THE cream is rising to the top as the NAB League finals series narrows down to the final four contenders after a pair of hard fought semi-finals. With a host of national and state combine invitees in action, we cast our eye over the weekend’s action to highlight the best-performing invitees in our opinion-based notes.
Sandringham Dragons vs. Calder Cannons
By: Ed Pascoe
#2 Darcy Chirgwin
It was not a huge game from Chirgwin disposal wise but he was still a key cog in the Sandringham midfield where they out-worked their opponents. Chirgwin’s ball use was improved on last week and he made some good composed decisions at stoppages, he used his body well at stoppages and tackled hard when he did not have possession. Chirgwin finished the game with 17 disposals and eight tackles.
#4 Finn Maginness
Maginness was his teams best player playing a great four quarter performance with his work on the inside and workrate around the ground proving unstoppable for the Calder midfielders. The Hawthorn father-son prospect set the tone early winning the hard ball and proving impossible to tackle keeping his feet and firing out handballs, he was too strong to take down and his running too powerful for the Calder midfielders to go with him on the outside. Maginness kicked a classy goal in the first quarter faking his opponent and then kicking the goal on the run, his disposal by foot has never been a strong suit but he was able to hit some good targets especially inside 50. MAginness finished the game with 32 disposals, 5 tackles, 7 inside 50s and a goal.
#5 Ryan Byrnes
Byrnes, despite a slowish start, really hit his straps half way through he first quarter and never looked back, playing a huge game through the midfield in winning plenty of the ball and firing the it inside 50. Byrnes has been Sandringham’s player of the finals so far and the captain played his role well, winning the ball on the inside and working hard around the ground while showing great composure with ball in hand and moving it quickly inside 50 when needed. Byrnes finished the game with 32 disposals and 10 inside 50s.
#6 Miles Bergman
Bergman had a very quiet game by his standards and was well held by Calder’s Ben Overman. Bergman’s poor game was not through lack of effort since he still led hard to provide an option up forward, it was disappointing that Sandringham did not move him into the middle in the last quarter to try and get him some touch going into their preliminary final next week. Bergman finished with four marks and four disposals.
#11 Hugo Ralphsmith
Ralphsmith was the player to take the game away from Calder early kicking three first quarter goals and despite not adding to that tally, still finished the game as one of Sandringham’s most influential players. Ralphsmith was unstoppable both in the air and at ground level taking some strong marks in the pack and on the lead and also swooping on the loose ball which is how he kicked two of his three goals in the first quarter. Ralphsmith seemed to lack a bit of composure after the first quarter just attacking the goals from very situation where he could have looked for his teammates more, still he would continue to show his exciting traits as he finished the game with 19 disposals, eight marks and kicked 3.3.
#13 Louis Butler
Butler again won plenty of the ball in defence providing important rebound for his side. Butler is one of the most consistent defenders in the NAB League having no trouble finding the ball and he proved that again and although it is mostly his attacking side that is highlighted he showed his improved defensive side with some strong tackles. Butler’s ball use was again good but still had some turnovers which he will need to better avoid if he is to get his side into a grand final. He finished the game with 25 disposals, five tackles and five rebound 50s.
#36 Oscar Lewis
Lewis played a different role for Sandringham playing mostly forward and despite not hitting the scoreboard still contributed well. The evasive left footer was energetic up forward both with and without the ball always looking to create with the ball and try and lock the ball in when he did not have it. Lewis finished the game with 12 disposals and seven tackles.
By: Peter Williams
#1 Daniel Mott
The standout four quarter contributor from the Cannons who looked sore towards the end of the game but never stopped trying. He was frustrated with himself when he coughed up a handball on the deck to Dragons’ skipper Ryan Byrnes, but kept pushing hard and was one of the few ball winners from his side in the first term. He produced a lovely kick inside 50 to hit-up Mason Fletcher up one end in the third term, and intercepted a ball in the final quarter but his set shot just missed. He had another snap on goal late and it was bouncing through but touched by Corey Watts on the line.
#8 Sam Ramsay
After a quiet first term, Ramsay found the ball with ease, racking it up in the second half and becoming the main man with Mott tiring. He was working hard to try and create run and carry in the back half and open up the game. At times made mistakes going down the middle such as being chopped off by Byrnes late in the game, but he was doing his best to keep his side alive in the finals series. The biggest disposal winner from the Cannons and equal most on the ground, which was remarkable after only a few in the first quarter.
#21 Harrison Jones
Showed clean hands with a quick handball early in the second term, but the shot on goal from his teammate missed. He had a chance of his own from 55m out straight in front with a huge roost but just fell a few metres short and was rushed across the line. In the third term, Jones tried to create something going forward but ended up spraying the kick inside 50 out on the full, but the next kick was a low drilling kick inside 50. Jones also dropped back into defence at times, taking a nice intercept mark later in the game and switching play.
#38 Brodie Newman
The captain tried hard throughout the game in an often under-siege defence. He was having to back-up his teammates in the air and at ground level trying to maintain composure there, and was doing one percenters throughout the match. He went forward in the final term to try and spark something, doing well in a one-on-one contest against Watts to force a stoppage.
#43 Lachlan Gollant
His day started with winning a free kick for being thrown to the ground with his kick going out on the full, but it got better from there. Not a huge disposal game with just the 14, but his defensive work was very impressive. On a number of occasions he put his body on the line when he had to go and protected the ball drop zone, as well as applying shepherds and bumps when required. In one instant he won the ball, handballed off then shepherded for a teammate to run off half-back, then later on was tackled, had to cough up the ball quickly, but ran down an opponent with a terrific tackle.
#48 Nathan Stewart
Played out of defence and pushed up the ground to be solid overall in the scheme of things. He created some run and quick hands out of the back 50 and along the wing, including a great tackle on Jesse Castan on the wing to win a free kick.
Gippsland Power vs. Western Jets
By: Craig Byrnes
#2 Caleb Serong
It was another consistent four quarter effort from the highly rated Serong, who again topped the Gippsland disposal tally with 27. His stoppage work was a highlight as usual, as his clean hands and strength often gave Power first use with seven clearances. He kicked a lovely running snap goal in the second term, but he could have had an even greater scoreboard impact. He took a leaping overhead mark inside 50 during the third term, but didn’t connect well with the set shot. After keeping the ball in front from a stoppage in the last, he collected to run inside 50 and just missed on his left foot, but still showed the penetration he gets on his non-preferred. A double 50 metre penalty late was a lowlight, but he plays his best footy on the edge.
#4 Sam Flanders
Not as influential as the week before, but the explosive Flanders still produced some eye catching moments throughout the afternoon. His first half was a tad quiet, but was highlighted by a big torp that caused some panic inside 50. He got involved in the third quarter, escaping from a strong tackle at a stoppage, released to a teammate, before getting the ball back and kicking inside 50. His best moment came later in the third when he superbly read the drop of the ball off a pack to gather cleanly and run into an open goal. A solid 18 disposal outing.
#6 Riley Baldi
The inside midfielder was back to his ball winning best for the semi-final, getting involved offensively and defensively. He set the tone in the first quarter with a heavy tackle in the defensive 50, before executing a rundown tackle later in the term. He was smart at the stoppages, reading the drop first as he often does and extracting to the advantage of his side. Baldi spread hard to the flanks and was used to on multiple occasions to deliver inside 50, with a composed left foot pass to Ryan Sparkes during the third term the best of them. He finished the day with 23 disposals to be one of many good contributors.
#10 Leo Connolly
Connolly’s excellent form continued on Saturday as he again took the game on with great intent from the back half. He took a great contested intercept mark in the opening minutes of the game, using smart body work to keep his opponent at bay. He was then on the end of multiple running plays, baulking around opponents and cutting through the corridor with dare before generally executing a pin point pass. He is Power’s go to man in the back half and he rarely lets his teammates down with those dual sided elite skills. Connolly finished with 19 disposals for the game of which most produced long metres to advantage.
#15 Ryan Sparkes
Another Gippsland Vic Country representative who had a more profound impact in the second final, running up and down the wing and hitting the scoreboard. He produced a long metres gained movement in the second term and ran to dangerous positions. What I loved was that he created an option forward, hitting a lovely long set shot into the wind during the third term. Sparkes pushed inside 50 again in the final quarter, finding space in the right hand pocket and finishing well from a difficult position. As usual, he impacted aerial contests at every opportunity with courage and finished with a respectable 19 disposals to go with the brace of goals.
#16 Josh Smith
Again, it was extremely tough conditions for the talls, but Smith always finds a way to impact the contest. He threw his body around in the ruck and at ground level, on occasions looking hell bent on steamrolling through some of the Western midfielders. Some were smart enough to get out of the way, others were not so lucky. You can never question his endeavour, providing an excellent double effort on the wing in the first quarter. While he didn’t dominate, he managed to kick a nice running goal in the third term and played his role.
#17 Charlie Comben
Comben returned to the side after missing the Qualifying Final and was better than his disposal tally of eight suggested. He again provided moments that suggests why he is generating so much attention from a draft prospective. He started in the ruck and won his fair share of hit outs, before often resting forward to provide a target. He clunked an excellent overhead mark in the first quarter inside 50 and provided a second aerial highlight later in the third. At ground level he fought aggressively, laying a physical tackle on Daly Andrews in the first term. An excellent snapped goal under pressure in the final term capped off an underrated performance.
#19 Fraser Phillips
The medium forward had an ok day without setting the game alight. He started with a lovely hit up inside 50 in the opening quarter, but missed a gettable left foot snap shortly after by his lofty standards. It was a difficult wind to penetrate through though, as he kicked another snap across the face later in the day. He took a nice chest mark in the third quarter and kicked truly to finish with a goal and 15 disposals.
#37 Harrison Pepper
The Vic Country representative played arguably his best game of the season, picking off balls from half back for fun and rebounded with vigour. He read the drop of a pack ball brilliantly in the first term, in which he hit up a teammate inside 50 that started things off for him. A great smother, pick up and intercept in the second term earned an applause from the crowd, as he continued to find himself with the ball when it mattered. He was efficient and made really sound decisions, ending with an impressive 25 disposals and seven rebounds.
#7 Daly Andrews
Andrews was one of the best players on the ground, for either side. Starting at the centre bounces, Andrews was dynamic inside and out, providing an early match highlight by kicking a monster goal from outside 50 in the opening minutes. He was able collect cleanly on numerous occasions, sometimes getting his arms high to release or cut through traffic with ease and kick long. The 19-year-old continued to find the ball in the second half, despite Power holding control and he was able to kick a second goal in the final term. He finished with 26 disposals to end his campaign on an individual high.
#18 Emerson Jeka
The big key position forward made the most of his limited opportunities to be one of the Jets better performers. Playing on the miserly Tye Hourigan, Jeka had to fight for everyone one of his disposals. He took a Jonathon Brown style contested chest mark on the wing in the first half, coming over the top of the pack with presence. Not long after he marked on the lead, turned quickly and superbly hit Archi Manton lace out inside 50. Jeka hit the scoreboard in the final term for well earned snapped goal to end with 11 disposals.
#20 Darcy Cassar
The highly rated half back probably hasn’t had the finals series he would have hoped, but was still solid for the Jets on Saturday. With ball in hand he made good decisions and used it well, often getting in space behind the contest. Cassar struggled for options up the line and often had to retreat via handball to ensure his side held possession, finishing with 17 disposals.