THE Eastern Ranges and Oakleigh Chargers advanced to the NAB League grand final after comprehensive preliminary final victories on Saturday at Princes Park. Before they do battle at the same venue a week later, we take a look at the standout combine invitees and under-agers players from all of the final four sides in our opinion-based scouting notes.
Oakleigh Chargers vs. Sandringham Dragons
By: Ed Pascoe
#4 Nick Bryan
Bryan had one of his better games for the year hitting 15 disposals in a game for the first time. Despite looking calm with the ball around the ground some of his kicks where rather laconic so there is certainly room for improvement there. His hitout work again was great, often giving his midfielders first use. Bryan finished the game with 15 disposals, five marks and 21 hitouts.
#5 Trent Bianco
The Oakleigh captain was again all class for four quarters, patrolling the wing and back flank, winning plenty of the ball and using it incredibly well. Bianco’s kicking especially on both feet is perhaps one of the best in the NAB League as he often picks the right option and weights his kicks perfectly – one kick he had inside 50 in the third quarter was particularly sublime. Bianco had a complete performance finishing the game with 27 disposals, six marks, five tackles and five inside 50s.
#8 Noah Anderson
Anderson was kept goalless for the first time this year in Oakleigh’s first final but he was back to his damaging best kicking three goals and making it look easy. Anderson was again solid through the midfield showing great composure with ball in hand and using the ball well by hand and foot. Anderson’s first goal was a solid set shot from 45m and second was an easy goal running into open goal but his third was the best showing confidence to go back and kick a huge set shot from 55m. Anderson finished the game with 23 disposals, four marks and three goals.
#9 Will Phillips
Phillips backed up his impressive game in the first final to once again make an impact in the preliminary final, showcasing his ability to find the ball and use it well, also showing great movement in traffic and composure with ball in hand. Phillips has been playing mostly on the wing where he does well but he looks most natural winning his own ball and exiting the stoppages with his acceleration out of traffic and ability to weave through congestion and hit a target by hand or foot. He can also impact the contest with his strong tackling which he also showcased against Sandringham, Phillips finished the game with 27 disposals and eight tackles.
#11 Matt Rowell
Rowell had a slow start but finished the game extremely strongly as usual with his work rate first class, ability to attack the contest all day and tackle hard as well. Rowell just continues to power through with his strength at the contests and willingness to win the ball and extract it for is teammates but he works equally as hard to cover the ground and help out. Rowell showed off his great acceleration getting away from his opponent but just missing a goal on the run, it was a tough kick and the effort to even get the kick away was eye catching. Rowell finished the game with 32 disposals, five marks, six tackles and five inside 50s
#15 Kaden Schreiber
Schreiber enhanced his draft stocks with an eye catching display on the wing winning plenty of the ball and showcasing his ability to hit targets with his trusty left foot. Schreiber started the game well getting involved willing to get his hands dirty and although his handballs at times lacked penetration he did well to get in positions to bring teammates into the game. Schreiber was a solid four-quarter player winning plenty of the ball and working well offensively and defensively showing good courage with an intercept mark in defensive 50. Schreiber finished the game with 24 disposals and eight marks.
#25 Jamarra Ugle-Hagan
Another dominant outing from the 2020 draft prospect who is tied to the Western Bulldogs’ NGA, the talented key forward was again the clear standout key forward with his speed off the lead and marking power too much for Sandringham to handle. Ugle-Hagan had a great start taking two great lead up marks an converting both set shots but his best goal came in the third quarter marking deep in the pocket and kicking a sensational goal right on the siren. His last goal came easy in the last quarter with a mark and quick kick in the goal square. Ugle-Hagan finished the game with 12 disposals, nine marks and kicked 4.2 with a few on the full as well.
#29 Finlay Macrae
It would seem a second Macrae is on the horizon in the AFL with 2020 prospect Finlay playing a fantastic game showing his class and composure. Macrae’s best bit of play came in the second quarter selling a bit of candy before kicking a perfect pass inside 50 to teammate Cooper Sharman, Macrae found it easy to find space around the ground and use the ball superbly by hand and foot. Macrae finished the game with 22 disposals, nine marks and six inside 50s.
#73 Cooper Sharman
Despite not having a huge game Sharman was able to showcase why he was invited to the national combine with some great bits of play and showing his solid set shot technique. His first goal came from a free kick in the second quarter converting an easy set shot from 30m and he kicked the last goal of the game from a great pass from teammate Will Phillips then converting the set shot from a slight angle. Sharman looked at his best early in the game presenting up the ground and showing some nice plays on the wings. Sharman finished the game with seven disposals and two goals.
By: Craig Byrnes
#2 Darcy Chirgwin
The tall midfielder started at the first centre bounce and began the contest really well, gathering 11 disposals in the opening quarter. His hands were clean and he moved through traffic with ease at times, highlighted by a couple of stylish side steps. He made an awful error late in the first term, turning the ball over in the defensive 50, but there was certainly more good than bad. As Oakleigh took control in the second and third quarters, Chirgwin wasn’t sighted as often, but he finished the game off well to end with a respectable 22 disposals.
#4 Finn Maginness
It was an uncharacteristically quiet game from the Hawthorn father-son prospect, who struggled to get involved when Oakleigh was on top. When he did win the ball, he was able to get clear from the stoppage and get the ball long inside 50 on occasions. There were times when he lacked options though, which lead to him being chased down in the corridor during the third term. He would only finish the game with 13 disposals, but he has shown more than enough throughout the year for the Hawks to know they have a good one on their hands.
#5 Ryan Byrnes
On a dirty day for the Dragons, the prolific Byrnes still found a way to get involved and win plenty of the footy. He just knows how to get in ball winning positions and is often used as a dangerous conduit to enter the forward 50. He possesses underrated pace from congestion and uses the ball well on either side of his body. As we have become accustomed to, Byrnes finished the day as Sandy’s leading ball winner with 23.
#6 Miles Bergman
This guy is a really exciting talent. Starting forward, Bergman took a strong mark on the lead in the first term before launching a set shot goal from outside 50. It was an impressive start and while he didn’t win mountains of the ball, the eye catching AFL attributes continued to emerge as the day went on. Some smooth movement through traffic in the second term was not long followed by a lace out 55 metre pass inside 50 to set up a goal to Hugo Ralphsmith. During a play in the second half, he sold some candy and side stepped an opponent without fuss, before kicking long to advantage. You can add courage to his list of qualities too, as he threw himself with the flight of the ball to impact an aerial contest late in the day, despite his side being done and dusted. 14 touches and a goal doesn’t sound too exciting, but Bergman passes the eye test with flying colours.
#11 Hugo Ralphsmith
It was a tough day for a Sandringham forward to get involved, but Ralphsmith always looked a likely option whenever the ball entered his area. He attacked the aerial contests and got in dangerous scoring options when Sandy won the ball forward of centre. He took some nice overhead marks and could have easily finished with more than one goal, kicking three behinds of which a couple were very convertible set shots. His one goal was a stylish banana finish though, after being on the end of a superb Bergman hit.
#13 Louis Butler
The ball winning half-back did not start the game in great fashion, missing an easy target in the pocket which resulted in a goal for Oakleigh. From then on his ball use was much better, picking out safe options in the corridor and down the line. He spent more time in the midfield as time went on, winning a couple of excellent ground balls in the final term with his head over the ball. He finished the game with 19 disposals.
#14 Kyle Yorke
Yorke is a bit of an old school key position forward who can mark, kick and importantly has some goal sense. Playing in front, he took an easy overhead mark in the first quarter and converted the set shot from close range directly in front. In the second term he got involved again, collecting the ball in the left hand pocket and superbly executed a dribble kick from the angle for a second.
Eastern Ranges vs. Gippsland Power
By: Ed Pascoe
#7 Lachlan Stapleton
It was another typical game from Stapleton, showcasing his hard edge at the contest in winning the contested ball and tackling hard to once again be an important cog in the Eastern Ranges midfield. Stapleton was a strong four-quarter player, putting his body on the line all day and moving quickly to either win the ball at a stoppage or hit the opposition with a hard tackle. Stapleton finished the game with 22 disposals, eight tackles and four inside 50s in a great performance to keep enhancing his draft stocks.
#11 Mitch Mellis
Mellis was again a hard worker for Eastern Ranges, setting the standard with his two way running and willingness to take the game on and create. Mellis although not hitting the scoreboard as much as recruiters would like is doing great work to set up countless forward forays with his speed with ball in hand. Mellis finished the game with 21 disposals and four tackles.
#13 Jamieson Rossiter
Rossiter again was Eastern’s main target up forward and once again was able to hit the scoreboard and make an impact from his limited disposals. He came out with good intent with a strong tackle inside 50 to lock the ball in and soon after would take a nice lead up mark and slot the set shot from 25m with not much angle. He would set up a goal in the third quarter with a nice turn and handball to Jordan Jaworski running into open goal and he finished his game converting a set shot from a downfield free kick. Rossiter finished the game with nine disposals, four marks and two goals.
#19 Wil Parker
The young defender Parker was cool, calm and collected with his ball use a real feature coming out of defence. Often tasked with the kickouts, his ability to sum up his options and hit a target was superb. Not just a designated kicker and runner, he also showed he could take an intercept mark with a well read mark in the first quarter. Parker’s composure was sensational, often picking the right option instead of blazing away and his ball use from defence was a big reason for Eastern winning the game. The talented Parker finished the game with 23 disposals, six marks and eight rebounds.
#20 Connor Downie
The Hawthorn NGA prospect for the 2020 draft continued his fine form in this years finals series with another stellar game on the wing, showcasing his ability to get around the ground and cause havoc with his silky left boot and marking ability across the ground. Downie would show his class with a long goal on the run from 50m in the second quarter after receiving a handball from a teammate, and Downie glides across the ground well and looks to have great athleticism to go with his skill. Downie finished the game with 18 disposals, six inside 50s and a goal.
#52 Tyler Sonsie
The 16-year-old sensation would get a rude awakening getting matched up on dour defender and Gippsland captain Brock Smith, showing how dangerous Sonsie can be to get the quality defender to curb his influence. Smith ruffed up Sonsie early not giving him an inch and testing the young player, but Sonsie would show his class with a brilliant pick up and turned his opponent inside out to hit a nice kick out wide. Smith would sit out the rest of the game, which allowed Sonsie off the leash to quickly hit the scoreboard in the second term for only a behind, he would finally kick a goal in the last quarter with a nice snap, and Sonsie finished the game with 11 disposals while kicking 1.2.
By: Craig Byrnes
#2 Caleb Serong
Serong started the game hot, collecting numerous inside possessions in the opening minutes and getting in ball winning positions. He used his body to advantage and got the ball forward when he could. He gave his side a sniff in the second term, running down an opponent inside 50 before converting the set shot to get Gippsland within a goal. As the Ranges took control, Serong’s influence lessened, but he hit the scoreboard again late to finish with a respectable 21 disposals and two goals. He has almost locked himself a top five position now and is a big chance to be playing senior footy early 2020.
#4 Sam Flanders
It was another bullocking performance by Flanders who has enhanced his reputation further with a massive finals series that may now have him in top five contention. He was explosive at the stoppages, at one point handballing to himself (I’m not sure whether deliberately or not to be honest) before collecting and kicking long inside 50. He’s become a genuine two-way midfielder now and has a natural feel on how to impact the contest offensively and defensively. Flanders has much improvement to come in an AFL environment too, he is going to be great fun to watch develop.
#6 Riley Baldi
The inside midfielder was solid at the contest again, but was arguably more influential on the spread as he won the ball on the flanks and made good decisions. He isn’t blessed with pace, but makes up for that with smarts and finds a way to get away from his opponents. He has courage in the air too, going back with the flight during the second quarter to impact a contest. He finished with 23 disposals to match his NAB League average and prove again how reliable he is.
#15 Ryan Sparkes
Sparkes has had some great games throughout 2019, but I feel Saturday’s effort was one of his best for the season. Starting on the wing, he ran hard up and down the ground to provide a target or impact any contest he could. He won a brilliant ground ball in the second term, before kicking long inside 50 to advantage in a rare Power attacking foray. When Brock Smith went down with a shoulder injury in the first half, Sparkes took it upon himself to help out in the back half. He seemed to intercept and rebound at will in the fourth term, impacting aerial contests and running offensively when the opportunity presented. One of Gippsland’s highlights on a disappointing day, finishing with 26 disposals.
#17 Charlie Comben
It certainly was not one of Comben’s better days, but he wasn’t alone. He took an excellent reaching contested mark in the first term, but that was about as good as it got for Comben. Riley Smith had the better of him in ruck, while he lacked supply inside the forward half. Despite that, I love what he offers and I doubt there are many more talls in the draft who have a higher ceiling. An AFL club could land themselves a bargain here.
#19 Fraser Phillips
The highly talented Phillips was in and out of the contest, but provided some eye catching moments as he always does. He took a nice lead up mark early and a long running kick inside 50 during the first term. He earned a 50m penalty and kicked a vital goal after the siren on three quarter time to keep Power alive, but couldn’t have an impact in the final term. Didn’t have the finals series he would have liked, but was one of the leading goal kickers in the NAB League with 28 majors and has the scope to develop rapidly once in that AFL environment. He has many admirers.
#37 Harrison Pepper
Another outstanding final by the thick set defender, who has come to life and given recruiters (particularly Hawthorn) a bit to ponder over the coming months. He got Gippsland on the board in the first term with a long running goal that lifted spirits after Eastern kicked the first two. He had long metres gained, highlighted taking an intercept mark in defensive 50 and playing on to run through the corridor and get the ball forward fast. His body positioning was excellent to win the ball or protect a teammate. He had genuine claims to be Gippsland’s best and carried the flag on a day when his side had minimal winners.