Finals preview: Sunday’s games

DS - Josh Battle

Sandringham Dragons vs. Eastern Ranges

Of all the matches this weekend, the clash I am most looking forward to is the Sandringham/Eastern match. The reason for this is because I believe both sides have what it takes to win the flag, but only one of them will survive the first week of finals.

Sandringham is one of the more complete sides in the competition, with a midfield to die for and enough about them at both ends to kick a winning score while reducing the opposition’s ability to score at the same time. For me, Sandringham’s midfield is star studded with the likes of Will Setterfield, Tim Taranto, Ollie Florent, Jack Scrimshaw and Andrew McGrath all floating through there.

All those players are potentially top 30 picks, which is absurd to think that one club could have that many early selections. But what do they have around the ground?

McGrath often drops back and Taranto goes forward, but other than the two stars they do have a few that can more than stand up when called upon to do so. Ari Sakeson at centre half back is one to watch, while the twin towers of Hayden McLean and Isaac Morrisby at the other end will be keen to assert themselves on the contest. Throw in Ashley Krakauer and the constantly improving Hamish Brayshaw and the Dragons are more than capable forward of centre.

The only problem is, they face one of the few teams that could beat them at full strength.

Eastern Ranges were my tip for the flag at the start of the year, but due to missing players and their other football commitments, rarely field a full strength team, thus finishing eighth. Their midfield is more blue collar than Sandringham’s with Dylan Clarke, Callum Brown and Josh Begley winning plenty of clearances and contested ball. Jordan Gallucci is the outside run the Ranges need to win the match, while Adam Cerra has plenty of run and talent.

Their forward line is as strong as any with bottom-agers Sam Hayes, Joel Garner and Jaidyn Stephenson all impressive players. In defence, Jack Maibaum is likely to limit the influence of the Dragons’ key defenders and he is someone who has come on in leaps and bounds the last 12 months.


What is the key to winning the match?

With the both sets of forwards lines likely to get on top of their opposition defences, I feel the midfield will be where the game is won. It might seem obvious, but the team that can get it to its forwards quicker will provide them with more chances to kick bags. Sandringham is probably able to run it out of defence a little easier so Eastern has its work cut out to get it right.

Who could be the difference for each side?

It is hard to look past Andrew McGrath for the Dragons. Clearly a top five pick, he has pace to burn, good skills and breaks lines. If he was six centimetres taller he would be guaranteed top two pick. If he gets off the chain, it is hard to see Sandringham losing.

For Eastern, Jordan Gallucci is the man to watch. In his bottom-age year he was a beautiful kick, but this year he has not hurt opposition sides by foot like he used to, so hopefully finals will bring the best out of him.

What does Sandringham need to do to win?

Sandringham will need to just win the football at the stoppages. They are ahead of Eastern for pace and outside skill, but need to win the majority of clearances, because if Eastern get it forward too often, the Dragons could be in trouble.

What does Eastern need to do to win?

Eastern must get first use of the pill in the middle. They might not have the outside skill Sandringham have, but they have the inside muscle to dominate the contested ball. They simply must do it and get the ball forward as fast as they can to win it.

Who will win?

Sandringham will go in favourites and I think they will get the job done in a very close match. We know Eastern can really dominate on their day and I feel this could end up a shoot-out with their respective forward lines.

Tip: Sandringham by 8

Dandenong Stingrays vs. Murray Bushrangers

It is always exciting when two premiership contenders clash and that is exactly what will happen on Sunday afternoon when the Stingrays face the Murray Bushrangers at Ikon Park. The Stingrays have finished on top of the TAC Cup ladder and will rightfully head in as favourites, but the Bushrangers have enough firepower, particular at either end to get the job done.

Dandenong’s defence is what sets it apart from other sides. The Stingrays have the likes of Reece Piper, Bailey Morrish, Oscar Clavarino and Hunter Clark, all of whom are expected to be drafted in the next 18 months. Throw in Mason DeWit and Luke Dalmau who are also possible chances and the defence is a rock solid back six.

Through the midfield Myles Poholke and Sam Fowler and talented players who can drift forward and kick goals, with Fowler more of a forward/mid, with Poholke the opposite. Over-ager Tom Jok will be keen to show how he’s improved over the season, while Lachlan Gill-Renouf also finds plenty of the football through the middle. Up forward, Josh Battle is the most watched player, as a strong contested grab and reliable set shot, the smart key forward will be a barometer for the Stingrays inside 50. Tom De Koning is a bottom-ager, but already he has shown he is more than capable of kicking a bag on his day, while Dan Allsop and Aaron Darling cannot be allowed too much space.

The battle in the ruck will be interesting when Dylan Atkins takes on the athletic Esava Ratugolea. Ratugolea will look to give the Bushrangers midfielders first hands, with Will Brodie sure to be there at the coal face. The ever reliable top five pick will put in a strong performance, in a midfield with big ball winners who can drift forward and impact the scoreboard such as James Cousins, Louis Pinnuck and Isaac Wallace.

Murray also has a formidable forward line with top 10 pick Todd Marshall standing at centre half forward, while Max Lynch will rotate between full forward and the ruck. Trent McMullan could become an option if the Stingrays get on top of the key tall timber, while Lachlan Tiziani and Charlie Spargo will make the most of their opportunities.

Up the other end, Zach Sproule will have a tough job containing Battle, while Harry Morrison and Ryan Garthwaite will be the guys that players look to get the ball into the hands of coming off half-back. Overall, the Bushrangers have a consistent line-up across the park.


What is the key to winning the match?

Winning the one-on-one battles will be the difference in this game. There are so many good one-on-one matchups, beginning with Atkins and Ratugolea in the ruck, Poholke and Brodie in the middle, Marshall/Lynch and Clavarino/Dalmau, Battle and Sproule and Piper and Tiziani. The side that wins the most one-on-ones in these key duels will win. They are all talented players who can make the difference for their respective sides and that is what will be telling in this match.

Who could be the difference for each side?

Josh Battle is a barometer up forward for the Stingrays, and if he can get off the chain against Sproule, then he could cause Murray some real headaches in the match.

For Murray, Will Brodie is the star of the show and he will need to assert his authority on the contest and beat Poholke at the coal face to ensure his team gets plenty of supply up forward.

What does Dandenong need to do to win?

Dandenong needs to play smart football, because both teams’ defences are sound, but the Murray forward line is very dangerous. The Stingrays need to play an entertaining, fast brand of football to keep the Bushrangers on edge, but be prepared for the counter attack that Murray could produce, with several long kicks in the back half who can really roost the ball over a zone defence.

What does Murray need to do to win?

Murray must make the most of their inside 50s. Dandenong’s defence is the best of the finals teams and the reason why they have finished on top of the ladder. Murray cannot afford to just bomb the ball in, because of how well the Stingrays’ back six operates. The Bushrangers will need to lower their eyes and hit up targets with precision.

Who will win?

I have no idea. That was brutally refreshing wasn’t it? But in all seriousness, you look at this clash and think on one hand, Murray have some of the best tall timber in the league and a strong inside midfield, but you look at Dandenong and think they have the best defence and are capable of stopping the Bushrangers’ forwards. Based on recent form, I will go for Dandenong in an absolute thriller.

Tip: Dandenong by 1.

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