WESTERN Jets took a body blow in the opening round of the TAC Cup with a shattering after-the-siren, three-point loss to defending champions Sandringham Dragons at Visy Park.
The Jets led at every change on Sunday and seemed destined for a dream start to the season before composed Dragons hero Callum Cathcart propped up seconds before the final siren to earn a set shot and goal under immense pressure to win the game.
Jets coach Steven Kretiuk said fatigue and the brutal nature of the encounter played a major part in his side's inability to close out the game in the fourth quarter.
"To be up all day and go down like that is disappointing. It was a pretty hot game that resembled the AFL style with contested footy and pressure around the ball. They'll be better for the run."
The Jets never truly had the Dragons on the ropes, their lead hovering around the obtainable two-to-three goal range for the most part.
Kretiuk sensed the tide was turning in the second half when errors crept into his side's play and they began to shy away from the game plan that served them so well in the first two quarters.
"In the second half we went away from our structures. We were messy going forward, a bit blase and turned the footy over. That meant we had to work hard defensively to get it back off them and we ran out of legs."
A positive sign is that the Jets got to within a kick of last year's top team without significant influence from up to a dozen players. Too much of the work was carried by too few.
"There were probably 12 guys in that side who could walk away and say they had no impact," Kretiuk said. "That's nearly half the side."
Charlie Nastasi had a game out of the box for the Jets, the nuggety onballer from Spotswood far and away the pick of the midfielders.
He worked tirelessly to win the ball from the stoppages and spread with his quick turn of foot.
The Jets' defence stuck to their task throughout. Sam Critchley, out of the Williamstown Juniors stable, was named best-on-ground for his dominance in the air at centre half-back.
Harley Walshe, another Spotswood product, missed two months of pre-season through injury but played a starring role in the backline, despite the limited preparation.
Jack Walker, out of Melton, offered run and carry off the half-back flank and used the ball with efficiency.
Kretiuk's main focus ahead of Sunday's clash with Oakleigh Chargers at Visy Park is to clean up his side's "dysfunctional" forward line.
Captain Ashlin Brown and key target Spencer White struggled to get into the contest, which robbed the Jets of two important avenues to goal.
Tall forward Thomas Jehle led the Jets goalkickers with three and Josh Bench was busy at the feet of the bigs with two.
Round 1: Sandringham Dragons 8.10 (58) d Western Jets 8.7 (55). Western Jets: Goals: T Jehle 3, J Bench 2, S Critchley, C Nastasi, H King. Best: S Critchley, C Nastasi, H Walshe, J Walker, J McKenzie, D Iaccarino.