctor, I Smith, S Butterworth, J Taylor, T Fergusson

Eden: S Monday, L Wilkinson, P Russell, Lachie’s mate, Plugger


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Established "dam Sports Crisis Managment" to salvage & reinvigorate flagging careers of elite athletes. In practice mentoring rather than coaching or managing in the traditional sense. In the Almanac, we focus on the AFL players of the "dam AFL sports team"


  1. As a former Whaler myself, it is heartening to see not much has changed for the old red and whites. Still getting pumelled. We had a couple of good finals runs in the early 90s in the juniors, but not sure we ever cracked the finals in the top grade. Green Seas pulling out of the Town killed player retention.

  2. Hi Todd. We’ve had a couple of runs in senior finals. No flag though. Two flags for ressies (2000, 2015) and a few for U17s. If anyone out there wants to be part of building to a senior flag while playing and training 100m from the ocean, message the “Eden Whalers Australian Football Club” on facebook. We may even be able to organise Sunday morning golf or fishing.
    Big E.

  3. Shane crowe says

    Its easy for an outsider to take the piss without knowing how much this club is fighting to stay alive. Footy on the coast is alive and well you say,another on with blinkers on. Crowie

  4. Dr Rocket says

    Great to read of footy on the Sapphire Coast.

    The bloke who sold me a pair of shoes at Chatswood Chase in Sydney today used to play for Tathra.
    We, of course, spoke of The Frog, Rob Little, a stalwart footy in Tathra and on the far south coast over many years.

    We lamented the loss of the Merimbula Marlins, the Mallacoota Tiger Sharks, and even the Wyndham Wedgies.

    And how Pambula had come good and the Eden Whalers were still no good.
    Your report validates our comments

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