NAB League Boys Round 14 preview: U16 talent hits the big time

AFTER a week off for all but two of the NAB League Boys sides, the competition recommences full-time action with a double-header at Box Hill City Oval in Saturday’s lone fixtures. A top-four clash between Eastern and Oakleigh firms as the game of the round, with the Geelong and Greater Western Victoria (GWV) clash set to have an impact down the other end of the ladder. Watch for the debuts of some of the nation’s best Under 16s too, fresh off their National Championship campaigns.

GIPPSLAND POWER vs. TASMANIA DEVILS
Saturday July 20, 11:45am
Box Hill City Oval

A near full-strength Gippsland Power unit will look to pile the pain on Tasmania when they do battle at Box Hill City Oval to kick off Round 14. Both sides are coming off losses, but the Devils have faced a few more challenges over the last four weeks in a string of losses. Results aside, their usual competitiveness has risen in the last fortnight, but Gippsland’s ins make the Power a tough proposition for even a side in the best of form. A massive seven Country representatives return to the side, with the likes of Brock Smith, Sam Flanders, Charlie Comben, and Josh Smith re-forming that strong spine. On the other hand, Tasmania will be without both Mitch O’Neill and competition leading goal kicker Jackson Callow in a big blow to their chances. O’Neill’s class through the midfield will likely be covered by the likes of Under-16 Division 2 MVP Sam Banks and bottom-aged Allies representatives Oliver Davis and Sam Collins, meaning Callow’s goals could prove the most difficult void to fill. The game will be the Devils’ last in Victoria for the regular season, with their remaining two fixtures set to be played at home, while Gippsland will finish off with a couple of country fixtures.

EASTERN RANGES vs. OAKLEIGH CHARGERS
Saturday July 20, 2:15pm
Box Hill City Oval

In what looms as the game of the round, Oakleigh will look to derail Eastern’s charge atop the NAB League ladder when the sides meet to round out Saturday’s action. The Ranges are on a tear, simply finding a way to win in each of their six-consecutive victories dating back to Round 7. Having twice gotten the better of fellow top-four hopefuls Sandringham in that run, they should come into this fixture against a rampant Oakleigh outfit with the confidence to stand tall despite the Chargers’ form. Oakleigh’s attempt to make it seven wins from their last eight outings will be dented slightly by the loss of promising bottom-agers Jamarra Ugle-Hagan, Sam Tucker, and Reef McInnes, but gain some midfield depth as Jeromy Lucas and Fraser Elliot make the 23. Eastern’s key position strength will be tested as skipper James Ross joins Jamieson Rossiter and Joel Nathan as outs, but we should be treated to a glimpse into the future as Metro U16 stars Tyler Sonsie and Tyreece Leiu have been named to make their debuts. Both could feature through midfield, with Metro MVP Sonsie also able to move forward well. It adds another layer to what already shapes as an interesting battle, with the Ranges hoping to maintain their two-game buffer in first place.

SANDRINGHAM DRAGONS vs. DANDENONG STINGRAYS
Sunday July 21, 9:30am
Trevor Barker Beach Oval

A chance to snap losing streaks is up for grabs for Sandringham and Dandenong at Trevor Barker Beach Oval, with both sides sliding out of the top four in recent weeks. The Dragons have been on a three-game slide while Dandenong has lost its last four, and Sandringham could well jump back into the top four should results go their way. The Stingrays’ six changes seems significant, but it pales in comparison to Sandringham’s 13 with a raft of top-end talent going both ways in either starting 23. Dandenong’s ins read well, with All Australians Hayden Young and Sam De Koning slotting back in alongside Country teammates Ned Cahill, Blake Kuipers, and Bigoa Nyuon. On the other hand, the home side regains Fischer McAsey and Miles Bergman alongside over-agers Riley Bowman and Angus Hanrahan, but lose stars on each line in the form of Finn Maginness, Hugo Ralphsmith, Josh Worrell, Louis Butler, and Charlie Dean. The Dragons’ strength of depth has shone through thus far, and should carry them through well in this bout despite Dandenong’s sizeable inclusions. If the Eastern and Oakleigh game is the best of the round, this looks to be a close second with clear finals ramifications in play.

BENDIGO PIONEERS vs. CALDER CANNONS
Sunday July 21, 1:00pm
Queen Elizabeth Oval

The Calder Cannons could shoot into the top four with a win and favourable results elsewhere, but Bendigo Pioneers stand in their way in a meeting set for Queen Elizabeth Oval. The Cannons have enjoyed a good stretch of form, winning in four of their last five outings, with some key talent in the form of Daniel Mott, Harrison Jones, and Brodie Newman set to add a bit of class to the side which is sailing along smoothly. Bendigo has fared a touch differently, but the Pioneers found form well in the last three rounds with two wins and a 10-point loss added to their record. The competition in this game is a little stiffer, but the inclusions of Brady Rowles and Logan Fitzgerald should bode well for their chances of a fifth win. Big man Josh Treacy also returns, named up forward alongside usual full back Will Wallace as the Pioneers shuffle their key position magnets – and they could well be tested in that area given Calder’s ins. Bendigo should make a game of it on home turf, with both sides refreshed after a week off and keen to gain as much ladder position as possible with just three regular season rounds remaining.

MURRAY BUSHRANGERS vs. NORTHERN KNIGHTS
Sunday July 21, 1:00pm
Deakin Reserve

The battle for top eight spots heats up as ninth place Murray hosts eighth place Northern with just four points separating the two sides. Both have enjoyed good bursts of form of late, with Northern on a three-game winning run and Murray’s own streak of three only just broken last round by ladder-leaders, Eastern. Either sides’ true credentials will be revealed as they go close to hitting full strength, while also welcoming some Under 16 talent to their respective line-ups. Kevin Sheehan medallist Josh Rachele is one of those talented 16-year-olds named to play, while Northern boast Darcy Wilmot and Jack Rossimel. In the top-age stakes, Murray look to have replenished well with co-skipper Lachlan Ash returning alongside Cam Wild, while fellow Country representative Elijah Hollands also slots in. For Northern, key midfield cog Adam Carafa goes out alongside Metro teammate Nikolas Cox in a blow to their depth, but the versatility of the side should see the Knights cover their losses. With the top eight make-up truly taking shape in the closing three rounds, this game will prove to be a key one in deciding Wildcard Round fixtures.

GEELONG FALCONS vs. GWV REBELS
Sunday July 21, 1:30pm
GMHBA Stadium

Bottom two sides Geelong and GWV clash at GMHBA Stadium to see out Round 14, with just four wins between the teams heading into the final few fixtures. If history is anything to go by, this is set to be a close one, as the Rebels managed to snatch a one-point win over the Falcons all the way back in Round 2 in a thriller. The stakes are arguably higher in this clash with pride on the line and some notable under-age talent breaking into either starting 23. GWV welcomes Country Under 16 representatives Ben Hobbs and Josh Rentsch, with top-age stars Jay Rantall, Mitch Martin, Toby Mahony also set to really bolster the line-up. Meanwhile, the Falcons are finally set to again field one of their two original co-captains with Jesse Clarke back into the defensive unit, with the likes of over-agers Lochlan Hocking and Sam Christensen getting another crack in the starting team. With limited opportunities to bolster up their win tallies, both sides should give this game a red hot crack on the hallowed Kardinia Park turf.

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