Snakes alive, it's VRDL bout #5!

photos by beeetle
photos by beeetle

An incredibly close ladder promised plenty of excitement, surprise and no shortage of confusion in the fifth bout for this VRDL season.

They say watching footage of derby, even live footage, is simply not like being there. I believe reading jam-by-jam reviews long after the bout is over, is probably even less so. Nonetheless, too much happened last night not to share. I'll do my best to avoid documenting a jam-by-jam bore and focus on the highlights!

Taking place as usual at the Royal Melbourne Showgrounds on what seem to be increasingly dark and chilly Saturday nights, VRDL held its 5th double-header bout for the season on the 21st of July. This event saw the Dolls of Hazzard take on and defeat the Dead Ringer Rosies 163 to 92, along with Rock Mobsters clawing a win away from the Toxic Avengers at 211 to 159.

Tensions and expectations were high coming out of the previous bout in June, after it was discovered and announced by the league that all four teams had won and lost equal amounts of games, decidedly setting the focus on point differentials from this point forward for the rest of the season. First onto the track were the Dolls in their customary black and gold, against the black and pink Rosies.

Dolls vs Rosies

It took my surprise to see Acheron Styx on the track, continuing to represent the Rosies despite a grisly broken finger injury sustained in the previous bout (look for the photo on the Rosies' Facebook page, but don't be eating while you do so - brrr!).

The Dolls fiercely declared their intention to dominate early on in this bout, building up a very respectable lead of 32 to 5 within the first 10 minutes of game play. Their formidable defense, led by the imposing Tiger Bay Brawlers veteran BB Bombshell, also saw Speedy Wasabi of the Rosies struggling to break that wall, further compounded by a major penalty with 19 minutes remaining in that first period. It was around this time that the ladies in pink wisely called a time-out to reset and assess their approach.

This breather appeared to be a good idea, as only two or three jams later saw Swish Cariboom nail a 20-point powerjam, but not before the Dolls continued to drive the score forward at 54 points to 25. It was up to the Rosies to shut down some of the strong jamming by Bush, Sweet Fighter and Alex in Chains, resulting in some stronger defense and very fast packs causing a no-point jam with 12 minutes remaining despite a lead Dolls jammer on the track.

The Rosies were subtly closing that gap with 5 minutes remaining on the first period at 60 to 43. Unexpectedly, BB Bombshell donned the star for a jam as the period approached conclusion with the score very close at 60 to 58, but it wasn't enough - her stint took her to the bin for a block out of bounds. Simultaneously, Acheron Styx delivered the first lead change to take Rosies into the lead at 63 points, but not long before being sent to the bin herself, releasing BB back into the game very close to the half-time whistle.

Second half saw Alex in Chains re-claim lead for the Dolls, but not for long as another lead change occurred in Rosies' favour. It was going to remain neck-and-neck for some time. This wasn't helped by what looked like an unanticipated shoulder injury for the powerful Dolls blocker Berserker, taking her out of the game temporarily and placing additional pressure on her counterpart BB to hold that line, who had already racked up a few too many major penalties than she would've liked at only half-way in to this high-pressure bout.

Berzerker re-joined the game with 15 minutes remaining in the second period, and further magic by Skate Bush and Nasty Beasty started to see Dolls pull that lead away from Rosies' grasp at 120 to 82 despite Swish's best efforts. Fantastic footwork by Sweet Fighter, who I believe was jamming in her first official bout, took that Dolls lead even further at 137 to 88 with 6 minutes left on the clock.

The Dolls, no doubt determined to see that point differential reflect well on them in the stats in this tight season, continued to efficiently extend that lead, taking the conclusion to 163 over Rosies who only managed to add another 4 points to the board at 92.

What a game! The jams in this one were fantastic to watch, most hits fairly clean, and the crowd were treated to great defense on both sides as well as terrific performance from all the usual suspects, along with some new faces whom we'll definitely keep an eye on throughout the remainder of the season.

Mobsters vs Toxics

The second bout for the night saw the red-and-white and youngest team Rock Mobsters take on the veteran team Toxic Avengers, in what several attendees (and Skate Bush!) can only explain as being the most whacky challenge ever witnessed in VRDL. The live-tweeter at @VictorianDerby declared what I consider to sum up this match in its entirety: 'Another official timeout. Forget the skaters - it's the refs who are getting a real workout here'.

This game was marred by non-stop penalty rotations, a mystery jam 5 minutes in whereby no-one moved (but not in the strategic way sometimes seen in tournaments and considered the controversial 'No Derby' play, apparently just confusion-based), a called-off jam that no-one seemed to believe (not even the referees looked sure), a jammer expulsion from either side, broken skates.. goodness gracious me!

Some familiar faces were seen on the track as Skate Bush was guest-starring for the Mobsters, along with Alex in Chains for the Toxics, despite only just playing hard and fast in the first match. Mobsters, of course, were also featuring the very strong skaters and VRDL All-star champions Axis of Evon, Maim and G-Banger, while Toxics featured the crowd favourite Mad Mel Arena, Rocky Rogue and Miss Sinnocent - all three of which were to put on some top-notch jamming later in the period.

The game opened with a very convincing quick lead by the Mobsters, who by only 7 minutes in put an imposing 30 points on the board while simultaneously denying the Toxics any opportunity to score points at all as Mad Mel simply could not break down that Mobster wall held at the front of the pack. It wasn't until Rocky Rogue managed to grab 3 points, along with some heavy Mobster penalties, that Toxics started to come into the game at 35 to 19 in Mobster's favour halfway through the first.

Further penalties in the Mobster bin were no doubt an upset as 18 minutes in, Mad Mel thrilled spectators with a 24 point power jam and a lead change of 39 to 43 to the green team. Around this time, the Mobsters opted to pull in Calamity Maim as jammer, who already had been fighting hard to hold that Mobster wall. She scored a nice 13 points in one jam, proving her prowess both in offense and in defense, and for a while the Mobsters took another lead change at 67 to 53. However, the red-and-and white penalty rotation was continuing to do quiet damage to that point margin. Miss Sinnocent dominated Bush in a powerjam and lead changed yet again. It was clear this was going to be another neck-and-neck nail-biter, with an ominous 81 to 80 looming on the scoreboard at the half-time whistle, with Mobsters just in front.

Second half saw Mobsters edge out further in front thanks to the likes of Skate Bush and Axis of Evon (who racked up a massive 25-point power jam early on), at 113 to 86, while Rocky and various Toxic blockers began to frequent the bin. Number #72 for the Rock Mobsters, The Flying Nun-Chucker, broke a skate axle but was not fazed, deftly switching her quads for some generously donated by (I believe) Ruby Rib-Crusher and continuing to score. But Mad Mel took this opportunity to break the momentum and delivered an absolutely phenomenal 35-point power jam to a raucous audience. This was only moments before head ref Harry Spot'er delivered his own shock to all on-lookers: expelling G-Banger from the game due to intentional contact with a downed skater (I missed the incident somehow and so can't report further on what happened here). Understandably, this was a massive upset for the Mobsters, but they were not to be fazed, holding that lead at 153 to 133.

Astonishingly, several jams later with 12 minutes remaining, saw another expulsion by Spot'er: this time the ever-favourite Mad Mel for a reckless forearm (once again, I appallingly failed to witness this). Toxics continued to try and eat away at the Mobsters lead, but with such fast packs on this winter evening, it simply would not pass muster as Calamity Maim, proving why she's one of the best league blockers, held Miss Sinnocent at bay while Bush and Evon continued to score respectively. 9 minutes later, Mobsters appeared to be controlling the approaching outcome at 193 to Toxics 146. The bin was still seeing a lot of green but the Mobsters were no angels either, seeing only two blockers from each team on the track while Evon broke the 200-point barrier with minutes remaining.

Both teams continued to push hard, clearly with plenty of fatigue showing itself on the track and in the penalties, and scores from either side edged forward as the seconds dwindled. Finally, Mobsters sustained the long lead throughout that whole second period, ending with a convincing 211 to the Avengers 155.

Hell's bells, that second match was a roller-coaster for all involved - including those referees who were put to hard work with constant penalties and some baffling gameplay. While there were some solid wins, the season is still very close for all in the league. One can certainly observe the level of skill and strategy suggestive of All-Stars experience present in skaters balanced across each of the four home team contingents. This promises for more nail-biting to come as the season picks up pace in October.

Thanks to all players, the refs and NSOs, the MCs, vendors, volunteers handling the tickets and raffle, St Johns, the Showgrounds staff as well as the Melbourne Dodgeball league for their half-time entertainment.

Much to my dismay (and probably also that of the mushroom tortilla vendor), I'll be away for the special VRDL fundraising bout on August 18th at Puckhandlers. However, I'll sneak in a review of the upcoming BRAmageddon South Sea Roller Derby bout #4 on August 11th. See you there, or back here!

Photos (other than my messy notepad) courtesy of beeetle

UPDATE: check out this great little video of the event, made by the fantastic folks at Fans Of Derby :)