VIC Country kept its perfect 2019 National Championships record in tact with a heart-stopping one-point win over South Australia at on Sunday. We were on hand at GMHBA Stadium to note the standouts from either side – and there were plenty – with the opinion-based notes that of each individual writer.
By: Michael Alvaro
#2 Caleb Serong
Again led from the front for Country, posting fantastic numbers as a constant in the midfield. Serong showcased his inside qualities, making up for a lack of height with his clear strength and intensity around the ball to prize out 10 clearances in all areas of the ground. Given over half of his possessions were contested, Serong’s kicking was compensated at times with some clearing balls skidding along the turf and others ending in turnovers or throw-ins. Still has obvious class though and looks neat with more high percentage kicks, but had a bit of a down day in that area. That still doesn’t take away from his outstanding performance, and he could have ended up with a couple of goals to cap off the display had quick snaps had he put away some his quick chances. Just works so hard and looks tireless, making him a reliable commodity with good versatility.
#3 Cody Weightman
The livewire Stingrays small forward was electric once again for Country, posting his second four-goal haul of the carnival. He is just so dynamic inside 50, hunting the ball and his opponents at ground level, while also flying hight to compound the threats he presented. Weightman’s desperation showed, as he was simply more hungry for the ball in an aerial duel against three opponents in the first term, bringing it to ground. His first goal came with a straightforward mark on the lead and set shot conversion, backing it up with a more typical finish over the back just before the quarter time siren to have two early on. While he looked most likely inside 50, Weightman did well to also find the ball up the ground as the game progressed, but ran forward hard to get free once again. He snared a third goal in the second term with a clever steal in the goalsquare, and added a fourth after half time with a left-footed snap, while also almost producing another highlight as he smothered and hit the post with the ball he won in the final term. Really rising among the small forward stocks.
#4 Sam Flanders
Was brilliant again through the midfield alongside partner-in-crime, Caleb Serong. Has real athleticism and burst at the stoppages to go with his clean hands, allowing him to provide real drive going forward – as shown in his 10 inside 50 entries. Spent some time forward where he looked just as comfortable, using his sizeable leap to mark well overhead and get to a number of contests. A finished product was the only thing lacking for Flanders in those stints, but he did find the goals in the final term with a neat checkside conversion from his holding the ball free kick. Has really adapted well to his midfield minutes and it looks a primary role for him now, with so many weapons to turn to athletically and skill-wise.
#6 Riley Baldi
Was not as prolific in terms of ball-winning as he has been lately, but still made a steady contribution when running through the engine room. Is a hard worker at the stoppages with his willingness to run both ways – tackling well when he isn’t scooting away with ball in hand and onto his left foot. Initially caught the eye with a tackling effort on the wing to earn a free kick, and then started the second half brightly with the first clearance as he moved into the centre bounce. Continued to accumulate from there, and popped up again in the final quarter with a precise kick inside 50 to find Lachie Williams – which is something he seems to have added to his arsenal.
#9 Isaac Wareham
The Rebels defender proved to be a shrewd inclusion for Country, adding to the class across their back six despite not being a huge ball winner. Wareham’s point of difference to his aerially-apt teammates is his ground-level game, mopping the ball up well with clean hands and flicking it on quickly to alleviate any previous danger. Had some nice moments in the final term as he came into the game with some dashing bursts forward, proving an effective mover of the ball out of the defensive half and one-touch below his knees.
#12 Lachlan Ash
It was a typical day out for the Country co-captain, gaining serious meterage with his line-breaking speed and elite kicking skills. Ash’s impact early on came in the air with superior reading of the ball in flight to intercept, recovering well on one occasion as he spilt the mark to move forward. He had a hand in Cody Weightman’s late goal in the first term with a run from half back, which proved a sign of things to come. Ash would go on to accumulate well across half back – positioning smartly, swooping on ground balls, and zipping through traffic at speed to release long balls into Country’s attacking half. His previous work culminated in a couple of unreal plays in the final term, with the first a three-bounce run which he couldn’t quite finish off from 50m. The second proved a game-winner, as Ash backed himself to take on an opponent on defensive wing, burn him off through the corridor and deliver a pin-point pass to Brodie Kemp inside 50 with two opponents closing fast. Ash’s ability to take on such responsibility and create the chance was incredibly impressive, and makes him a real leader.
#13 Jay Rantall
Was one who popped up in patches throughout the game despite consistently featuring at stoppages, catching the eye most as he broke from congestion. Is really starting to come into his own in the midfield, with a strong athletic base boding well for his breakaway traits and bursts forward. The kick on the end of such plays was the only slight issue with Rantall’s game, spearing a couple of stray passes going inside 50 despite looking stylish while delivering at full stride. One of those kicks across the 50 arc ended up coming off as Cody Weightman found the goals, and Rantall almost booted his own major in the third term on the run. Has so much upside and a wealth of nice traits, making him a prospect who is easy on the eye but still developing.
#16 Brodie Kemp
Was the hero of the day, slotting an ice-cool set shot with the last kick of the game to give Country a miraculous win. While Kemp’s strong overhead mark and clinical conversion was the talking point at the final siren, he had already proved his worth earlier in the day. The big-bodied Bendigo product finally enjoyed an extended run through the midfield and was even used forward on the back of his strong overhead capabilities, amassing 27 disposals, seven marks, five clearances, and four inside 50s. Kemp’s cleanliness in snapping up the ball and using it by foot made him so effective early on as he accumulated strongly, working well at stoppages and linking into the forward arc in general play. He just seemed to get into the right spots and made the most of each touch, exemplified best with his game-winning play. Will be moving up draft boards on the back of his versatility and one-touch ability, and will look to finish off the carnival strongly on Wednesday.
#17 Hayden Young
Was one of Young’s quieter games given the lofty standard he has already set, but he still managed to get his rebound game going and won a good amount of ball. The Stingrays product positioned well inside defensive 50 to get on the last line, and worked hard to find space after delivering kick-ins. His kicking game is usually arguably the best of anyone in this year’s draft pool, but Young tended to more often play the percentages with his long-range kicks down the line or into space – showing good decision making but not necessarily always hitting a direct target. You always sensed that Young was hanging around when a Country player marked at half forward, wanting the hand-off to launch a bomb towards goal. He managed to get a couple, but they didn’t quite come off with one shot being smothered straight off the boot. A solid outing, and hardly made a mistake as per usual.
#24 Brock Smith
Smith was ultra-impressive deep inside defensive 50, intercepting well in the air with good judgement while also mopping up the ground balls. He hardly loses a one-on-one, backing up much of the niggle he engages in with his direct opponents as a typical defender. Smith was also composed in possession, using the ball efficiently by foot from defensive 50 and just seems to be a really calm outlet for whichever side he plays in. An important part of a very talented Country back six, providing physical presence and good defensive traits on top of his skill.
#36 Sam De Koning
De Koning was fantastic in the air as a permanent key defender, leaping to intercept almost everything that came his way – whether it was through strong marking or an assured fist. The dynamic tall was as competitive as I’ve seen throughout his top-age year, closing quickly on opponents and leaping well to get to contests he had no right to. Looks to have finally found his position having been tried up forward and through the ruck, with his reading of the play and athleticism making him one of the more exciting key defenders this year.
#40 Charlie Comben
Took on his usual duties in the ruck, winning a game-high 22 hitouts. Comben has been somewhat of a surprise packet during the carnival, and continued his form with some solid contested marks and competitive follow-up work. Showed his marking traits off early with a nice overhead clunk on the lead up to his forward 50, followed by another up the other end from a kick-in. With his aerial prowess in mind, Comben also positoned a kick behind the play on his forward 50 arc for the rushed rebound kick, despite it not coming off on numerous occasions. Capped off a decent day with a terrific chase on Corey Durdin to halt an exciting run and effect the bottom-ager’s shot on goal.
By: Craig Byrnes
#7 Dylan Stephens
A solid outing by the highly rated wingman, who did most of his good work on the outside of the contest. He has some class with the footy and can move through congestion with ease. He was able to run and carry forward of centre, particularly early, highlighted by a brilliant goal in the first term which he calmly slotted after running and bouncing at speed. He has some genuine composure, but perhaps tries to take on to much by foot on occasions and was one of many victims of the skinny GMHBA Stadium boundaries throughout the day by kicking it out on the full in the third term. Stephens finished the day with 20 disposals.
#10 Josh Shute
Another South Australian wingman with some impressive outside tricks who is a lovely modern size at 187cm. Shute caught the eye early with an outstanding smother in the first term which he followed up to collect and kick inside 50 to a dangerous position. He is a one touch player and clean under pressure, but the attribute that’s really exciting is his willingness to take on his opponent. He had multiple moments throughout the day where he’d use a simple side step or candy sell to make the opposition over commit and he was off in no time. He worked hard to create an option in space too, taking 10 marks. While he still has some work defensively, Shute’s 19 disposals had impact.
#12 Will Day
Despite a light 70kg frame, Day is a real goer who will throw his body toward the ball in any situation. He started really well, attacking the in dispute footy and rebounding with penetration. He is equally capable in the air as he is on the ground, creating the flexibility to play on different sized players in the back half. His seven rebound 50s were an equal match high, but he also managed to link further up the ground and find the ball forward of centre. A rangy type who is really starting to win some admirers, he ended the day with 24 disposals.
#15 Harry Schoenberg
This guy is having an outstanding individual tournament and is flying under the radar to an extent. He set the tone for South Australia in the first term, winning 12 disposals and while 10 were handballs, his touches were relevant. He is really clean inside and has sharp hands, perfectly shown in the first term when he executed a fast link up escape in the defensive 50. He is quicker than he looks and possesses some explosive attributes to evade tackles, giving a “don’t argue” fend and hip flick in the term third to get away from an opponent. He finished the day with a team high 32 disposals and six clearances to again be one of South Australia’s better performers.
#18 Jackson Mead
The Port Adelaide father/son prospect produced a real eye catching match, getting involved during defining moments and lifting when the game was on the line. He was clean on the inside and influential on the spread, showcasing both elements in the first half when he won a clearance, carried the ball and superbly hit a target inside 50. He ran both ways, helping the defensive unit when he could and getting in dangerous positions in the front half. He went up a gear in the final term kicking two goals, the first a superb bending snapped finish that got the South Australians up and about. 22 disposals, four clearances and scoreboard impact meant that Mead was arguably one of the most influential players on the day.
#19 Luke Edwards
The son of former Adelaide champion Tyson, Luke is a potential father/son option for next year, but speculation continues to grow that he may opt to nominate for the open draft. With plenty to play out until then, the talented bottom ager is currently playing some outstanding footy and looking like being one of the better 2020 prospects. He again found himself behind the ball on Friday, intercepting, rebounding and often starting dangerous scoring chains. He took an excellent intercept mark in the third term which set up a goal for his team at a vital time. Edward’s ended the game with 23 disposals and is looking more comfortable with every game.
#20 Lachlan McNeil
An inside midfielder who does a lot of heavy work at ground contests, both offensively and defensively. He puts his head over the ball and fights, ensuring that he has a physical impact with or without the ball. While he isn’t the prettiest player in the South Australian side, you know what you are going to get and I suspect Tony Bamford would lock him in to complete his role successfully every game. He is solid overhead too, taking an excellent mark under pressure in the defensive 50 during the tense third term. A solid return again, finishing the game with 23 disposals, six tackles and three clearances.
#24 Will Gould
The intercept defender with the thick set and booming right foot is well on track to become a dual All Australian, after producing a near best on ground performance against Vic Country. It is the first time I’ve seen him live and boy does he provide a physical, almost scary presence when the ball is in his area. He controlled the back half with his ability to read the play and make smart decisions to pick the ball off at will to win 26 disposals. In the second term he competed for a difficult aerial contest and despite being out of position, won the ground ball to highlight his determination. Gould had some huge moments in defence during that manic fourth term, but with the game on the line he managed to win the ball forward of centre and give South Australia the lead with a brilliant running goal from just inside the arc in the final minutes. Vic Country ultimately got that goal back to win, but Gould gave recruiters the best evidence possible that he is a big moment star.
#33 Dyson Hilder
Another South Australian defender who had a large say, the 196cm key position player continues to gain fans with his consistent performances. While he dropped a mark he would usually take in the first term, he barely made another error for the rest of the day. He reads the drop of the ball so quickly, often coming off his man or using excellent body work to protect the position he wants to be. He out bodied the much heavier Josh Smith on multiple occasions and was so calm in difficult situations late in the game. He took some great intercept marks when his side really needed it and made great decisions by foot too. You get the feeling he is one of the best KPDs available in 2019.
#35 Karl Finlay
The South Australian defensive unit is really well credentialed and Finlay was another to impress at GMHBA Stadium on Friday afternoon. Finlay is a little shorter than your modern key position type at 192cm, but he has the flexibility to play on smaller players and is loves to have a say aerially. He really lifted in the second half, taking multiple contested intercept marks and complimented, Gould, Hilder, Edwards, Day and the like perfectly. He flies under the radar a tad like a few South Australians, but he just continues to tick so many boxes.