VRDL picks up pace for the last bout before grand final

It seems an age ago since VRDL opened its 2012 season all the way back in sunny February this year. So much has happened since. Intermingled with the home bouts have been many other standalone events including the All Stars' trip to the Tucson Dust Devil  tournament in April, the Great Southern Slam in June, and a rematch between VRDL and SSRD only last month.

Each of these events have seen players from all four home teams improve their skills and enhance the level of competition that's made VRDL so famous in Australia and beyond.

Therefore, it's fair to say that anticipation and emotions were running at full throttle leading into the sixth and final home bout on October 13th ' the ultimate decider of who would claim the top two positions for the grand final to be held next month.

This particular pairing of teams had not faced off against each other since May. With all four teams incredibly close on the ladder in terms of wins, losses and points scored/against, it truly breathed life back into the much over-used phrase 'anyone's game'. This writer had pre-bout jitters and wasn't even playing!

Game 1 ' Dolls of Hazzard vs Toxic Avengers

The first game featured the Dolls of Hazzard their blazing black and gold, against the veteran Toxic Avengers  in oozing green and black.

FIRST HALF

Jam 1 of the first half kicked off with each side putting up all-star jammers Mad Mel Arena for the Toxics, and Skate Bush for the Dolls. Mad Mel caught a whip from new teammate Perky Nah-Nah, and was the first to grab lead jammer status for the night. However, Skate Bush soon broke through the wall and was not far behind. Mad Mel was forced to call it off, but not before sneaking through the first point onto the scoreboard.

Next up was Rocky  for the Toxics, while the Dolls introduced their guest skater Tiger Tantrum, a transfer from the Northern Brisbane Rollers. It was as though the roles were reversed from the previous jam: Tiger leapt her way into lead jammer status while Rocky pushed through and picked up the pace to be hot on Tiger's heels. This pressure resulted in a zero-point jam. It really felt like a prologue for what was to become an epic battle between these forces, with both teams pulling out all stops in an effort to secure a place in that final.

The Toxics rotated in their third jammer, Bebop-a-Lula, while Skate Bush returned to the track for the Dolls. Bebop-a-Lula gave it her all, but encountered some very effective defence from Smashin' Pop who kept her locked down while Skate Bush escaped for lead. Knowing how significant quick, small wins can make a difference even early on in a game, and after her teammate BB Bombshell was sent off for a penalty, Skate Bush quickly called off the jam after taking 4 points and the first lead change for the night.

Mad Mel returned to the track and quickly snatched lead through a hole in the inside line, while the Dolls lined up Alex in Chains who struggled to complete her initial pass. The Toxic blockers, sensing their advantage in this jam, slowed down the pack for Mad Mel, who engaged in some fancy footwork with a one-foot arc around the second turn to avoid being pushed out of bounds. She took Toxics back into the lead at 8 ' 4. Like a see-saw, though, Tiger Tantrum scored 4 of her own ' during which she exercised an amazing airborne juke around some Toxic blockers while Rocky could only just keep the Toxics in front with 1 point. So much action and only 9 minutes had passed!

Bianca Sciarretta, team captain and one of the strongest Toxic blockers around, fought hard to contain Skate Bush in the 7th jam, but Bush evaded and scored a couple. Tiger Tantrum then followed up with more magic, while the Toxics struggled to advance. Sasha Ratbag shouted to Bianca and Perky Nah-Nah and they formed a solid wall to try and limit more damage by this guest skater, clearly proving to be a secret weapon for the Dolls this evening. It helped, but she still scored 3 and the score stood at 18 ' 9 in the Dolls' favour.

Midway through the first, the nasty 'p' word began to rear its ugly head. Some fantastic defending by Perky Nah-Nah and Betty Fight held promise for the Toxics, but both these blockers ended up in the bin, and were joined by jammer Rocky  after she cut the track. Crunchlady Doris also was penalised but the box was full, so she returned to the track to sit out later. The Dolls smartly wasted no time and leapt forward with a 29 point lead at 42 ' 13.

Dave Arnold Photography

Several jams later, Rocky  made it her mission to reclaim some points ' despite heavy opposition by Alex in Chains and BB Bombshell (who once again was called by the refs to visit the bin), she took home another 13 points, prompting the Dolls of Hazzard to call a timeout, who were still in a comfortable lead at 42 ' 26 but had not advanced. Bella Bomba then sent the crowd wild with her second lead jam over adversary Skate Bush ' not least due to the skills of blockers Mad Mel and Betty Fight (the latter of which demonstrating perhaps one of the strongest defensive bouts I've seen her play) holding the Dolls jammer back, and in spite of Scarlet Love who tried to pin down Bella for as long as possible.

Before scoring, though, Bella suddenly lost her advantage after accumulating her fourth minor. A power jam was up for grabs for Skate Bush ' but she simply could not capitalise while behind such strong blocking by Miss Sinnocent who joined forces with Betty, Rocky and Mad Mel. Bush only managed to gain 2 points for the Dolls before the jam timer ran out.

Some messy derby followed with heavy rotations in and out of the bin. With 6 minutes remaining in the first half, Bezerker and Smashin' Pop stood their ground against Mad Mel but it was not enough and she completed her initial pass. Before scoring, though, the Dolls blocker Sweet Fighter took a nasty hit and the jam was called off while medical staff took to the track. She was able to get up with minimal assistance, but with a possible rib injury, this valuable all-rounder would sadly not return in this game.

The jam was reset with the same jammers in play, and Mad Mel once again would beat Tiger Tantrum out of the pack with a very convincing 13 points that suddenly put the Toxics back in the game, only 3 points behind at 46 ' 43.

After a low-scoring jam by Alex in Chains, during which the Dolls' BB Bombshell also sustained what was clearly a painful hit and a tumble, the first half wrapped up with a final jam going the full 2 minutes due to both teams' jammers accumulating minor penalties. Blockers on each side upped the ante, with Double D'Viant working hard to contain Bella while Sasha and Bianca fought Tiger. In the end, the Toxics defence held, and allowed Bella to bring another lead change to the Toxics: half-time saw a 3 point lead of 58 against the Dolls 55.

This comeback by the Toxics appeared to catch the Dolls by surprise, and it seemed largely due to a more cohesive array of Toxic blockers holding the black and gold jammers back. The Dolls would have to find a way to break those walls to reclaim in the second half.

SECOND HALF

The second period erupted with Skate Bush rocketing out of the pack for lead and glory. At the same time, the Dolls' defence kept Mad Mel firmly behind a wall she couldn't knock down. The defiant Skate Bush ran up the scoreboard with 15 points that seemed to resonate with a delighted audience: it was a statement in itself that the Dolls were not finished by a long shot, and indeed this took them back into the lead 70 to 58.

Rocky answered this with a 20 point powerjam after Tiger Tantrum visited the bin for a track cut major ' as did Skate Bush in the subsequent jam for an illegal procedure, followed immediately by opponent Bella Bomba. That penalty box was getting quite the workout!

9 minutes into the second half, with Tiger running a powerjam and Rocky  and Mad Mel blocking as best as one can when the pack is at a standstill, Mad Mel was issued a major penalty for what looked like a clockwise block against Tiger. Suddenly, an official timeout was called, and after the referees had a discussion with Brother Grim mimicking Mad Mel's previous blocking motion with his shoulder, the penalty was upgraded to an intentional and high clockwise block ' of which rules such as 6.9.19 warrant an immediate expulsion. As Rollbar delivered the dreaded expulsion, one could sense the inward groan from Toxic supporters in the audience: in the second half of a big decider match, this was not a great outcome. Nevertheless, the show had to go on.

The game resumed with Smashin' Pop delivering what was to be a characteristic outside-line hip check that sent Bella Bomba out of bounds ' yet the jammer in green managed to return and slip through the pack ahead of Alex in Chains, who stepped up her speed to pressure Bella into calling it off. Bella indeed did so, but not soon enough, which allowed Alex to snatch 3 points for the Dolls before that jam concluded.

Manning Blanchard Photography

After some further excellent strategy by Bezerker, who took out Sasha Ratbag while also holding jammer Bebop for the Toxics at bay (who then received her 4th minor for a track cut), Skate Bush pushed ahead for another 15 points. By this point, the Dolls were leading as the scores reached triple digits, at 125 vs 111.

Perky Nah-Nah, perhaps to fill in the shoes left by Mad Mel after her expulsion, took a turn at jamming against Alex in Chains. She got lead after Alex was sent to the bin, and despite battling it out with the formidable Dolls blockers, collected 13 points as the clock read 8 minutes remaining. The gap was now shrinking with the Dolls just out in front at 130 to the Toxics 124. The Dolls countered this in the next jam as Skate Bush outmaneuvered Mortadella With Sauce and Crunchlady Doris ' not without considerable effort ' and she took her team up 8 points to 138 while Bebop-a-Lula scored 3.

The Toxics were realising that they'd need to dig deeper this late in the game. A zero-point jam followed, followed by only a 1 point advance for the Dolls. Black-and-gold blockers Double D'Viant and Smashin' Pop made life difficult for Bebop while their jammer Tiger Tantrum somehow found a path and quite a few points as a result. Unexpectedly, both teams then suffered casualties: Sasha Ratbag for the Dolls took a nasty hit to the face, which required medical assistance. Shortly thereafter, powerful Dolls asset BB Bombshell notched up her 7th major, and was the second player to be expelled from the game. The score stood at 153 to 127 in the Dolls' favour, and the minutes were dropping from the clock quickly.

Bella Bomba performed the 'poodle' to use up her accumulating minors at the start of the next jam. Rocky  was on the jammer line alongside Skate Bush. While Rocky got lead, the Toxics defence was momentarily damaged when Bianca Sciarretta was sent to the bin but couldn't yet serve it due to Bella's recent entry to it and the other seats filled. Thus while Rocky took 8 points, Bush was also able to take 6 for herself and keep that score differential looking favourable for the Dolls.

Finally, the last jam began with Bella back out of the box and racing against Tiger Tantrum and after a low block major being delivered to Bella, Tiger took another 10 points before calling the jam, and the game, to its conclusion with a Dolls victory of 171 to the Toxics 133.

This was an incredible game full of massive defensive finesse, expulsions, injuries, and a lot of uncertainties as to who would win. But the Dolls just managed to stay in front in the second by trying to keep their penalties down and with a strong artillery of jammers taking advantage of power jams at every opportunity.

True stand-outs, at least from the spectating perspective, were Tiger Tantrum's surprise performance as guest skater  for the Dolls, Perky Nah-Nah for the same reason and her all-rounder skills, as well as Smashin' Pop and Betty Fight -two long-standing VRDL players who appear to have really stepped up in recent months as some of the strongest blockers in the league.

Game 2 ' Rock Mobsters v Dead Ringer Rosies

Oh, boy. The length of the previous game's recap is a good indication of just how high the intensity meter was rising under the big white tent that evening. Despite a somewhat smaller and quieter crowd than in previous events, the ambition of VRDL's home teams spoke louder than anything (except perhaps the belting tunes of Mimi Velevska and her band in the intermission). The air positively crackled with tension and the energy we've come to expect from Australia's number one league. It was to continue unabated as the Rock Mobsters and Dead Ringer Rosies  took to the track to fight for their position in the ladder.

FIRST HALF

First up on the track was G-Banger for the young Rock Mobsters team, versus crowd favourite Swish Cariboom, in black and pink and captain for the Rosies. In the opening jam, G-Banger's minor penalties meant lead jammer status was handed over to Swish, who called it but not before G-Banger fetched 2 points.

Axis of Evon took G-Banger's star and issued a perfect textbook case of 'hitting and quitting it' ' a very swift 4 points on her scoring pass while Skate Bush (guest-skating for the Rosies and the only one to skate in both games this evening) was held up by the superb blocking of the Flying Nun-Chucker ('Chuck'). This pattern continued across a few more jams until Bush got revenge a few jams later by shooting around the outside of the second turn like a curveball. Casually, she pushed her own blockers into her biggest threat on the track, Calamity Maim, and switched to the inside line to snatch 4 points. Suddenly the Mobsters lead appeared a bit meeker at 10 ' 8.

The Rock Mobsters are another team to feature a very powerful defensive line-up, and as we'd already seen, defence was the game-changer at this point in the season. Fyfe, a regular and reliable skater in the Rosies team, focused her efforts on disengaging Calamity Maim and Axis of Evon whenever jammers such as Miss Chivas and Skate Bush were pushing to get past. Other Rosies blockers such as the veteran Ruby Ribcrusher would directly attack the jammers themselves. While this occasionally would see a zero-point jam, the Mobsters were able to control pack speed and use short, snappy jams to slowly climb ahead in 3 or 4 point increments. 13 minutes into the first half, they were leading the Rosies at 24 ' 9.

It wasn't until three Mobsters (Chivas, Maim and the Flying Nun-Chucker) landed themselves in the bin, that Swish Cariboom was able to advance the Rosies on the scoreboard to 13 points against the Mobsters 27. Another zero point jam followed: G-Banger had lead after sneaking past Slippery Nichols and Gilli Pepper, but the pack was moving so fast ' too fast for Axis of Evon, who was yelling at her teammates from the bench to slow down. The Mobsters decided to then use one of their timeouts although maintaining their lead.

Dave Arnold Photography

G-Banger was back up next and was able to take away 4 points despite being hassled by Ruby Ribcrusher, who was sent off for her efforts due to letting slip a low block major. Moxie Emerald tried to counter this in the next jam for the Rosies, but had to call it off after fighting her way around Scarlett O'Hurta because Axis of Evon was actually ahead of her but with a track cut minor and thus not lead.

It took a few more mistakes by the Mobsters before the Rosies could advance much beyond their 13 points: Swish Cariboom took 8 after a multi-player penalty by the Mobsters and Maim already in the bin meant Miss Chivas had little support on her jam. With around 7 minutes remaining in the first, the score was at 44 ' 24 when big hits began to occur ' the crowd groaning unanimously whenever skin met concrete. G-Banger continued to jam for the Mobsters but minor penalties plagued her ' she switched to some jammer-on-jammer defence against Acheron Styx and at least prevented her opponent from scoring. Miss Chivas fought a very difficult jam against Swish but earned a respectable 12 points to increase the Mobster lead to 61 ' 24.

G-Banger eventually ended up in the bin several jams later after Slippery Nichols made her life difficult. Unwilling to let Skate Bush reap the rewards of a powerjam, 6ft Hussy switched on some epic blocking, which allowed some time for G-Banger to return to the track ' but she was issued yet another major much to her dismay ' as was Scarlett O'Hurta. Bush continued unabated and began to close that big gap at 61 ' 46, with a huge 22 point jam as the clock read 1:22 remaining in the first half.

The final jam in the first began while G-Banger was still serving her time in the bin. Swish lined up in what will be a jam many will remember for a long time to come: she simultaneously cleared an intimidating wall composed of Axis of Evon, The Flying Nun Chucker and Pony Slaystation. Chuck went to the bin again for a high block. The floor was open for Swish and with only 9 seconds remaining on the main clock, she had tied with the Mobsters at 61 all! Rage Against The Sewing Machine for the Mobsters, threw herself into the line of fire, which did slow down Swish momentarily, but not before the jam whistle ended the first half with Swish having taken the Dead Ringer Rosies into a surprise lead change of 61 ' 66 and the welcome cheer of Rosies fanatics in the crowd.

What an upset for the Mobsters, who had led confidently for so long, but whose penalties had betrayed them!

Manning Blanchard Photography

SECOND HALF

The second half of this concluding match began with several snappy, low-scoring jams. It wasn't until the fourth that the packs picked up significant speed. The Mobsters, undoubtedly shaken from the loss of the lead at the end of the previous half, went to new lengths to block like no blocker had blocked before. Of particular note was DeClaire da Pain, who worked with captain Calamity Maim and Chuck to contain the ongoing threat of Skate Bush. Miss Chivas, meanwhile, was able to score double figures, returning lead to the Mobsters at 78 ' 66.

It's hard to describe the strain that was being expressed on the track: every skater was drawing from every reserve of energy she could find to get her team into the top position. Rarely do we see single jams being fought for with such vehemence.

Some confusion and a very unfortunate jam occurred for Swish Cariboom shortly after. While trying to evade the imposing 6ft Hussy, she was sent to the bin, but came back out shortly after (possibly having been sent off due to an official error?). However, after colliding with G-Banger who was jamming for the Mobsters, she was sent off once again for a forearm major.

This was bad news for the Rosies, but Fyfe worked hard to reduce G-Banger's chances of a big powerjam. It wasn't enough, though, and G-Banger wound up the jam with 20 points: firmly establishing a confident Mobster lead once again at 98 ' 66. Nonetheless, only 8 minutes had passed, and that gap could easily be closed with one or two powerjams by the Rosies should the opportunity arise.

Despite the disadvantage of their jammer in the bin, the Rosies blockers Ruby Ribcrusher and Acheron Styx made life very difficult for Miss Chivas in the following 2 minutes. When Swish was released back onto the track, the Mobsters scrambled to form a wall. Swish performed an amazing juke around Chuck (no easy feat) ' but time was not on her side, and Miss Chivas called it off after accumulating 9 points. Pony Slaystation, however, received her fourth minor right on the jam's conclusion and went to the box, meaning the next one would begin with a slightly weakened Mobster defence.

Swish and Skate Bush were given a rest while freshly-drafted Rosie, Moxie Emerald, returned with the jammer star. As Fyfe and Styx once again teamed up to recycle Axis of Evon, Moxie struggled to break through her initial pass and Axis deftly got lead jam. The pack was spinning around the track at breakneck speed. Moxie finally got through while Axis had already collected 9 points. Ultimately, the jam came to an unexpected end after an awful triple-tumble in the Mobster contingent: Calamity Maim fell, DeClaire da Pain tripped straight over her and her skate clipped Maim in the head. Finally, G-Banger came around the turn and fell over both of them. Fortunately it looked like Maim, who suffered the worst of the collisions, would be OK.

Several rotations followed with a slow incremental gap growing for the Mobsters who were generally able to break out of the packs quicker. Miss Chivas was having a particularly strong game as a jammer. However, the scales tipped again with 10 minutes remaining, as the Rosies fought hard with the likes of Gilli Pepper providing some solid blocking. After Chuck got sent to the bin in her turn at jamming, Skate Bush tried to even the score in a powerjam but could only muster 9 points due to Scarlett O'Hurta and Pony Slaystation. Again, it was all about the defence, and it thwarted many a powerjam in this evening's battles. Two jams later, though, Bush was able to clock another 10, and soon Swish Cariboom evaded Wednesday Atomz to take the Rosies to the century mark at 100 points to the Mobsters 130. With over 5 minutes remaining, it really could go either way depending on penalties and pack control. Some of the venue lights blacked out ominously, as if on cue above a nervous audience.

Ruby Ribcrusher and Styx persevered in their attempts to open up a hole for Swish Cariboom to sneak through, but once again, Axis of Evon worked her magic and took lead jammer status away, but not for any huge number of points due to Swish's hustle. 3 minutes remained on the clock and bench coach Splatterpuss for the Rosies called for an official review of a minor penalty assessed against not one of her own players, but of The Flying Nun-Chucker ' possibly in an effort to shut down this strong all-rounder by upgrading it to a major, since she was nearing her 7-major limit. However, head ref Harry Spot'er upheld the earlier ref decision and Chuck stayed in the game. After Miss Chivas chipped the lead further out to 143 v 100, a subsequent jam saw Chuck assessed a forearm penalty that in the end meant she did foul out for 7 majors. Fortunately for her it was pretty late in the game for this to damage the Mobsters significantly.

27 seconds remained on the clock when the Rosies called a timeout. Whatever they discussed, we'll never know, but the final jam for the game, and the evening, saw G-Banger suffer one more penalty for a track cut. Skate Bush ' somehow showing little fatigue despite her massive night, sealed in history her role as an astonishing asset to the Rosies by delivering 12 points before the game ended. This result left the Dead Ringer Rosies just shy of the Mobsters, but admirably not far behind, at a score of 114 to the Mobsters 148.

Manning Blanchard Photography

Final Scores

Dolls of Hazzard 171 Toxic Avengers 133

Rock Mobsters 148 Dead Ringer Rosies 114

The atmosphere was electric even as the skaters completed their victory laps. Both games demonstrated a ferocity rarely seen from any of these teams, proving just how much work they've put in to fighting for their spots on the ladder. Candid emotions displayed during the highest of victories and lowest of upsets showed just how significant this event was to all involved. Although penalties were a significant factor in the outcome, what really stood out was the noticeable improvement in blocker strategy and general defensive gameplay, particularly from the Rosies who certainly forced the Mobsters to pull out all stops to stay ahead.

The conclusion of Bout 6 locked in the Rock Mobsters to challenge the Dolls of Hazzard in the VRDL Grand Final, to be held on November 24th at the Melbourne Showgrounds. Tickets are already on sale at Moshtix, so don't miss the ultimate culmination featuring Australia's best athletes in what will be, regardless of who takes home the trophy, a superb celebration of a huge year for Australia's champion league.

Best wishes also go out to Sweet Fighter for a speedy recovery.

The Cleaner

Originally posted at VRDL.orgRe-printed with permission.

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