NLB GF 2019: How they got here – Eastern Ranges

EASTERN Ranges have had a sensational 2019 season, finishing minor premiers and earning their way into the NAB League Boys decider. The Ranges have a really even team across the board with captain James Ross holding together a stringent defence, Mitch Mellis, Lachlan Stapleton and Zakery Pretty among a host of uncompromising midfielders, and the likes of Jamieson Rossiter and Jordan Jaworski able to hit the scoreboard in the front half. Along with smalls and medium-talls, they also rotate their rucks through the forward line with Riley Smith and Billy McCormack providing tall targets inside 50. We take a look at our round-by-round wrap-ups of each of Eastern’s matches this season.

ROUND 1:

EASTERN RANGES 3.0 | 4.1 | 5.3 | 7.5 (47)
OAKLEIGH CHARGERS 2.3 | 6.9 | 10.13 | 12.16 (88)

In the second game of the double header at RAMS Arena, Eastern Ranges put up a fight before eventually going down to one of the premiership favourites in Oakleigh Chargers. The Ranges booted three goals in the opening term to lead by three points at the first break, before the Chargers hit back in the second term with four goals to one, albeit with inaccuracy plaguing them. They booted 6.9 in the first half, and then 6.7 in the second half, finishing the game strongly and holding the Ranges to just three goals in the last half. Noah Anderson was the clear best on ground with four goals from 26 disposals, while Lachlan Gawel booted two goals for the Ranges. Nick Guiney, Will Phillips and Nick Bryan were named among the best for the Chargers, while Lachlan Stapleton and Cody Hirst were impressive for the Ranges. While the loss would be disappointing, the fact Eastern was able to match it with one of the top teams will give them plenty of confidence going forward.

ROUND 2:

WESTERN JETS 0.1 | 2.4 | 4.4 | 5.4 (34)
EASTERN RANGES 6.7 | 8.11 | 12.14 | 13.19 (97)

Eastern Ranges got the upper hand in an East v. West battle, trumping the Western Jets by 63 points to see both sides move to 1-1. Signs were ominous early as the Ranges skipped out to a seven-goal lead at quarter time, holding it until half-time and building on it in the second half. Mitch Mellis put in a performance good enough for a Draft Central player of the week nomination, collecting 35 disposals, five inside 50s and three goals. Joshua Tilly joined Mellis with three majors, while Lachlan Stapleton won 33 disposals (including 10 inside 50s) and Cody Hirst had 29 of his own. Darcy Cassar was best afield for Western on a dirty day with 31 disposals, nine rebound 50s and seven marks, while Josh Kellett was also handy with 20 disposals and 12 rebound 50s. The Jets will have a third crack at getting on the board next week in their meeting with fellow winless side, Calder, while Eastern is set to open the round against Northern in an interesting match-up.

ROUND 3:

NORTHERN KNIGHTS 2.0 | 3.1 | 3.3 | 3.3 (21)
EASTERN RANGES 3.4 | 6.9 | 8.14 | 13.18 (96)

Eastern Ranges notched up its second-consecutive NAB League win, opening Round 3 with a 75-point drubbing of the Northern Knights. Despite a steady start, Eastern accelerated after half-time – keeping their opponents goalless while pouring on seven majors to finish up comprehensive winners. While Sam Philp, Josh D’Intinosante, and Liam McMahon were the only Knights to hit the scoreboard with first-half goals, the Ranges had an impressive 10 individual goal kickers in the dominant performance. Fresh off his Draft Central player of the week outing, Mitch Mellis again had a day out, collecting 29 disposals and a bag of three goals, with Joshua Tilly the only other multiple goal kicker and Cody Hirst lively for his 19 disposals and lone goal. Skipper James Ross was the leading ball-winner with 30 touches, while Philp (26 disposals, nine tackles, one goal) led the way for Northern on a dirty day from Ryan Gardner (23 disposals, nine marks, six tackles) and D’Intinosante (21 disposals, nine tackles, seven inside 50s, one goal). Yet to claim a win, the Knights host the GWS GIANTS academy next time out in hopes of rectifying that, while Eastern is set for a trip north to face Brisbane Lions Academy on Sunday.

ROUND 4:

BRISBANE LIONS ACADEMY 3.0 | 5.1 | 11.1 | 12.3 (75)
EASTERN RANGES 4.4 | 6.7 | 8.7 | 13.8 (86)

An fighting final term turnaround saw Eastern Ranges earn its third-consecutive win, overcoming the Brisbane Lions academy by 11 points in Southport. Having broken to a 12-point half-time lead, the Ranges were reigned in quickly thereafter as the hosts booted six goals to two to steer clear heading into the final break, but the Ranges turned the two-goal deficit almost completely around as the heavens opened to snatch an unlikely victory. Eastern bottom-ager Salele Feagaimalii had an blinder, taking full advantage of playing full-time midfield to rack up 28 disposals, seven clearances and two clutch final-quarter goals as his side’s best. Fellow 17-year old Joshua Clarke also stood up when it mattered, slotting the goal of the day on the run from 50 as part of his 21 disposals, while Chayce Black was dangerous early up forward, ending with 2.3 behind Ben Hickleton‘s 3.0. For the Lions, Blake Coleman claimed a game-high four goals from his nine disposals, with Tom Wischnat (19 disposals, 3.2) to thank for two of them, while Noah Cumberland also claimed three majors. Skipper Will Martyn lifted from last week’s performance to rack up an impressive 37 disposals and 12 marks, while former-captain Cody Stackleberg was influential with 26 touches and seven inside 50s. With Eastern locked into the top four, a game against another Queensland academy awaits, while Brisbane will look for a second win in its away clash against Sandringham.

ROUND 5:

EASTERN RANGES 1.3 | 2.5 | 9.7 | 11.11 (77)
GOLD COAST SUNS ACADEMY 0.2 | 1.3 | 1.5 | 2.6 (18)

Eastern Ranges made it a double demolition of the Northern Academies at Trevor Barker Beach Oval, downing the Gold Coast Suns academy by 59 points to climb into the competition’s top two. After a first-half arm-wrestle ensued, the Ranges broke the game open with a seven-goal to nil third term to set up their fourth-straight win. Three players did the bulk of Eastern’s scoring, with Bailey White claiming an opportunistic bag of four goals in his first game for the year, while Jamieson Rossiter booted 3.3 in a solid marking display and Ben Hickleton chimed in with 2.4. Another player to find the goals, Zak Pretty, amassed a whopping 37 disposals at 70 per cent efficiency to earn the Draft Central player of the week nod, but was beaten out by dominant ruckman Riley Smith (19 disposals, 37 hit-outs) for best-afield honours. Lachlan Stapleton (27 disposals) and Mitch Mellis continued their good form through the middle, with bottom-age prospect Joshua Clarke impressing off half-back with plenty of dash. Ryan Buckland and Ethan Dawson were the Suns’ only goal kickers for the day, with many of their best players employed further afield. Connor Budarick (27 disposals, 16 tackles) continues to shine on the back of hard work, while Corey Joyce and Dirk Koenen were also named in the best for their roles in defence. The Suns head back home next week to face GWV and see out their NAB League cameo, while Eastern faces a tough task in keeping its win-streak alive against Gippsland in Morwell.

ROUND 6:

GIPPSLAND POWER 4.1 | 8.2 | 9.7 | 12.9 (81)
EASTERN RANGES 5.1 | 7.2 | 9.3 | 11.5 (71)

Gippsland Power ground out a 10-point win over Eastern Ranges to see them continue their gradual climb towards the top of the NAB League ladder, while Eastern remains lodged in the top four despite the narrow defeat. The Ranges got the better of a high-scoring opening term, but Gippsland reversed the six-point margin heading into the main break. With both sides performing well in front of goal and the margin cut back to within four points in the final quarter, a grandstand finish was on the horizon. After Eastern reclaimed the lead with two quick goals, Gippsland powered home with the last three to seal victory. Zak Pretty and Lachlan Stapleton again won a heap of the ball to lead all comers with 28 disposals each for Eastern, with opportunistic forwards Ben Hickleton and Bailey White bagging hauls of three goals. Power captain Brock Smith collected 27 disposals and nine rebound 50s to earn a Draft Central player of the week nomination, with Riley Baldi (27 disposals, seven marks) continuing his solid return to be named amongst the best. Sam Flanders (26 disposals, nine clearances, two goals) was instrumental in helping Gippsland get over the line, with Fraser Phillips (20 disposals, three goals) also finding the ball and big sticks. The Power host Calder next week with an eye on Eastern’s top four spot, as the Ranges set to face Sandringham in their biggest test yet.

ROUND 7:

SANDRINGHAM DRAGONS 4.2 | 4.7 | 6.9 | 6.10 (46)
EASTERN RANGES 3.2 | 4.4 | 6.5 | 8.7 (55)

Onlookers were treated to an enthralling contest down at RSEA Park, with finals aspirants Eastern Ranges grinding out a nine-point win against a gallant Sandringham Dragons. In a tough and uncompromising affair where polish and poise lacked, grit and determination made up for. With the margin at each break never being more than a goal, both teams fought out to the death, with the Ranges breaking away in the final minutes to record a clutch win. Sandringham led at every break and won the inside 50 count 53 to 44, but failed to capitalise on ample opportunities, often bombing the ball in long where it was intercepted by Jack Ross, who was outstanding for the Ranges. Whilst the Dragons midfield, led by Ryan Byrnes and Miles Bergman, seemingly won the clearance count, it was the Ranges outside midfielders Cody Hirst and Connor Downie who delivered the ball to the Ranges forwards with class. Eastern proved the stronger team for longer, willing themselves over the line with some classy use and heroic defensive acts, placing them in the upper echelon of the ladder, with Sandringham rueing missing some straight-forward opportunities that were missed.

ROUND 8:

Bye.

ROUND 9:

EASTERN RANGES 1.4 | 4.8 | 6.12 | 9.16 (70)
GEELONG FALCONS 1.0 | 1.0 | 4.4 | 4.6 (30)

Eastern Ranges consigned the Geelong Falcons to a third-straight loss despite some troubles in front of goal, claiming victory by 40 points to jump into third. The Ranges kept their opponents goalless in the second and fourth quarters, while taking full advantage of the one-way breeze to boot three majors in each of those terms – which proved more than enough. The result could have been blown out far worse had Eastern converted its 25 scoring shots better, but the Box Hill City Oval conditions hardly ever make for pretty football. Mitch Mellis responded to being left out of the Vic Metro side well, collecting a monster 39 disposals, 10 clearances and seven inside 50s in yet another best-afield performance for Eastern. Zak Pretty was next best in the ball-winning stakes with 28 disposals, with skipper James Ross (13 disposals, six marks) solid in defence, Mihaele Zalac (19 disposals, eight inside 50s) showing signs, and Jonte Duffy busy with three goals. Sam Bourke continues to put his hand up for Geelong despite the side’s down form, named best for his 21-disposal effort off half back. Chas Karpala was not far behind with his team-high 24 touches and nine marks, while bottom-ager Cameron Fleeton was impressive alongside Bourke in the back half with 15 disposals and six rebound 50s. Not being massively depleted by the national carnival worked to the Ranges’ favour as they fielded a near full strength side in the face of Geelong missing both of its co-captains. Both sides are set to take part in a MARS Stadium double-header next Saturday, with Geelong opening the show against Sandringham while Eastern clashes with GWV.

ROUND 10:

GWV REBELS 0.3 | 0.3 | 0.5 | 0.5 (5)
EASTERN RANGES 3.1 | 9.4 | 12.6 | 18.8 (116)

New ladder-leaders Eastern Ranges consigned the Greater Western Victoria Rebels to the season’s first goalless score, trouncing them by 111 points at Mars Stadium. The Ranges piled on six goals in the second and fourth quarters while also keeping the home side scoreless in both to set up the big win, with the percentage boost putting them top of the NAB League ladder. While both sides had some key outs coming into the game on the back of Under 18 championship duties, Eastern simply had too much remaining firepower across the board. Jordan Jaworski was the main beneficiary, booting 7.1 in a break-out game for him, while Metro representative Connor Downie put his hand up for re-selection on the back of three goals, and fellow squad member Jamieson Rossiter matched his tally to return to the side with a bang. Zak Pretty again won a mountain of ball to lead the possession stakes, with Tyler Edwards and Wil Parker not far behind to also be named among Eastern’s best. On a tough day for the Rebels, bottom-ager Jack Tillig stood up with 31 disposals as his side’s best, while fellow ’02 birth Fraser Marris was the next best alongside Round 9 player of the week nominee, Riley Polkinghorne. The Rebels will have to wait a week until they can redeem their performance, with a tough encounter against Western up next, while Eastern has the chance to go 2-0 against fellow top four hopefuls, Sandringham in what will be a top of the table clash in Round 11.

ROUND 11:

EASTERN RANGES 2.2 | 4.4 | 7.6 | 8.8 (56)
SANDRINGHAM DRAGONS 1.2 | 3.5 | 5.6 | 5.8 (38)

Sunday’s top-of-the-table clash between Eastern and Sandringham saw little change in terms of ladder position, as the Ranges only strengthened their hold on top spot with an even three-goal win to go four points clear of their weekend opponents. With Eastern holding six and five-point buffers at the first two breaks, the Dragons always looked a chance to come back into the game, but hey were held off well as the Ranges slowly built their lead and kept the dangerous travelling side to just two points in the final term. A difference in firepower ended up being a telling factor, with Ben Hickleton (10 disposals, three goals) and Billy McCormack (19 disposals, 23 hitouts, two goals) stepping up in the absence of Jamieson Rossiter. Jack Bell was the best answer to their efforts for Sandringham up the other end, returning 13 disposals, 21 hitouts and a goal to put his hand up for Metro selection. In the ball-winning stakes, returning Sandringham star Darcy Chrigwin was phenomenal around the ball with a game-high 32 disposals and 16 tackles, with fellow returnee Ryan Byrnes having a steady 21 disposals and Jackson Voss matching his haul in a return to the outside. For Eastern, Jacob Gilbee, Zak Pretty, and Lachlan Stapleton led the possessions but were not named in the best – beaten out by the likes of Tyler Edwards (20 disposals, four inside 50s), Mihaele Zalac (19 disposals, six tackles), and James Ross (15 disposals, five rebound 50s). The Ranges will look to stay top with another win next week against Tasmania on the road, while Sandringham faces Oakleigh in what should be a cracker.

ROUND 12:

TASMANIA DEVILS 5.1 | 6.3 | 7.6 | 8.7 (55)
EASTERN RANGES 4.0 | 6.4 | 7.9 | 11.11 (77)

The Eastern Ranges extended their lead atop the NAB League standings to eight points, becoming the first side in 2019 to hit 10 wins with a 22-point victory over Tasmania on the Apple Isle.

It did not come easy though, with the hosts enjoying a great start on the back of a dominant three-goal opening term from bottom-age forward Jackson Callow. The Devils’ attacking approach saw them get the better of their more fancied opponents to the first break, opening a seven-point gap on the back of a free-flowing period of play. As expected, the Ranges hit back in the second term to edge in front at half time by a single point, but it proved a costly quarter for both sides as Tasmania lost Mitch O’Neill to an innocuous knee injury, while Eastern skipper James Ross was helped from the ground after copping the full force of a late bump. The game continued to tighten up in the third term as the sides shared a goal each to set up a tense finish, with Eastern’s tactical shift in the back half ensuring Callow was kept much quieter. Taking some good momentum into the final term, Eastern would go on to run away with the win with four goals to one, very much proving to be the team to beat.

The instinctual combination between Eastern’s midfield trio of Mitch Mellis, Lachlan Stapleton, and Zak Pretty proved telling, especially after Tasmania lost O’Neill with Mellis named best afield. Joel Nathan‘s role on Callow in the second half with Ross out of the game was crucial, despite the Tasmanian finishing with four goals and edging in front of Eastern’s Ben Hickleton to lead the NAB League goal kicking charts. For Tasmania, Matt McGuinness continued his good form across half back, taking on a greater role with Sam Collins shifting further afield at times. Oliver Davis was again instrumental through midfield, with Will Peppin busy around the ground and Rhyan Mansell dangerous up forward.

Both teams are set to line up in Round 14’s double-header at Box Hill City Oval, with Tasmania opening proceedings against Gippsland and Eastern readying for a top four clash with Oakleigh.

ROUND 13:

MURRAY BUSHRANGERS 3.0 | 5.3 | 9.6 | 11.9 (75)
EASTERN RANGES 5.5 | 9.7 | 11.7 | 12.7 (79)

The Murray Bushrangers fell four points short of a remarkable second half comeback, going down to the ladder-leading Eastern Ranges in a tightly contested game. It was beginning to look elementary for Eastern early on as the Ranges put on 17 scoring shots to Murray’s eight to break to a 27-point half-time buffer. But the third term proved a breakthrough one for the Bushrangers, booting four goals to Eastern’s two to close within striking distance at just 13 points adrift. Another two goals to one was not enough to snatch the win though, with Eastern holding on for its ninth win from eleven games. While Joel Nathan was named best for the winners, Ben Hickleton (eight disposals, four goals) was efficient up the other end alongside Mitch Mellis (22 disposals, seven inside 50s, two goals) to make a profound impact. Zak Pretty matched Mellis’ disposal haul to lead the Ranges in that area, but was beaten out by Murray’s Jye Chalcraft – who led all-comers with 29. Ruckman Will Christie also stood tall with 19 disposals, eight marks, and 25 hit-outs, while Zane Barzen continues to mark everything (nine) and Zavier Maher (15 disposals, one goal) was also serviceable. The Bushrangers, who should cause some headaches for sides above them in the back end of the season, face Northern next for a chance to sneak into the eight, while Eastern hosts Oakleigh in a top four showdown.

ROUND 14:

EASTERN RANGES 4.2 | 6.2 | 9.5 | 11.9 (75)
OAKLEIGH CHARGERS 0.2 | 6.6 | 8.10 | 12.11 (83)

In the second game of the double header, it looked to be a blowout early in the match with Eastern Ranges piling on four goals to zero in the opening term and had six on the board to Oakleigh’s one midway through the second term. The Chargers then roared into action, piling on five consecutive goals to hit the front by the main break. In a see-sawing second half, both sides looked to have a stake in the win, but it was not until Dylan Williams booted a late goal in the final term – as he had done on the eve of half-time, for Oakleigh to be home. While Williams finished with two majors, Cooper Sharman was dominant with four straight goals and 18 touches, looking ever-dangerous. Trent Bianco had a day out with 34 touches and 10 rebounds, camping off half-back and keeping the ball moving forward, while Jeromy Lucas and Will Phillips were among the big ball winners for the Chargers. For Eastern, it was a rare loss for the top-of-the-table side, but Jordan Jaworksi finished with four goals – three in the first half, while Beau Tennant booted three. Lachlan Stapleton was the standout midfielder in the absence of partner-in-crime Mitch Mellis, while Wil Parker and Zak Pretty were also productive in the midfield.

ROUND 15:

BYE

ROUND 16:

DANDENONG STINGRAYS 0.5 | 2.5 | 5.5 | 6.5 (41)
EASTERN RANGES 1.5 | 1.6 | 4.10 | 5.16 (46)

Dandenong fell agonisingly short of snapping its seven-game losing streak, going down by five points to ladder leaders Eastern at Shepley Oval. Six straight goals after quarter time was not quite enough to account for a wasteful 0.5 opening, with the equally wayward Ranges getting over the line after scrounging five behinds in the final 15 minutes to crawl to victory. It was the top-end talent of Dandenong that saw it draw close, with Hayden Young continuing his fine form to collect 26 disposals, six marks and five inside 50s, while Ned Cahill booted two goals from 18 touches, and Bigoa Nyuon was prominent in the air with 20 hitouts and seven marks. Despite their efforts, bottom-ager Clayton Gay (15 disposals, six marks, six tackles, six rebound 50s) was named the Stingrays’ best in a well-rounded performance, with Jack Toner (27 disposals) leading all-comers in the ball winning stakes. For the Ranges, who have now locked in top spot due to a sizeable percentage, skipper James Ross was terrific in a role further afield – collecting 20 disposals, taking seven marks and kicking two goals. Zak Pretty (27 disposals) and Mitch Mellis (24) found plenty of the pill, while consistent tall Billy McCormack (20 disposals, 22 hitouts) proving just that and 16-year-old Tyler Sonsie (20 disposals, five marks, six tackles) acclimatising nicely to the level. With first place all but nailed down, the Ranges move on to face Calder in the ultimate round, while Dandenong will eye off a win heading into Wildcard Round when it meets Geelong to end the regular season.

ROUND 17:

CALDER CANNONS 3.1 | 4.1 | 7.6 | 9.9 (63)
EASTERN RANGES 1.4 | 4.5 | 6.7 | 10.7 (67)

Eastern Ranges snatched a dramatic after-the-siren win over Calder on Saturday to finish the regular season a game clear on top of the ladder. Bottom-age gun Connor Downie proved the hero, slotting home cooly with his twelfth disposal after earning a 50/50 incorrect disposal free kick with just seconds left. Earlier, the Cannons chipped away well to earn leads at two of the first three breaks and looked to have done enough to hold off the Ranges, with Mason Fletcher converting as time ticked away. But in the last roll of the dice play at the end of an action-packed final minute, the Ranges broke forward quickly and created the all-important scramble inside 50 to come up trumps through Downie. The diminutive Eastern midfield trio of Mitch Mellis (26 disposals), Zak Pretty (24) and Lachie Stapleton (23, two goals) was arguably led by the latter in a typically workmanlike display through the engine room, while 16-year-old Tyler Sonsie was also influential moving forward with his 17 touches and two minor scores. For the unlucky losers, Daniel Mott was very nearly a match-winner as he lifted late through midfield to prize a bunch of clearances among his 21 disposals and six inside 50s. State combine invitee Sam Ramsay led the disposal count with 27, while Ned Gentile (20 disposals, 0.3) had some nice moments and Jake Sutton booted a game-high three goals. The result had little bearing on the final ladder and looked to prove as much in the build-up, with results at the other end of the ladder poising Calder against Tasmania in Wildcard Round while Eastern can enjoy a week off.

QUALIFYING FINAL:

EASTERN RANGES 1.6 | 4.6 | 5.10 | 7.10 (52)
SANDRINGHAM DRAGONS 1.0 | 2.2 | 4.4 | 5.8 (38)

EASTERN Ranges are through to the preliminary finals after downing a highly rated Sandringham Dragons outfit at Mars Stadium this afternoon. The Ranges were ferocious from the opening bounce and looked like a side on a mission to show they were every bit the title contender. By the time the final siren sounded, the feeling around the stadium was that there was now four realistic premiership contenders, as an even team performance put them through. Jamieson Rossiter booted four goals, while the Ranges’ midfield was steady as always, but it was such an even contribution that they held firm and got the job done.

Eastern started strongly, but could not seem to miss the post with a remarkable four posters in the first quarter, two from Jordan Jaworski set shots, one from a Billy McCormack snap and one from a Lachlan Gawel set shot, all of which had they been goals could have seen the margin 25 points at quarter time. Instead, it was just six points with the breeze less dominant than the first game, but still just as influential compared to the other end. The only goals in the term came from Eastern’s Rossiter who converted a set shot from straight in front early, followed by a clunk from Miles Bergman in a pack with his shot sailing home. Louis Butler was busy in defence for the Dragons with nine touches and a couple of rebounds, while Ryan Byrnes (seven disposals) was busy in midfield. For the Ranges, McCormack had four inside 50s from eight disposals, while Zakery Pretty (eight disposals) and Mitch Mellis (seven) were just as busy.

With the wind by their side, it did not take long for the Dragons to hit back with the first major after a long shot from Darcy Chirgwin landed short, came off hands and was soccered through by Andrew Courtney to level the scores. But from that point on, the Ranges’ defence was a thing of beauty, not giving the Dragons an inch and rebounding everything that Sandringham threw at them. Lachlan Stapleton was the first to capitalise through a team goal that went from a series of a handballs and he finished off the great team work. Then came a bit of class from Tyler Sonsie with the Under 16s talent marking, playing on and negotiating the breeze perfectly with a violent turn that spun around the post for a major. The term was about to get better as a long shot on goal from Jaworski was marked close to the boundary by Rossiter, who turned and snapped his second and the lead was 18 points. A couple of late behinds – including a disappointing miss after the siren from Jake Bowey drew some choice words from Eastern players as the ladder leaders headed into half-time with a 16-point lead. Early in the term, Sandringham key forward/ruck Jack Bell was stretchered off in the with what looked to be a serious knee injury.

Sandringham looked a different team out in the second half, opening the half with great intent and back into their running game. The likes of Butler, Byrnes and Bergman were getting their hands on the ball and moving it quick, switching it through the middle and getting it inside 50 to set up scoring opportunities. On the other side, Eastern still pressured the ball carrier and had plenty of chances, but like the first term, missed a number of gettable opportunities inside 50. Byrnes set up a goal with a super pass inside 50 to Charlie Dean. While Dean’s shot missed, it gave Will Mackay a crumbing opportunity to snap around his body and boot his side’s third of the day. Another goal came shortly after, again thanks to running from a stoppage by Byrnes which lead to a Blake O’Leary free kick for front-on contact and goal. With the margin back within a kick, Eastern held on for dear life – such as a goal-saving spoil from captain James Ross on the line – and it paid dividends with their constant opportunities eventually getting them a goal on the board through Rossiter who again was clean at ground level, turned and snapped for his third major late in the quarter. The siren sounded with the Ranges 12 points up with the Dragons kicking towards a two-goal breeze but not much in it.

The fourth quarter was an entertaining arm wrestle with nothing in it, and it took a couple of class moments from players to keep the game alive on both sides. First it was Sonsie who received the last handball in a chain of a handballs and kicked it on the run which bounced through. Then it was the defensive work of Joel Nathan and Ross up the other end, such as Nathan’s one-on-one win against Dean under pressure to get it out. Unfortunately for the Ranges, Bergman was there to intercept on the 50m line and his kick sailed over the goal umpires head to put it back in single digits. For the next 10 minutes there was not much that separated the sides as Courtney missed a chance on goal and various Dragons attacks were stopped by the stringent Eastern back six. Instead, a costly 50m penalty with a couple of minutes left saw Rossiter with a free kick and then from the set shot put it through to send his side into the preliminary finals.

Pretty finished with a team-high 22 touches, while Mellis was everywhere with 21 disposals, four inside 50s and five tackles. Rossiter was the most crucial player with four majors in a low scoring contest from just 10 disposals and four marks, while Stapleton (19 disposals, eight tackles) and Connor Downie (18 disposals, two marks) were also impressive. For the Dragons, Byrnes was arguably best on ground with a Herculean four-quarter effort for his side with 27 disposals, four marks, 10 inside 50s and three tackles, setting up his team in any way he could. Butler also played on of his best games with 25 disposals and eight rebounds, while Bowey (14 disposals, four marks and three inside 50s) looked busy throughout.

PRELIMINARY FINAL:

EASTERN RANGES 2.1 | 4.3 | 7.4 | 10.8 (68)
GIPPSLAND POWER 1.2 | 2.4 | 4.7 | 5.8 (38)

MINOR premier Eastern Ranges advanced to the NAB League grand final with a 30-point win over the Gippsland Power at Princes Park. The Ranges fought off every Gippsland challenge to run out comfortable winners in the end, claiming the 10.8 (68) to 5.8 (38) result.

In a slow opener, it was Eastern who edged ahead through goals from Jamieson Rossiter and Jordan Jaworski, with a long-range major to Harrison Pepper splitting the two Ranges efforts. The midfield battle was tight, with Gippsland’s key ball winners doing everything in their power to give their forwards first use. But the Ranges continued to get on top as the scrum-like contest wore on, working hard in general play to lock the ball in their half and create the better opportunities. Their chances were not all taken though, with the 11-point half-time lead not looking nearly as comfortable as the Ranges did out on the field and something they could have gone on to rue. In another two goals to one term, Caleb Serong’s set shot goal was Gipplsand’s sole response to majors from Todd Garner and a beauty from Connor Downie at range heading into the main break.

It took a while for the shackles to break after half-time too, but the Ranges made a brief spell of dominance count as Joshua Clarke broke the early deadlock while Jordan Jaworksi and Callum Norris followed suit. With the margin stretched out to 30 points the Power needed a lift. It came in the form of Sam Flanders up the field, with Nicholas Prowd almost an unlikely hero with two chances on goal, settling for the one major. A silly 50m penalty to Fraser Phillips gave Gippsland a sniff as he converted after the siren. In a familiar scene, it took until the six minute mark of the final term for a goal to be scored, and it came through Ben Hickleton to make things really tough for Gippsland. It was soon all over as Tyler Sonsie slotted home the sealer after Charlie Comben missed the chance to instantly reply, with Rossiter booting another and Serong adding his second just before the final siren.

Lachlan Stapleton led the charge with an equal game-high 28 touches, with bottom-age defender Wil Parker next best on 23 touches and Connor Downie impactful with his goal from 17 disposals. For Gippsland, it was the typical duo of Flanders (28 disposals) and Serong (21 disposals, two goals) who stood up, while Pepper was terrific in defence.

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