Author: Michael Alvaro

Chargers revel in grand final redemption

THREE years in charge, two grand finals, one premiership. That is not bad going by anyone’s standards, and it is exactly what Oakleigh Chargers coach Leigh Clarke has now achieved at the helm of his NAB League side.

A former Charger himself in the mid-90s, Clarke led his troops to premiership glory a year after falling short by a single goal to Dandenong Stingrays. In that same year, Oakleigh delivered a record-equaling haul of 11 AFL draftees, and while that feat is unlikely to be matched for a second year running, the Chargers boast arguably the best two players in the entire draft crop.

Defining success in the NAB League is difficult – how do you weigh team achievements against the goal of getting as many players drafted as possible? The Chargers seem to have found the perfect balance over the last decade, culminating in yet another year of success. It is a case of getting their just desserts in Clarke’s eyes.

“We’re not going to apologise for the talent we’ve got,” Clarke said after his side’s comprehensive 53-point grand final victory.

“For (our players) to turn up like they did today and produce under the pressure against a team that… had done their homework and clearly came to play individual roles which really worked well from the first half, all credit to our boys they really deserve to feel what they feel right now.”

“We knew what we were going to get from (Eastern) and credit to the boys, we talked about how it was going to be an arm-wrestle, it was going to be physical and personal game and the boys were able to come out and just play that momentum game.”

Planning to ride out waves of momentum is all well and good, but you need the cattle to be able to generate it on your end. Enter Matt Rowell, who firmed as the clear best Under-18 player in the country on the back of a second-straight grand final best afield performance.

The same honour, but a much different outcome this year for the prolific midfielder.

“Obviously it’s a much better feeling this time around after last year,” Rowell said post-match.

“It really hurt last year, we really wanted to get back to this stage and we’ve gone one more so (I) just couldn’t be prouder of the boys and the way we went about it. “(Individual honours) is not what I play for, I’m just much happier this time around getting the medal because we won.”

A similar sentiment was shared by Oakleigh captain Trent Bianco, who played alongside Rowell as bottom-agers in last year’s losing decider. Somewhat lost for words, the damaging outside mover stumbled on his cliches amid the euphoria of premiership victory, but the message remained true.

“What a difference a year can make, this time last year we were arms in our heads, hands in our arms, whatever it is,” Bianco said with an ear-to-ear grin.

“It’s a pretty surreal feeling… we were pretty upset (last year) but we used that as a bit of motivation, so throughout the pre-season it was in the back of our minds the whole time. “We definitely wanted to get back here and we did.”

If getting back to the last game of the season was not arduous enough, the Chargers knew full well that minor premiers Eastern Ranges were not ever going to be a side to let up. But Oakleigh came prepared, armed with the experience and hurt of 2018 on top of two previous wins against the Ranges this year.

Rowell and Bianco also respectively lauded their side’s ability to “stick it out” and “fight through” the Ranges’ early challenge, something that comes more easily with said preparation and the right coaching.

“We prepared well all week, we knew what was coming at us,” Bianco said.

“We try and keep it pretty similar, we didn’t change anything throughout the week training-wise… and just tried to keep it real simple and tried to get our heads in the game – not thinking about too many external pressures or anything. “Credit to the coaches, I think we were led quite well.”

“Like (Trent) said, just keep it simple. “It’s always in the back of your mind, especially the big game but (Clarke) said before the game ‘The bigger the game, the simpler it is’ so that’s just what we went in with,” Rowell added.

It seemed the game went to plan – the margin would suggest as much – but preparation can only take you so far. There are key moments in every game, and it was a roll of the dice move on Oakleigh’s part which unearthed an unlikely hero in the third term.

“We made some changes in the third quarter with Jeromy Lucas,” Clarke said.

“Full credit to him, he came out and kicked three goals in that quarter and started to turn the game for us. “That was exciting and credit to the coaches in the box, that was a discussion that was brought up in the box, we back the boys in the box and pulled the trigger on that and I think it was a key moment.”

Oakleigh’s defensive pressure was admirable all day too, but it seemed a switch flicked mid-way through the third term as Lucas and Oakleigh poured on the goals.

“I just think it was our forward pressure and creating those forward half turnovers which were really key to us piling on six or seven unanswered goals,” Bianco said. “We just backed our game plan and backed our players and that’s what got us there.”

GWS Academy product Lucas’ three goals were accompanied by two from Rowell in the same term, stretching the Chargers’ lead from as little as three points, to 44 at three-quarter time. Arguably the best goal of the lot belonged to Rowell, with his 60-metre bomb on his non-preferred left foot well and truly signalling party time for Oakleigh. Despite the incredible effort, Rowell was reserved both in the moment and when describing it.

“It came off sweetly, I didn’t think it was going to go that far but it just ended up sailing through,” he said. “I think the wind helped a bit.”

“He practices a lot,” Clarke said of his young champion’s feats.

“The true modesty of Matt, we encouraged him over the past month to really celebrate a goal, he said at best he’d give us a thumbs up. “We challenge our mids, they get a special prize of a t-shirt if they kick two goals as a midfielder, so we were riding those last couple of shots. “We had a motorbike last week from Jamarra (Ugle-Hagan) as well, we encourage the boys to celebrate the good moments, that’s for sure.”

And celebrate they will, with their incredible season capped off by a true sense of redemption for the Chargers’ top-end.

With the on-field business out of the way, the likes of Rowell and Bianco will now turn their attention to the national combine before November’s draft.

NAB League Boys team review: Gippsland Power

AS the NAB League grand final approaches, we take a look at the sides that are no longer in contention for the title; checking out their draft prospects, Best and Fairest (BnF) chances, 2020 Draft Crop and a final word on their season. The next side we look at is the Gippsland Power.

Position: 2nd
Wins: 11
Losses: 4
Draws: 0

Points For: 1091 (Ranked #4)
Points Against: 856 (Ranked #3)
Percentage: 122.90
Points: 44

Top draft prospects:

Caleb Serong

The hard-nosed and aggressive ball winner was outstanding in each of his five NAB League outings spilt at either end of the season, while also performing for Geelong Grammar and Vic Country in a high quality year of football. Serong is competitive and his standards are high, helping him get the best out of himself in his time at the Power. He could well be the third player taken after Oakleigh’s two stars, offering goals up forward or a reliable midfield asset to whichever club he ends up at.

Sam Flanders

Flanders’ stocks have risen on the back of a massive finals campaign where he proved he can take big games by the scruff of the neck and make them his own. His combination of inside work and forward prowess makes him a rare prospect, and one who is now pushing the likes of Serong to feature among the top five picks. Explosive yet clean, Flanders has lived up to all expectations coming into the year and has definitely added to the high-flying forward profile he built in his bottom-age season.

Others in the mix:

The leading Country side this year in terms of draftable talent, Gippsland should have a good number of players taken throughout each round. Tall forward/ruck Charlie Comben has shown great improvement to thrown his name in the hat, with skipper Brock Smith a consistent figure throughout the year who missed the back end due to injury, and Riley Baldi is another mainstay who proved his worth. Fraser Phillips is a dynamic forward with huge upside who should also be in the mix alongside classy outside movers Leo Connolly and Ryan Sparkes. The form of Hawthorn NGA prospect Harrison Pepper will give the Hawks something to think about come November, too.

BnF chances:

Flanders’ impact on each game he played will put him right up there despite playing less games than others, while the likes of Connolly, Tye Hourigan, Sam Berry and the Baldi brothers enjoyed consistent patches throughout the middle of the year to give them good chances of getting up.

2020 Draft Crop:

While the class of 2019 has been incredibly strong, the Power has been able to blood a good number of bottom-agers this year which bodes well for sustained form in 2020. Midfield bull Berry and exciting forward/wingman Ryan Angwin lead the charge at this stage, with versatile tall Zach Reid another with plenty of promise. The likes of Will Papley, Tom Fitzpatrick and Tyran Rees saw plenty of action in their bottom-age years too, so should feature heavily again next time around.

Final word:

Gippsland Power will be disappointed they ultimately fell one win short of the decider again, but still had plenty to enjoy this season with a number of draft prospects stepping up and having most of the Vic Country squad this year. The Power were the only Country side in the top seven teams, and they still have some bottom-age talents who will look to take the next step up in 2020. Expect another strong season next year with some important roles filled already based on their form this year.

NAB League Boys team review: Sandringham Dragons

AS the NAB League grand final approaches, we take a look at the sides that are no longer in contention for the title; checking out their draft prospects, Best and Fairest (BnF) chances, 2020 Draft Crop and a final word on their season. The next side we look at is the Sandringham Dragons.

Position: 4th
Wins: 9
Losses: 6
Draws: 0

Points For: 1135 (Ranked #2)
Points Against: 856 (Ranked #2)
Percentage: 132.60
Points: 36

Top draft prospects:

Miles Bergman

The dynamic forward/wingman has improved out of sight to become a genuine first round bolter. A player with real x-factor, Bergman has strong hands in the air, an explosive vertical leap and the ability to find the goals from range. His game-defining mark in the Herald Sun Shield grand final will also stick in the minds of recruiters as part of a strong back end of the year.

Fischer McAsey

The versatile tall has been touted for a while now, and lived up to expectations in his top-age year to be named All Australian centre half-back. While he was enormous as an intercepting type in Vic Metro’s back six, McAsey also showed his ability to make a difference in the forward half in his games for Sandringham. Will be favourite to be the first Dragon taken on draft night.

Finn Maginness

Maginness has shot into first round contention on the back of a bed of high quality performances for both Sandringham and Vic Metro. His clearance winning ability and strong hands are terrific, as is his knack of finding the goals when moving forward. As a father-son prospect tied to Hawthorn, Maginness may slide a bit on draft night but has some fantastic traits for an inside midfielder.

Josh Worrell

A genuine utility, Worrell adapted his prowess as an intercept and rebound defender to become the unlikely leading goal kicker for Vic Metro this year. His reading of the play, overhead marking and effective kick are all traits that make him a smoky for the top 10, but injury has sidelined him in the back end of the season.

Others in the mix:

Where do we start? The Dragons have unprecedented numbers in terms of representative squad members and combine invitees (18), making their talent across the board hard to miss. Midfield/forward types Jack Mahony and Hugo Ralphsmith look the next best of the lot, while skipper Ryan Byrnes has put his hand up with a brilliantly consistent season from midfield, with Louis Butler a constant in defence and Oscar Lewis and Darcy Chirgwin showing signs around the ground. The raw raft of Sandringham talls should also feature, with the likes of Jack Bell, Corey Watts, Andrew Courtney, and Charlie Dean all garnering combine invites. The list goes on, so expect Dragons to litter the draft board.

BnF chances:

Byrnes seems the obvious choice given his consistency and prominence when a raft of other key names were out of the side during the school football season and national carnival. Butler is another to have performed well across each game at either end of the season, while Jackson Voss enjoyed a purple patch in the middle of the year, over-ager Angus Hanrahan was undeniable when available and Kyle Yorke was one to have garnered attention for his performances. Count out 2018 best and fairest Corey Watts at your own peril, as well as the bottom-age talent looking to match his feat in Jake Bowey.

2020 Draft Crop:

While matching their 2019 haul will be a tough ask, Sandringham is set to have another strong cohort with some exciting types having already made their mark. The clean and classy Bowey looks to be leading the lot on the back of his reliability on the wing, while Archie Perkins is a player with enormous scope, set for more midfield time next year alongside Darby Hipwell. Up forward, Ollie Lord looks a leading candidate to follow on from this year’s batch, already showing some aerial prowess.

Final word:

The Dragons’ ability to adapt to the mass changes they face each week is so impressive and was a feature of their season once again. They looked to be an early premiership favourite as they toppled Oakleigh in Round 3, but had to overcome some mid-season hurdles to recover and finish fourth. In the end, they could not quite get it done often enough against the two grand finalists, with another three losses to Oakleigh going alongside a hat-trick of losses to Eastern. Still, the Dragons are well poised to have the biggest haul of drafted players among each NAB League side.

Top-end Chargers look to go one better

Tapering expectation is difficult when in the midst of a pathway renowned for both its production of top-end talent and subsequent team success. After falling six points short of ultimate footballing glory in last year’s grand final, the Oakleigh Chargers will be looking to go one better in this year’s NAB League decider.

Along with the likely first two picks in this year’s draft, Noah Anderson and Matt Rowell, 2019 co-captain Trent Bianco is one of a handful of Oakleigh top-agers set to feature in a second-straight grand final on Saturday. While last year’s loss “adds a little bit of extra motivation” for Bianco, he insists his Chargers are not lacking any as they look to rectify the 2018 result.

“(Last year’s loss) just starts that fire inside,” Bianco said at the NAB League grand final press conference.

“Losing by a kick, six points or whatever it was, it still hurts us to this day and we definitely don’t want that to happen again. “It’ll definitely be in the back of our minds but it won’t change too much. “It’s just another game, it sounds like a cliché but it’s just another game and we just want to attack it just like we normally do.”

Chargers coach Leigh Clarke is another who has been here before, remaining at the helm for another Oakleigh lunge for the flag. Speaking of expectations heading into the “final test” for his side, he says success on the big day will go towards the legacy of each player he leads.

“I guess it’s like any final, the expectations rise a little bit and Eastern will understand as well that equally as much as we do,” he said.

“The prize on the line is something we want the boys to share… we talk about it quite often and they get to share that for the rest of their lives – that they’ll never be forgotten at our club if they win a premiership.”

The high stakes that come with a grand final adds another element to how individuals react within a team. Despite boasting a high amount of top-end talent when compared to Eastern’s vast team spread, Clarke maintains selflessness is what will get his side over the line in the big moments.

“An interesting part of the week is you get to see the boys under high game expectation… and see how they react to it. “The boys (who) want to peruse the pathway into the AFL, they need to be able to understand rising to the occasion. “We talk often about it might not be your day but you can always have your moment, so we’ll be expecting our boys to, if it’s not their day, sacrifice to help someone else have their moment as well.”

The different dynamics between the two sides set to meet on Saturday is as interesting a juxtaposition as the NAB League has ever seen, with Oakleigh boasting almost a dozen Vic Metro squad members to Eastern’s handful, while also having six national combine invitees to the Ranges’ nil. While the Eastern line-up has undergone a raft of changes since their last meeting with the Chargers, Oakleigh’s experience of shuffling the deck each week has been a test.

“We’re obviously in a little bit of a different position to Eastern,” Bianco said.

“We’ve got a few more boys (going) in and out every week so it’s a bit hard to in the middle of the year just to stay consistent but I think we’ve done a good job towards the middle and back-end of the year.”

Bianco’s descriptor of a “good job” is somewhat of an understatement, with the Chargers coming in off a massive run of seven wins, as well as 11 in their past 12 outings. The skipper is just pleased to see his side’s consistency.

“We’ve been playing some consistent footy and obviously we played patches we’re not happy with but it’s just putting through that consistent four-quarter effort,” he said.

“We’re playing some good footy so it’s good that in the back-end of the year, this is when it all starts mattering more so we’re in the best situation.”

While the team focus remains at the forefront for Bianco, he conceded there are a few players in his side that may well grab all the attention, including 2018 grand final MVP, Rowell.

“We’ve obviously got some high-end talent but we like to think we’ve played pretty consistent players throughout the whole team.

“We’ve got Matty Rowell and Noah Anderson up the top there so they’re pretty handy players and we’ve got the likes of Nick Bryan, we’ve got a fair few bottom-agers like Jamarra (Ugle-Hagan), Reef McInnes, Will Phillips, who is someone to look out for next year… (they’re) putting in just as much as the top-agers this year so they’ve been really handy and hopefully they can bring it (for) one more game.”

One of those bottom-agers, Ugle-Hagan, has formed a formidable key forward partnership with over-ager Cooper Sharman in the back-end of the season, giving elite kicks like Bianco a target to kick at.

“It’s just good knowing they can make a bad kick look good sometimes so if you put it out into their space and to their advantage side they’re more than likely going to do something with it,” Bianco said.

“(But) it’s not just them, it’s the small forwards and the medium-type forwards that we have in our team as well that help us be successful.”

Oakleigh’s tilt at success begins at 1:05pm at Ikon Park on Saturday, with the game set to be broadcasted live on Fox Footy.

Caught the Eye: NAB League – Preliminary Finals

THE Eastern Ranges and Oakleigh Chargers won through to the 2019 NAB League grand final on Saturday after impressive wins at Princes Park. In this week’s edition of Caught the Eye, we highlight two key performers from all four sides who garnered combine invites or are prominent bottom-agers. For extended profiles on each player, click on their names highlighted in red, and for our full scouting notes, click here.

Oakleigh Chargers vs. Sandringham Dragons

Nick Bryan
Oakleigh Chargers | Ruck
22/10/2001 | 202cm | 87kg

Stats: 15 disposals (11 kicks), 5 marks, 2 tackles, 21 hitouts

Our scouts said:Bryan had one of his better games for the year… His hitout work again was great, often giving his midfielders first use.” – Ed Pascoe

Verdict: Was touted earlier in the year as having the potential to rise as the number one tall in this year’s crop. While that has not quite eventuated for Bryan, he again showed on the weekend a glimpse of his high upside and impressive athleticism for a ruck. It was his best game in terms of disposal output (15) and his ruck craft is already sound, so he should have no trouble finding a home come draft time given his future scope.

Kaden Schreiber
Oakleigh Chargers | Wing/Defender
21/09/2001 | 186cm | 79kg

Stats: 24 disposals, 8 marks, 3 tackles, 2 inside 50s, 2 rebound 50s

Our scouts said: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.” – Ed Pascoe

Verdict: One who was a slight surprise to some as a state combine invitee, Schreiber has taken strides towards alleviating any doubts around his talent over the last few weeks. His game on the weekend was one of his best for the year, flying well for intercept marks and using the ball well by foot. He has good traits as a solid two-way mover and is a decent size, making him desirable as it is, and he just always seemed likely in possession against Sandringham.

Miles Bergman
Sandringham Dragons | Forward
18/10/2001 | 188cm | 77kg

Stats: 14 disposals (10 kicks), 5 marks, 5 tackles, 6 inside 50s, 1 goal

Our scouts said:This guy is a really exciting talent… the eye catching AFL attributes continued to emerge as the day went on… 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.” – Craig Byrnes

Verdict: Bergman just keeps on impressing and left a timely reminder of his talent for recruiters in his final Under 18 game. He may not always be the best player afield across the whole game or impress on the stat sheet, but Bergman is so often a match-winner. His overhead marking is top notch and he continues to find the goals with his booming kick, putting him right in the first round mix come draft night. Do not be surprised to see a keen side snap him up with a pick among the first dozen.

Louis Butler
Sandringham Dragons | Defender
26/08/2001 | 183cm | 74kg

Stats: 19 disposals, 4 marks, 3 tackles, 1 inside 50, 1 rebound 50

Our scouts said: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.” – Craig Byrnes

Verdict: The impressive thing about Butler’s game here was his ability to bounce back from a couple of disappointing moments both with and without the ball. His strengths are obvious and useful in any side, able to impact a raft of contests and break the lines out of defence, often finishing with a smart kick. Rebounding half-backs are commonplace, but Butler’s competitiveness and scope to move into the midfield help as points of difference for the national combine invitee.

Eastern Ranges vs. Gippsland Power

Lachlan Stapleton
Eastern Ranges | Midfielder
14/04/2001 | 177cm | 72kg

Stats: 22 disposals, 6 marks, 8 tackles, 4 inside 50s, 2 rebound 50s

Our scouts said: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.” – Ed Pascoe

Verdict: Stapleton’s form has been impossible to ignore, consistently finding the ball and being able to compete against bigger top-end midfielders. The ultimate test for him will come against the likes of Noah Anderson and Matt Rowell in the grand final, but you would back in the ferocious ball winner to hold his own once again. His two-way work rate, reliability, and handling of the big moments all bode well for some attention come draft time.

Wil Parker
Eastern Ranges | Defender
29/05/2002 | 180cm | 76kg

Stats: 23 disposals (16 kicks), 6 marks, 4 tackles, 1 inside 50, 8 rebound 50s

Our scouts said: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.” – Ed Pascoe

Verdict: Parker has been a consistent feature in the Ranges back six, able to accumulate high numbers and relieve his defence of any pressure. His kicking is the most obvious strength at this point, with the bottom-ager finding targets at will and taking on the responsibility of being a designated Eastern kicker from the back half. Looks a promising type, but will need to put together games like his one on the weekend more consistently.

Ryan Sparkes
Gippsland Power | Wing
13/04/2001 | 184cm | 78kg

Stats: 26 disposals (18 kicks), 10 marks, 3 tackles, 5 inside 50s, 5 rebound 50s

Our scouts said: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.” – Craig Byrnes

Verdict: As has been somewhat of a theme, Sparkes saved one of his better games for the year for his side’s most important outing. His match-up against Eastern’s Connor Downie was touted as an important one coming into the clash, and the outside mover did not disappoint with his breaking of the lines in the highly contested game. It will be touch and go in terms of his draft hopes, but he is one who can impress at the combines.

Harrison Pepper
Gippsland Power | Defender
9/08/2001 | 180cm | 83kg

Stats: 23 disposals (16 kicks), 6 marks, 1 tackle, 3 inside 50s, 5 rebound 50s, 1 goal

Our scouts said: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.” – Craig Byrnes

Verdict: Pepper is the kind of player coaches and teammates love to have, and he once again stepped up at crunch time. His combativeness worked well in defence in this game, cutting off a wealth of Eastern entires and pushing the ball out of danger with his bustling runs. His versatility as a medium-small is something clubs will like, but Hawthorn is set to have the final say as he is tied to them as an NGA product.

Minor premiers search for the recognition their quality group deserves

WHEN asked about which players those tuning in should look out for in this week’s NAB League grand final, Eastern Ranges captain James Ross‘ response suited his team to a t.

“I reckon we’ve got 23 good players you can look out for,” Ross said tongue-in-cheek at the NAB League grand final press conference. “You see the ones that always have the high disposals but it’s more the impact some of our players have, whether they have high disposals or not. “We’ve got the midfielders Lachie Stapleton, Zak Pretty, and Mitch Mellis, we’ve got the backmen in Joel Nathan and Chayce Black who’s moved down there, and the forwards with Jamieson Rossiter and Billy McCormack. “We’ve just got really good even spread across the ground so you can look everywhere really.”

The Ranges’ even spread, not boasting the fawned-over talent of their top four opposition, has helped them overcome every NAB League team this season on their way to a minor premiership – except for their weekend opponents, the Oakleigh Chargers. The sides met in Rounds 1 and 14 with Eastern going down both times but improving massively over the two games, and coach Darren Bewick says his side is not shying away from the challenge.

“I don’t think we’re going to shy away from the fact that Oakleigh are a really good team,” he said. “It’s probably why they’ve beaten us twice during the year but we’re pretty confident that if we come with the right attitude and good intensity – and that’s what you expect in a final – it’s going to be a ripping game and you’re going to have some really high-quality individuals playing.”

While the team’s success has been no “surprise” to Bewick and those around the club, the lack of recognition for the Ranges’ key players in Vic Metro representation and national combine invites has had that effect.

“We feel we’ve got a really good group, no matter their footballing ability,” he said. “They’ve bought into everything we’ve done and we were surprised, probably we were the only ones surprised, we didn’t get any (national) combine invitees. “We think we’ve got some really quality players, they get to show off on a bigger stage (on Saturday) and then we have seven or eight of them going to a state combine. “Our group is talented, we don’t get recognition that we think we deserve but that’s fine by us.”

The Ranges’ steep rise to a grand final appearance has been a couple of years in the making, and comes off the back of a two-win 2018 season. Bewick’s ploy to blood bottom-agers during that year has now paid dividends, with the ultimate return up for grabs on Saturday.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity, of course, and it’s probably a couple of years in building,” Bewick said. “We played a lot of bottom-age boys last year (who are) now our senior players and they really understand what the competition’s about – the intensity and the level that they need to get to. “So it’s been a great learning (experience) for them over the last 24 months and we’re really happy with what they’ve been able to demonstrate and they get an opportunity to do that on the weekend against a very good team.”

The opportunity is one Bewick appreciates does not come around very often, helping his side to take on the “just another game” adage.

“For some of them it’s going to be the biggest game of their career so why not give yourself the best chance of shining on that big day,” Bewick said. “I say it all the time; they’ll walk out, there’ll be four posts at one end and four at the other and they’ll have a really good opposition against them for 110 minutes… we’ve got to put our best foot forward and that’s why we try and keep everything as normal as possible during the week so then the players have got an opportunity to perform at their best. “They’ve done that for the majority of the weeks during the year and I’m confident that they’ll display that again on the weekend.”

The skipper is taking on a similar approach, both in an individual and team sense.

“We’re keeping (preparation) the same,” Ross said. “There’s not a lot we can change really, we’ve done the right things throughout the whole year and it’s just another game, just a lot more on the line I guess. “Joel (Nathan) will probably start full back and I’ll start up higher like we usually do… we work really well together and we won’t change anything this week, we’ll defend how works best for us.”

The opportunity itself is something Ross is looking forward to, leading his side out in their final game together in no better fashion – on the biggest stage of them all.

“One of the biggest honours I’ve had was to even captain a regular season game, going into the grand final I couldn’t imagine anything better,” Ross said. “We’ve got a great group of boys behind me that help me lead, they just make my job real easy and they’ll do the same on the weekend, too.”

The first bounce of the NAB League grand final goes down at 1:05pm at Ikon Park on Saturday, and will be broadcasted live on Fox Footy.

Eastern punches grand final ticket with five-goal win

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.

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

GOALS:

Eastern – J. Rossiter 2, J. Jaworski 2, T. Sonsie, B. Hickleton, J. Clarke, C. Downie, T. Garner, C. Norris.
Gippsland – C. Serong 2, N. Prowd, H. Pepper, F. Phillips.

ADC BEST:

Eastern – L. Stapleton, W. Parker, C. Downie, J. Clarke, J. Ross, M. Mellis
Gippsland – S. Flanders, R. Sparkes, H. Pepper, C. Serong, S. Berry, Z. Reid

Oakleigh charge into second-straight grand final

OAKLEIGH Chargers earned a second crack at premiership glory in as many years, trumping metro rivals Sandringham by 75 points at Princes Park.

The Chargers got on top early with a 28-point half-time lead and never looked back, sealing the 17.7 (109) to 4.10 (34) result.

The signs were ominous early as Jamarra Ugle-Hagan produced a mark on the lead and set shot goal typical of his form, backed by a Thomas Graham goal on the run shortly after – all within the first three minutes. But as expected, Sandringham hit back as Finn Maginness got on top at the stoppages. The Dragons even snatched the lead for the only time of the game after some improved finishing, with Kyle Yorke’s set shot sailing through. The Chargers hit back swiftly with one of their better passages forward of centre, with Noah Anderson and Trent Bianco combining to set up Ugle-Hagan’s second for the term, sealing the five-point quarter time lead.

The game began to open up as the Chargers quickly got on the board again on the back of a classy Finlay Macrae finish, and he had a say in Oakleigh’s third goal of the term with a nice baulk in the lead up to Graham’s second major. The momentum was halted momentarily as Yorke again found the big sticks with a deft dribbler over the back, but it was business as usual as Cooper Sharman got on the board with a reply and Graham roosted a huge set shot goal late on to give the Chargers an ominous 28-point half time lead.

Oakleigh again started the better in the third and broke out to a game-high lead in the back-end of the term, sparked by a couple of great moments from bottom-age forward Connor Stone. A goal to Hugo Ralphsmith on the back of a spearing Miles Bergman ball was the only form of resistance from the Dragons, as they could only stand and watch as Oakleigh put through another three goals to end the term 45 points to the good and with one foot in the grand final. With the game all but dead and buried, the Chargers added another four goals to the Dragons’ nil to see out the win in a heated final term, with state combine invitee Kaden Schreiber going in the book late on.

Matt Rowell led all-comers with a typically consistent 32 disposals, followed by Schreiber’s 28 and skipper Bianco’s 27. Will Phillips enjoyed his time through midfield with 26 touches, while Anderson was impactful with three goals from 21 disposals in a statement performance. In a dour day for the Dragons, Ryan Byrnes racked up 27 disposals in a trying effort, while Darcy Chirgwin and Maginness combined well early and Louis Butler was solid down back with Harry Loughnan.

OAKLEIGH CHARGERS 3.2 | 8.3 | 12.6 | 17.7 (109)
SANDRINGHAM DRAGONS 2.3 | 3.5 | 4.9 | 4.10 (34)

GOALS:

Oakleigh – J. Ugle-Hagan 4, T. Graham 3, N. Anderson 3, C. Stone 2, C. Sharman 2, F. Macrae, N. Stathopoulos
Sandringham – K. Yorke 2, H. Ralphsmith, M. Bergman

ADC BEST:

Oakleigh – J. Ugle-Hagan, T. Bianco, K. Schreiber, N. Anderson, F. Macrae, M. Rowell
Sandringham – R. Byrnes, J. Bowey, L. Butler, K. Yorke, M. Bergman, H. Ralphsmith

NAB League Boys 2019 Preliminary Final preview: Eastern Ranges vs. Gippsland Power

EASTERN RANGES (1st, 12-3) vs. GIPPSLAND POWER (2nd, 11-4)
Saturday September 14, 1.30pm
Ikon Park, Carlton North

Match Preview:

Minor premier Eastern Ranges takes on second-ranked regular season side Gippsland Power on Saturday for a spot in the NAB League Grand Final.

Comfortable winners in their semi final, the Power come in as one of only two teams to have beaten the Ranges this season – all the way back in Round 6. Both sides were at relative full strength that day and with similar lineups set to take the field in this clash, the 10-point difference in May points toward another flip of the coin kind of result. Notorious for their evenness across the board, the Ranges have benefitted from remaining almost untouched in terms of disruptions to their starting 23, which conversely is something Gippsland has been forced to work through with its wealth of top-end representative talent.

Power skipper Brock Smith, who has been named in the side after missing the past two weeks with illness, was his side’s leading ball winner in Round 6, and his addition to the line-up would be more than welcome in countering Eastern’s forward threats. Jamieson Rossiter is one Ranges forward hitting peak form at the right time, with the likes of Ben Hickleton and Billy McCormack also worth their salt around goal. The Power will have their own threats up the other end in Charlie Comben, Josh Smith, and Fraser Phillips, with both sets of defences to be stretched for height given the depth of tall options, so expect the second and third leading options to get involved.

It is the midfield battle where the game will be decided though, with Eastern’s reliable trio of Mitch Mellis, Lachlan Stapleton, and Zak Pretty coming up against the star-power of Gippsland duo Sam Flanders and Caleb Serong. The Ranges’ engine room often outworks its opposition and finds a way through traffic via series of handballs, but the lockdown pressure and aggression from Flanders and Serong threatens to shut that movement down at the source. The Power’s midfield depth in the likes of Riley Baldi, Sam Berry, Ryan Sparkes, and Leo Connolly makes them tough to beat, but if any team has proven to outshine names on paper, it is Eastern.

There is hardly anything separating the final four and this fixture should prove it. If we could tip a draw, we would, so expect a tense contest with the consistency of Eastern grappling the X-factor Gippsland’s match-winners can bring.

Prediction: Eastern by 5 points.

Key match-ups:

Zak Pretty vs. Sam Flanders

As already discussed, the midfield battle will be the one that wins the war. Similar in shape and size, Pretty and Flanders present a perfect match-up as ironically two of the bigger midfielders on the park for either side. Flanders has reminded us of his forward craft of late, and snuck inside 50 well last time out against the Ranges to boot two goals from 25 disposals. The Eastern midfielders arguably won’t afford him the same luxuries this time, and Pretty is one of many Ranges extractors who can match Flanders in going both ways. Both players tackle hard and win the ball at will, making this a battle that could decide which forward line gets first use. Expect to see Flanders’ explosiveness from the stoppages, countered by Pretty’s shrewd vision and handballs out to runners.

Connor Downie vs. Ryan Sparkes

With the majority of finals action played out in a contested manner, teams often look towards their outside runners to break the game open. Enter Downie and Sparkes. Often lining up on the wing, both players have the ability to rack up possessions on the outer and use it well going forward, with the wealth of inside midfielders in this game able to feed them both. The point of difference for the bottom-aged Downie is that he may be used off flanks at either end or even at the centre bounces, while Sparkes has very much found a home on the wing. Expect to see them line up on each other but find plenty of space on Ikon Park, breaking the lines and gaining serious meterage.

Head to Head:

2019:

Eastern Ranges – 0
Gippsland Power – 1

Overall:

Eastern Ranges – 24
Gippsland Power – 19

Teams:

EASTERN RANGES

B: 10. C. Black, 39. J. Nathan, 40. J. Hourihan
HB: 4. J. Clarke, 21. J. Ross, 19. W. Parker
C: 20. C. Downie, 7. L. Stapleton, 30. T. Edwards
HF: 11. M. Mellis, 18. B. McCormack, 52. T. Sonsie
F: 9. J. Duffy, 13. J. Rossiter, 27. J. Jaworski
R: 49. R. Smith, 23. Z. Pretty, 16. T. Garner
Int: 6. M. Brown, 14. L. Gawel, 36. B. Hickleton, 26. C. Norris, 41. K. Phelan, 59. B. Tennant, 45. M. Zalac
23P: 44. H. Keeling

In: K. Phelan, M. Brown, B. Hickleton

GIPPSLAND POWER

B: 24. B. Maslen, 14. T. Hourigan, 35. J. van der Pligt
HB: 37. H. Pepper, 22. Z. Reid, 12. B. Smith
C: 1. R. Angwin, 4. S. Flanders, 15. R. Sparkes
HF: 21. M. McGarrity, 33. N. Prowd, 20. H. Neocleous
F: 7. S. Berry, 16. J. Smith, 19. F. Phillips
R: 17. C. Comben, 6. R. Baldi, 2. C. Serong
Int: 30. T. Baldi, 40. T. Mann, 8. B. McAuliffe, 25. J. McGrath, 9. W. Papley, 29. T. Rees, 32. L. Williams
23P: 39. M. Hawkins

In: J. McGrath, T. Mann, M. Hawkins, W. Papley, B. Smith, L. Williams
Out: T. Fitzpatrick, L. Connolly, M. Bentvelzen

NAB League Boys 2019 Preliminary Final preview: Oakleigh Chargers vs. Sandringham Dragons

OAKLEIGH CHARGERS (3rd, 11-4) vs. SANDRINGHAM DRAGONS (4th, 9-6)
Saturday September 14, 11:00am
Ikon Park, Carlton North

Match Preview:

The Oakleigh Chargers and Sandringham Dragons meet for the fourth time this year with both sides looking to book their tickets to the NAB League Grand Final.

These sides have produced two of the highest quality Under-18 games in recent memory with both squads at full strength, with Sandringham prevailing by 10 points in Round 3, but going down in the Round 17 grudge match which saw the Chargers snatch third spot. The mid-year fixture between the sides should not be discounted either, as Oakleigh’s Round 12 win over the depleted Dragons produced the greatest margin of the three bouts (18 points).

While the Dragons have shown their capacity to do so, Oakleigh is typically the higher-scoring team and pose dynamic threats inside 50 in the form of athletic talls Cooper Sharman and Jamarra Ugle-Hagan. Add Noah Anderson to that mix and you have a trio of game-winners, with Anderson’s top-two touted mate Matt Rowell an ever-consistent force through the midfield. But that is not to discount Sandringham’s star power around the ground, with the Dragons boasting a whopping 18 combine invitees and a chance to field at least 16 of them as Jack Mahony hurries back from injury. Should he be included, another dimension would be added to the all-important midfield battle which Oakleigh so resoundingly won late-on in the sides’ Round 17 meeting. Finn Maginness and Darcy Chirgwin have been the answers on the inside, with the likes of Hugo Ralphsmith and Miles Bergman able to impact the contest from the wing or half-forward. Their dynamism will also be key inside 50 with Charlie Dean one who could be forced to move back given their athletic capabilities.

Speaking of backlines, Oakleigh co-captain Trent Bianco will look to out-do Sandringham counterpart Louis Butler for damage and rebound off the flanks, while Corey Watts looms as an intercepting threat for the Dragons – a role he performed so well last time out against Oakleigh. Whichever side shuts down the space best is likely to get on top, with both teams possessing weapons going forward in the kicking department.

Going on recent form and the ledger between these two high-class teams in 2019, it is hard to look past the charging Oakleigh side. They found a way when down and out in Round 17, so that has to be a mental factor whichever way this game goes. The pair of Anderson and Rowell is also key, with no side able to truly match them. They may well again drag Oakleigh over the line, but discount the Dragons at your own peril.

Prediction: Oakleigh by 13 points

Key match-ups:

Cooper Sharman vs. Corey Watts

Keeping both Sharman and Jamarra Ugle-Hagan quiet will be no mean feat, but Watts tried his level best to do so in Round 17. He seldom found himself in one-on-one duels with the pair, but matched up on Sharman when deep inside 50 last time out and could find himself doing the same here. Watts’ reading of the ball in flight will be important as he is given the license to intercept, but that kind of game while manning the dynamic Sharman is a difficult balancing act. The Chargers have many avenues to goal and a bunch of X-factor type players, so nullifying at least one of them will be key for the Dragons.

Noah Anderson vs. Finn Maginness

This is nothing short of a dream match-up. Anderson and Maginness put their respective teams on their backs in Round 17 with three goals apiece among their midfield work, and their capacities to influence the game in each area of the ground makes them so important. Sandringham were beaten at the crunch moments that day and coach Josh Bourke has asked for them to respond, so watch for someone like Maginness to lead that cause on the inside. On the other hand, Anderson is rarely kept quiet and stands up when it counts, so will inevitably have his own say on the contest.

Head to Head:

2019:

Oakleigh Chargers – 2
Sandringham Dragons – 1

Overall:

Oakleigh Chargers – 24
Sandringham Dragons – 23

Teams:

OAKLEIGH CHARGERS

B: 15. K. Schreiber, 36. R. Valentine, 34. V. Zagari
HB: 5. T. Bianco, 52. N. Guiney, 49. H. Mastras
C: 39. R. McInnes, 6. J. Lucas, 9. W. Phillips
HF: 27. J. May, 25. J. Ugle-Hagan, 61. C. Stone
F: 29. F. Macrae, 73. C. Sharman, 77. N. Stathopoulos
R: 4. N. Bryan, 8. N. Anderson, 11. M. Rowell
Int: 58. Y. Dib, 18. F. Elliot, 22. T. Graham, 12. L. Jenkins, 30. S. Tucker, 17. G. Varagiannis, 1. L. Westwood
23P: 2. B. Laurie

In: G. Varagiannis, S. Tucker, Y. Dib

SANDRINGHAM DRAGONS

B: 18. J. Lloyd, 33. C. Watts, 37. W. Mackay
HB: 13. L. Butler, 12. C. Dean, 7. J. Voss
C: 43. J. Bowey, 5. R. Byrnes, 15. A. Hanrahan
HF: 9. N. Burke, 26. J. Castan, 16. J. Mifsud
F: 36. O. Lewis, 6. M. Bergman, 11. H. Ralphsmith
R: 30. A. Courtney, 2. D. Chirgwin, 4. F. Maginness
Int: 3. G. Grey, 51. D. Hipwell, 10. J. Le Grice , 74. H. Loughnan, 17. T. Milne, 39. B. O’Leary, 14. K. Yorke
23P: 35. C. Chesser

In: T. Milne, D. Hipwell, K. Yorke, J. Le Grice
Out: O. Lord