Category: NAB League

Rowell masterclass leads Oakleigh to a dominant premiership

IT was the 10 minutes that won Oakleigh Chargers the premiership that eluded them last year.

Seven goals from the 15-minute mark of the third term to the final break broke the hearts of Eastern Ranges supporters, and elevated almost certain pick one, Matt Rowell into another stratosphere with an absolute masterclass performance. While it was a terrific team effort by the Chargers to outwork the Ranges, there was no stopping Rowell who won the Best on Ground Medal with 44 disposals – the second most disposals by any player in a TAC Cup/NAB League Grand Final behind Mitch Wallis’ 47.

Rowell and Noah Anderson were busy from the opening bounce, combining well at stoppages, while Trent Bianco was receiving close attention and gave away a free kick for retaliating from Mihaele Zalac. Both Jamarra Ugle-Hagan and Cooper Sharman had chances early but missed, with Will Phillips opening the account for the Chargers early in the game with a terrific goal on the run from 40m to entice a huge roar from the crowd. Oakleigh continued to pepper the Lygon Street end, booting four consecutive behinds. The causalities were beginning to piled on for the Ranges as Joel Nathan and Tyler Sonsie were helped off the field within a minute of each other. Connor Stone took advantage of the extra forward and found Sharman all alone in the square with the reliable goalkicker making no mistake from 10m out.

Everything was going right for the Chargers in the first term. Stone appealed for a soccer off the ground in the goalsquare but it looked to be a fresh airy. The normally composed Eastern defence looked under siege as Sharman ran down an opponent deep in defence, but his set shot too tight to the boundary but missed. Similarly, Bailey Laurie had a great chance with a running shot that bounced through but was deemed touched off the boot and brought the Chargers to 2.7 for the first term. Then the first massive highlight for Eastern came with a much-needed goal from Harrison Keeling in the pocket with 17 seconds left on the clock. It was the last kick of the quarter as the Ranges breathed a sigh of relief knowing for all of Oakleigh’s dominance, they were 13 points down and in the contest.

Nick Bryan was dominant around the ground for the Chargers, picking up 10 disposals, two marks and eight hitouts in the first term, while Jeromy Lucas (eight) and Phillips (seven and a goal) were also prolific. For the Ranges’ Wil Parker was steady in defence with nine disposals and three rebounds, while James Ross (six touches, two marks) was also busy back there. With 17 inside 50s to five, the Chargers were dominating play, but the Ranges defence was doing enough to limit the score in what could have been a lot uglier for them.

Both sides’ pressure was high as neither team had much time and space to move on, if they found space they had to move it on quickly as opponents closed them down quickly. Just as either side needed a deadlock breaker in the second, it came in the form of Mitch Mellis who burst forward, took a bounce and then launched from 45m for it to bounce home and all of a sudden, the Ranges were back within a kick. The Chargers almost scored a goal from a turnover up the other end, with Thomas Graham winning a loose ball after a spill and snapped around his body only for it to hit the woodwork. Up the other end, Zalac was running into 50 when he unsuspectingly got mowed down by Vincent Zagari. Both sides were finding more open space with end-to-end plays, but a couple of attempts under pressure on goal resulted in behinds for both sides.

Eastern’s defence was desperate and managed to keep a one-on-one ball close to the line in play but the kick landed in the waiting arms of Rowell who showed he can find the footy even when he is not looking for it. His set shot was un-Rowell like though and it was a shank short. Then Eastern seized on the miss as Josh Clarke ran inside 50 dropped it onto his left, negotiated the breeze perfectly and slammed it home to the roar of the eastern faithful and the scores were level again. Oakleigh’s midfield was getting stuck into Zalac to try and let Bianco off the leash, and Bianco’s extra freedom with his slicing kicks was starting to have a real impact on the contest. Both sides were still making uncharacteristic errors going forward, but it was a terrific contest. With a few minutes remaining, Finlay Macrae found some space inside 50 and his set shot from 40m looked good until a late drift that went through for a behind. With the siren imminent and the Chargers leading by three points, Laurie snuck out the side of a forward stoppage, put it on the outside of the boot and it sailed home to give Oakleigh breathing space heading into the main break.

Clarke was a massive player in the second term, picking up 13 touches to head into the break with 18, the most of any Ranges player, while Rowell had one better with 19, as well as three marks and three tackles. Bryan and Lucas both had 13 touches for the Chargers, while Parker (13) and Mellis (12) were the other two who had an influence for the Ranges.

If Rowell needed to convince anyone else how likely it was that he would potentially edge closer to a second best on ground in an Under 18s Grand Final, he found space in the middle and put out a perfect kick to Ugle-Hagan on the lead in the early moments of the game. He missed his set shot, but Oakleigh continued to press forward of centre. Despite holding the momentum, it was Eastern’s second forward 50 entry in the term that saw Jonte Duffy snap off his left and put the margin back to just four points to remind the crowd it was game on. Not long after, Jamieson Rossiter proceed to be the facilitator with a perfectly weighted kick to Jordan Jaworski. His tight set shot also missed, but the heat was well and truly in the game.

Then came the 10 minutes that won Oakleigh the premiership. The exciting Laurie then converted his second goal, sidestepping an opponent on a run towards goal and launching from 50 to add a bit of spice to the margin. Moments later forward pressure saw the Chargers run down Ross in the back 50, then a ruck stoppage from Sharman resulted in the ball landing in the arms of Lucas who snapped and goaled off the right and the margin was 14. When Rowell stepped up to win a 50m penalty and deliver to make it 20 points, it looked like it was going to be tough for Eastern to get back. After Lucas booted another two in two minutes, Rowell booted his second with a long-range bouncing kick that never looked like missing. He could do anything and so could the Chargers, as Thomas Graham capitalised on another Eastern error and snapped around his body and the game was well and truly done and dusted.

The heat was out of the game after that 10-minute blitz, and Nick Stathopoulos added his name to the goalkickers and it was party time for the Chargers in the final 25 minutes. Rowell had to remind onlookers her was human with another set shot miss. It was not long before he was in the thick of it again with a goal assist to Phillips who delivered on the run. Rowell again marked inside 50 but again missed his set shot. Ben Hickleton kicked a consolation goal late in the match as Rowell passed 40 touches. Ugle-Hagan had one last shot after the siren, but it hit the woodwork and the final margin was 53.

Rowell ended the game with 44 touches, eight marks, eight tackles, six tackles, two rebounds and 2.2, while Bianco (30 disposals, 11 marks, three tackles and six inside 50s), Anderson (26 disposals, four marks and four tackles) and Schreiber (26 disposals, 11 marks and two tackles). Bryan built on his form from last week with a dominant performance in the ruck with 20 disposals and 26 hitouts, while Lucas booted three goals and was dominant during that third quarter blitz. For Eastern, Parker had 27 touches, five marks and 11 rebounds to be the Ranges’ best as a bottom-ager, along with fellow bottom-ager Clarke who amassed 23 touches and seven rebounds. The midfield trio of Stapleton (19 touches), Pretty (19) and Mellis (18 and a goal) were consistent as usual, while Nathan did his best on Ugle-Hagan to keep him goalless and tack ip 16 touches and five rebounds.

EASTERN 1.0 | 3.3 | 4.5 | 5.6 (36)
OAKLEIGH CHARGERS 2.7 | 3.12 | 10.13 | 12.17 (89)

GOALS:

Eastern: H. Keeling, M. Mellis, J. Clarke, J. Duffy.
Oakleigh: J. Lucas 3, B. Laurie 2, M. Rowell 2, W. Phillips 2, C. Sharman, T. Graham, N. Stathopoulos.

ADC BEST:

Eastern: W. Parker, J. Clarke, L. Stapleton, M. Mellis, J. Nathan, Z. Pretty
Oakleigh: M. Rowell, K. Schreiber, J. Lucas, N. Bryan, F. Macrae, T. Bianco.

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.

Comprehensive 2019 NAB League Grand Final Preview

FOLLOWING on from last year’s Grand Final preview, it is that time again where we try and analyse all facets of the NAB League Grand Final from the players to style and what one might expect from the match.

TEAMS

EASTERN RANGES v. OAKLEIGH CHARGERS

Grand Final – 21/09/2019
1:05pm
Ikon Park – Carlton

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, 16. T. Garner, 23. Z. Pretty
Int: 6. M. Brown, 14. L. Gawel, 36. B. Hickleton, 26. C. Norris, 59. B. Tennant, 37. J. Weichard, 45. M. Zalac
23P: 44. H. Keeling

In: J. Weichard, M. Brown, B. Tennant

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: L. Westwood, S. Tucker, Y. Dib

2019 SEASON REVIEW

1. Eastern Ranges – 12 wins, 3 losses, 148.1%, 48 points
3. Oakleigh Chargers – 11 wins, 4 losses, 114.8%, 44 points

HEAD TO HEAD

R1: Eastern Ranges 7.5 (47) defeated by Oakleigh Chargers 12.16 (88)
R14: Eastern Ranges 11.9 (75) defeated by Oakleigh Chargers 12.11 (83)

CHANGES SINCE ROUND 14 THRILLER

Eastern:
IN:
Mitchell Brown, Mitch Mellis, Jamieson Rossiter, Lachlan Gawel, Todd Garner, James Ross, Callum Norris, Ben Hickleton, Jayden Weichard, Joel Nathan, Harrison Keeling, Riley Smith

Oakleigh:
IN:
Nick Bryan, Noah Anderson, Matt Rowell, Jamarra Ugle-Hagan, Finlay Macrae, Reef McInnes, Harris Mastras, Nick Guiney, Connor Stone, Sam Tucker, Yoseph Dib

WHO HAS COMBINE INVITES?

National

Eastern Ranges [0]: Nil.
Oakleigh Chargers [6]: Noah Anderson, Trent Bianco, Nick Bryan, Matt Rowell, Cooper Sharman, Dylan Williams*.

State/Rookie Me:

Eastern Ranges [8]: Tyler Edwards, Lachlan Gawel, Billy McCormack, Mitch Mellis, Zak Pretty, Jamieson Rossiter, Riley Smith Lachlan Stapleton.
Oakleigh Chargers [3]: Lachlan Johnson*, Josh May, Kaden Schreiber.

*Unavailable due to injury

PLAYERS

EASTERN RANGES

#4 Josh CLARKE

Absolute lightning when he gets going. The bottom-age speedster is capable of breaking lines off half-back and along the wing and makes things happen. He is a player who catches the eye with his high risk-high reward style.

#6 Mitchell BROWN

Included in the extended squad for the grand final, Brown last played in Round 16 against Dandenong Stingrays. The 173cm utility had some good form earlier in the season, including six rebounds from 21 touches against Gippsland Power in Round 6.

#7 Lachlan STAPLETON

Consistent as they come and one of Eastern’s top draft hopefuls who not only wins the ball in the midfield, but hurts opposition teams going forward as well. In his third season with the Ranges, the now top-ager has lifted his numbers by five disposals a game, but his defensive pressure is what makes him stand out from the ground, averaging a massive seven tackles per game.

#9 Jonte DUFFY

The smallest player on the ground, but the tackling half-forward packs a punch. He averages more than five tackles a game and is not afraid to go in hard despite his 166cm, 69kg frame recorded at the start of the season.

#10 Chayce BLACK

The Fremantle father-son hopeful has shown some signs throughout the season and progressed into a defensive role after initially playing at half-forward and pinch-hitting through the midfield.

#11 Mitch MELLIS

Like Stapleton, one of Eastern’s top draft hopes and a dominant player throughout season 2019. A natural ball winner who covers the ground with ease, Mellis spent plenty of time forward this year, booting nine goals in 11 games compared to his three in his previous 20. He has also lifted his disposal numbers and despite being 173cm works hard around the clearances and is often the receiver of the ball who bursts off and gets it forward.

#13 Jamieson ROSSITER

Has been a much talked about prospect over the past couple of years but has struggled with injury, playing just two games in his bottom-age year – booting eight goals – after four as a 16-year-old. He has managed to get some continuity this year in between Vic Metro commitments, and booted 19 goals in 12 games, including six in the finals series. He is hitting form at the right time of year and at 190cm he is a touch small for a key position player at AFL level, but has the ability to go into the midfield and use his bigger frame there to have an impact.

#14 Lachlan GAWEL

Not a huge ball winner, but has a touch of class in the forward half using his vision and accuracy by foot to set up goal scoring opportunities. He has managed the eight games this season, but has booted six goals in that time, also averaging three tackles per game to provide some defensive pressure to the opposition.

#16 Todd GARNER

Brother of former Eastern captain and now Port Adelaide player Joel, Todd is a member of the Hawthorn Next Generation Academy. He has managed just the 15 games over the past two seasons, but has shown some signs playing out of defence. He averages three rebounds and almost four tackles per game and plays a role on a dangerous opposition forward.

#18 Billy McCORMACK

Has been a big improver this season after just the three games last season. McCormack is a smoky in the draft because of his ability to have an impact both in the ruck and forward which is something quite rare in this draft class. He averages more than 10 touches and 15 hitouts per game, while booting 10 majors in his 16 matches.

#19 Wil PARKER

A bottom-age player who got a taste of it as a 16-year-old last season and has progressed through to be a staple in the Eastern defence this year. He is one no doubt likely to move into the midfield in 2020, but has arguably been Eastern’s most consistent rebounding small defender throughout the year, working well with James Ross and Joel Nathan as the keys. Averages 17 disposals and four marks per game.

#20 Connor DOWNIE

The Ranges’ top prospect for next year, and another member of the Hawthorn Next Generation Academy. Has had consistency issues at times, but when he is up and going, Downie is all class. He knows how to use the footy and sums up situations with terrific vision and execution, while hitting the scoreboard playing from a wing and half-forward. Played on the MCG for Vic Metro which is rare for bottom-agers.

#21 James ROSS

The general in defence and captain of the side, Ross is one who represented Vic Metro on one occasion, put together a consistent season and was unlucky not to receive a combine invite. Considering his finals series to-date, Ross has no doubt done all he can to convince recruiters he is worth a shot, and while he is slightly undersized for a key position role, he reads the ball perfectly in the air and is strong overhead. Courageous and a great team leader.

#23 Zakery PRETTY

Eastern’s big improver this season after just the limited three games in 2018. Pretty is one of the taller Eastern midfielders despite standing at 183cm, but at 80kg is more built for that inside role. With more than 50 per cent of his possessions won in contested situations, and racking up a truckload of clearances – six per game – Pretty is one who has flown onto draft radars after a big year.

#26 Callum NORRIS

Returned after 12 months off, to grab a spot in the Ranges’ finals side against Sandringham and was better for the run after the first final, to be a key contributor last weekend on his way to 18 disposals, five marks and a goal. Not a typically high disposal winner, but has been around for the past three seasons but has been marred with injury.

#27 Jordan JAWORSKI

The goal sneak has booted 17 goals in 10 games this season, with seven of those coming in Eastern’s smashing of Greater Western Victoria (GWV) Rebels. He is a classic small forward who knows where the goals are and will often run hard to open space back to goal and be in the right spot to win the ball and apply scoreboard pressure for his side.

#30 Tyler EDWARDS

Playing through the midfield, Edwards has produced a solid season in his 10 games, averaging 18 touches and three clearances per game. He did enough to earn a place at the state combine, and is one who provides a role in multiple positions, but will likely play through the midfield and on a wing.

#36 Ben HICKLETON

Eastern’s leading goalkicker this season and a player who stepped up in his top-age year to average two goals a game and provide a target up forward. Hickleton rotated through the ruck with Riley Smith and Billy McCormack despite being just 192cm, often pinch-hitting to give those players a rest, averaging three hitouts per game. At 87kg, he is a strong player who is good one-on-one.

#37 Jayden WEICHARD

Just the three games this season and none since Round 11, but Weichard was included in the Ranges’ extended squad for the Grand Final, with his best game coming against Geelong Falcons in Round 9, amassing 15 disposals spending time on the inside.

#39 Joel NATHAN

A terrific lockdown defender who will beat his man more often than not, Nathan is the ultimate team player in defence. He still wins his own ball with 13 disposals and three marks per game, but has plenty of spoils and one percenters to his name. He and Ross are arguably the top cohesive defensive partnership and will not make it easy for the Chargers’ forwards.

#40 Jack HOURIHAN

His first season for the Ranges as a top-ager, Hourihan has managed every game this year and averaged 14 disposals, four marks, three rebounds and two tackles playing predominantly in defence. A latecomer to the program who has bought into the Ranges system and been a consistent player throughout the year playing his role.

#44 Harrison KEELING

A bottom-ager in his first season, Keeling is lightly built but has strung together six games in the back-end of the season, recalled for the first final and has held his spot. Not a huge disposal winner, but one who like many of his teammates last year, is gaining great experience for 12 months time.

#45 Mihaele ZALAC

Taller midfielder who operates between the arcs, often playing an outside role and rotating onball to have an impact. Has played every game in season 2019, averaging 14 disposals, three marks and three tackles per game, while having similar clearance, inside-50 and rebound numbers showing his ability to spread.

#49 Riley SMITH

The overage ruck took control of the ruck division when in the side this year, playing eight games and averaging more than 27 hitouts per game. He is readymade to play at senior level, earning a Rookie Me Combine invitation and is someone who could provide a presence at ruck stoppages.

#52 Tyler SONSIE

Four years ago Jaidyn Stephenson and Adam Cerra burst onto the scene as 16-year-olds, and for 2019, Tyler Sonsie is that player. He has played the last five games of the season and being a half-forward who can kick off either foot and hit the scoreboard consistently or set others up, Sonsie is a damaging player and with continued development, could be a top pick in the 2021 draft.

#57 Beau TENNANT

A tall target inside 50, Tennant played his best game in his first game this year, booting three goals from six marks and 15 touches against Oakleigh in Round 14. He was named in Eastern’s extended squad for the grand final.

OAKLEIGH CHARGERS

#1 Lucas WESTWOOD

An unfortunate pre-game injury before the preliminary final ruled him out but he has been named in the extended squad. The reliable defender has been a club favourite with him doing a role each and every week and would play a role on an opposition forward if fit and available.

#2 Bailey LAURIE

The exciting small forward has enjoyed a busy finals series, constantly popping up and helping set up scoring opportunities for his teammates. He teams up well at the feet of Jamarra Ugle-Hagan with Nick Stathopoulos, and was instrumental in the qualifying final win over Gippsland Power with two goals from 16 touches and seven marks. A bottom-ager to look out for next season.

#4 Nick BRYAN

Had his best game since the start of the year last weekend when he took control of the ruck and was giving his midfielders first use. Might not have got to the expectations some placed on him at the start of the season, but showed just why people rated him so highly and it will be interesting to see if he can back it up against a strong combination of rucks in this game.

#5 Trent BIANCO

The co-captain is the Chargers’ most damaging player when up and about, and his lethal foot skills can punish opposition from turnovers. He has an array of ways to inflict pain on the opposition with his skills and vision, and leads from the front having no trouble finding the footy whether it be on the wing or half-back. One of the most important players in the grand final.

#6 Jeromy LUCAS

The GWS GIANTS Academy member has had no worries finding plenty of the pill this season, stepping up in the absence of Matt Rowell and Noah Anderson, also representing the GIANTS during the Academy Series. Has managed the eight games so far this season, and after a quiet qualifying final – the only game this season with less than 20 touches – he was more prolific last week in the Chargers’ win over the Dragons.

#8 Noah ANDERSON

Hard not to know this name given the publicity around him. In six games this year he had just one game under 23 disposals, and three games with 26 or more, including a whopping 44 touches and 2.2 against the Calder Cannons in Round 2. So big and strong compared to many other midfielders, he goes forward and plays the role of leading targets, hitting the scoreboard with multiple goals in all bar one of his matches.

#9 Will PHILLIPS

Generally a handball-happy midfielder, Phillips can play inside or out and takes some of the burden off the top-age midfielders in that group. He took out Vic Metro’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) at the Under-16 Championships last year, and practically brings his own ball to every game. Seems to model a fair bit of his game around Matt Rowell with similar intensity at the ball carrier or at ground level and hates being beaten.

#11 Matt ROWELL

Unless you have been living under a rock the past 12 months, it is near-impossible not to recognise the name. The likely number one pick has won just about every award under the sun, including best on ground in both the NAB League Grand Final last year – in a losing team – and on the MCG in the Under-17 All Stars game prior to the AFL Grand Final. Since gathering “just” 21 touches in Round 1, his NAB League disposal hauls are 31, 29, 34, 29 and 32. Disposals are not everything, but when they are in this guy’s hands they certainly are. Just opens things up and not only that, but averages 8.5 tackles per game, including back-to-back weeks of a combined 29 in Rounds 2 and 3.

#12 Lochlan JENKINS

Excited to see what the bottom-ager is capable of producing on the big stage, with him able to play a more outside role at times given the return of Rowell and Anderson to the midfield group. He is not afraid to attack the contest, and was one of the Chargers’ best during the mid-part of the season. One of a number of Chargers who will shape next year’s side.

#15 Kaden SCHREIBER

A State Draft Combine invitee, Schreiber’s form has been building over the past couple of months, rotating between the midfield and defence. Generally handball-happy, he played a more kick-encouraging role in defence for the preliminary finals and had arguably his best game of the year. One who will want to put up a big performance to show recruiters he can be as influential as some of the names in his side.

#17 Giorgio VARAGIANNIS

Another bottom-ager who just keeps popping up, recalled for the preliminary final after having not played since the last time these sides met back in Round 14. With an 18-disposal game, the utility finds the ball and works hard between the arcs.

#18 Fraser ELLIOT

Came off sore with his hamstring iced early in the preliminary final and while it was clear he wanted to get back out there, with the game well and truly on Oakleigh’s terms, on went the tracksuit. An important bottom-age prospect who could develop rapidly in his top-age year next year given his 188cm frame. Can find the ball too when he has the inside role, picking up massive numbers once the school footballers went out and he took control of the midfield.

#22 Thomas GRAHAM

I am not the only one that questions the 190cm listed at the start of the season. He is the ultimate utility, seemingly able to play every role on the field including ruck. With Nick Bryan back in the side, Graham can have the relief role, and he plays a good foil up front with three majors last week while all defenders eyes were on Jamarra Ugle-Hagan.

#25 Jamarra UGLE-HAGAN

His name has been one on the lips of plenty of draft watchers over the past month with consistency finally creeping into his game. After a quiet start to the year, Ugle-Hagan returned to the team for a couple of weeks mid-season during the school holidays, ad then again from Round 17 onwards, booting a massive 23 goals in his past six games. He has gone from likely first round selection to probable top five pick. His speed off the mark and clean hands are terrific, and if he can clean up some of his set shot attempts, then he could be looking at six-goal hauls most weeks.

#27 Josh MAY

Earned a State Draft Combine invitation after a consistent year playing between a wing and half-back. Has a long kick that can be effective, and benefits from freedom when Oakleigh is at full strength. Not a massive ball winner, May still finds his fair share of the footy – usually in the mid-teens – and is best suited to a role winning the ball on the wing and pumping it inside 50 to dangerous positions.

#29 Finlay MACRAE

The brother of Jack still needs to find his consistency, with a bit of yo-yo form at times, but his best is up there with some of the top bottom-agers. We saw on the weekend just how damaging he can be, racking up 22 touches, nine marks and a goal, and he is a smooth mover in the midfield. While he did not play for Vic Metro, getting named for the side was a big bonus and showed just how highly they rate him in the pathway.

#30 Sam TUCKER

A key position player who still has another year in the system, Tucker was included in the extended squad for the Grand Final after not playing since Round 13. His best game came in Round 12 when he took seven marks from 11 touches and four rebounds playing in defence, and is able to play around the ground as well.

#34 Vincent ZAGARI

You can rely on Zagari to go out and do a role each and every week. He has a long, penetrating kick that clears the defensive 50, and often matches up on the opposition’s most dangerous small forward. With the crafty Jordan Jaworski potentially on the horizon in this game, Zagari will need to be aware of the goal sneak’s ability to double back and find space goal-side. Just a consistent player.

#36 Ryan VALENTINE

Can match up on a taller opposition forward, and at 192cm, might even get the job on Jamieson Rossiter this week. Not a high disposal winner, but the bottom-age prospect just does a job and aims to nullify his opponent in each contest to give his side the best chance of winning.

#39 Reef MCINNES

The fact Oakleigh’s midfield is so strong that this kid can chill out in the backline is just ridiculous. A beast of an inside midfielder who is going to be a top-end prospect next year after showing plenty mid-year in the absence of Rowell and Anderson, the Collingwood Next Generation Academy member is 191cm already and has a raking kick and knows how to find the footy. Can play anywhere on the ground and right now he is doing a role off half-back.

#49 Harris MASTRAS

Another strong role player who has contributed to Oakleigh’s success by limiting the effectiveness of an opposition forward. Had his second most touches of the season on the weekend with 12 disposals, so is not a massive ball winner, but just does his job and makes life difficult for the opposition.

#52 Nick GUINEY

Bottom-ager who tends to play his best footy in defence, Guiney is a medium height at 186cm and while not an accumulator, clears the danger in the back half, while showing he can play further up the ground when required and get the ball inside 50. Like Valentine and Mastras, expect Guiney to fill out the defence and play a role on an opposition forward.

#58 Youseph DIB

The 16-year-old Collingwood Next Generation Academy member earned All-Australian honours this year and stands at just 172cm. He attacks the ball hard and creates opportunities in the forward half of the ground. Dib has only played the one game this season, playing the Sandringham Dragons in Round 17 and having six touches and three marks. He was included in the extended squad for the Grand Final.

#61 Connor STONE

Similar to Guiney but up the opposite end of the ground, Stone is a bottom-age forward who does not mind a goal. He booted two of them on the weekend and just pops up, good for a goal most weeks. He burst onto the scene against Murray Bushrangers with a five-goal haul in Round 9 and had plenty of draft watchers looking up his name, and while he has not replicated the massive haul, he is just consistent inside 50.

#73 Cooper SHARMAN

A late bloomer to the NAB League system, Sharman has booted goals in all bar one of his games, including a season-high four majors against Eastern Ranges in Round 14. He is the most reliable set shot in the competition with some nice athletic traits, and being an over-ager included in the program late, the Balwyn product and former GWS GIANTS Academy member has come on so quickly in draft calculations he earned a National Draft Combine invitation.

#77 Nick STATHOPOULOS

The stereotypical small forward, Stathopoulos is just a handful inside 50. He can smell a goal from a mile away and was a match-winner against Gippsland Power in the qualifying final with four majors from 15 disposals and four marks. He booted five goals against the Bushrangers in Round 9 on debut – exactly the same as Stone – and has hit the scoreboard in all bar one of this games this year.

FATHER/SON AND ACADEMY PROSPECTS

Eastern:

Chayce Black (Fremantle father-son – 2019)
Todd Garner (Hawthorn NGA – 2019)
Connor Downie (Hawthorn NGA – 2020)

Oakleigh:

Lachlan Johnson (Brisbane father-son / Essendon NGA – 2019)
Reef McInnes (Collingwood NGA – 2020)
Jamarra Ugle-Hagan (Western Bulldogs NGA – 2020)

WHY CAN THEY WIN?

Eastern Ranges:

They have been the best side all year and are deserving of the coveted 2019 premiership. They have the most even team of the entire competition, with their bottom six the strongest of any side. After a down year last year in the bottom two, the Ranges have thrived in 2019, and looking back, a remarkable 14 of their 23 players from the team have been on the list since 2017 as 16-year-olds. We know they will put in a four-quarter performance and are so unrelenting as they have done it all season.

Oakleigh Chargers:

Eastern has had just three losses this year – once to Gippsland Power by 10 points – and twice to the Chargers. Both time Oakleigh has found the formula to success against the Ranges, although now with plenty of changes for both sides since Round 14, it will be interesting to see how it goes down. Also, Matt Rowell and Noah Anderson are the best two players in the draft crop, and chuck in Trent Bianco on the outside, and Jamarra Ugle-Hagan and Cooper Sharman up forward and there is some serious talent on the park for Oakleigh.

WHO DO THEY NEED TO STOP?

Eastern Ranges:

Trent Bianco and Jamarra Ugle-Hagan. These two players are effectively Oakleigh’s barometer. It would be easy to say try and stop Matt Rowell and Noah Anderson, but we know that is not realistically going to happen with even poor games from those guys being 20-plus disposals. You can limit their influence at the stoppages and make life difficult for them around the ground, but they are so hard to beat. For Bianco, it will be not allowing him the time and space to slice up your defence and win easy ball on the outside. He can win his own ball, so make him do that. Too often teams focus on controlling the inside of the contest and it allows Bianco to be waiting for the ball in space and then deliver an elite bullet inside 50 to the leading Jamarra Ugle-Hagan. The amount of times no-one got in front of Ugle-Hagan on the lead in the past few weeks is quite remarkable. Oakleigh opens up the forward 50 for him, and Eastern needs to make sure someone is standing in the hole or ready to block the lead. If the Chargers hit-up someone else it is a risk, but the Ranges can ill-afford Ugle-Hagan to get his confidence up and on a roll.

Oakleigh Chargers:

James Ross and Connor Downie. Similar to Rowell and Anderson, the likes of Lachlan Stapleton, Mitch Mellis and Zakery Pretty are hard to stop. They will win the ball regardless of anything you do, it is just forcing them to rush their disposal under pressure or handball rather than kick and keep the ball in the area. The one you do not want getting too much of the ball is Connor Downie. He is a player similar to Bianco in the sense that when he starts to get the ball in time and space, can do some damage going forward. Moreso, Downie hits the scoreboard himself and while his consistency can be up and down, when he is on, he is a super damaging player as Gippsland found out on the weekend. Oakleigh cannot allow him to get his confidence up and start using his vision and skills to pinpoint passes inside 50. As for Ross, he is the key to the defence and if he has 20-plus touches and eight-plus marks, Eastern win the game. His read of the ball in flight is superb and he just settles the team down in defence. He will have the task of chopping off leads and dropping courageously into the hole. For Oakleigh, you have to make him as accountable as possible, and use his direct opponent as an option inside 50, or make it a consideration to restrict the predictability going forward. Otherwise Ross will just pick the perfect moment to peel off his opponent and come across as the third-man to spoil or mark and help out a teammate in defence.

GRAND FINAL HISTORY

Both the Eastern Ranges and Oakleigh Chargers are well familiar with the final day of the TAC Cup/NAB League Boys season, having made six grand finals each. Of the 26 previous seasons, one of these sides has been in 11 of them. In 2015, these teams faced off in the decider, rising from fifth and sixth to make the grand final. With four country teams ahead of them, it gave credence to the metropolitan sides being stronger in finals with their school players back, and on that day the sides played out a thriller. Oakleigh won by 12 points with Kade Answerth being named best on ground, along with a host of future talent including Tom Phillips and Ben Crocker (Collingwood), Patrick Kerr (Carlton), Taylin Duman (Fremantle), Sam McLarty (Collingwood) and Alex Morgan (North Melbourne/Essendon) all running around for the winners. Eastern had a list containing a fair bit of super bottom-age talent as well as top-age stars, with Ryan Clarke (North Melbourne) and Dylan Clarke (Essendon), Jordan Gallucci (Adelaide), Blake Hardwick (Hawthorn), Callum Brown (Collingwood) and Jack Maibaum (Sydney) all strutting their stuff, but for draft watchers, a couple of players donning the #56 and #58 jumpers caught the eye most as 16-year-olds Jaidyn Stephenson (three goals) and Adam Cerra stole the show.

Eastern Ranges:

1995: lost to Northern Knights by 29 points
2000: lost to Geelong Falcons by 22 points
2002: defeated Calder Cannons by one point
2004: lost to Calder Cannons by 70 points
2013: defeated Dandenong Stingrays by 112 points
2015: lost to Oakleigh Chargers by 12 points

Oakleigh Chargers:

2006: defeated Calder Cannons by 27 points
2011: lost to Sandringham Dragons by eight points
2012: defeated Gippsland Power by one point
2014: defeated Calder Cannons by 47 points
2015: defeated Eastern Ranges by 12 points
2018: lost to Dandenong Stingrays by six points.

DRAFT CENTRAL TIPS

Peter Williams
Tip: Eastern Ranges
BOG: James Ross (Eastern)

Michael Alvaro
Tip: Oakleigh Chargers
BOG: Noah Anderson (Oakleigh)

Ed Pascoe
Tip: Oakleigh Chargers
BOG: Matt Rowell (Oakleigh)

Craig Byrnes
Tip: Eastern Ranges
BOG: Mitch Mellis (Eastern)

Matthew Cocks
Tip: Oakleigh Chargers
BOG: Trent Bianco (Oakleigh)

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.

NLB GF 2019: How they got here – Oakleigh Chargers

HEADING into the year, the Oakleigh Chargers were one of the favourites to take out the 2019 premiership after going down by less than a kick in 2018 to the Dandenong Stingrays. With the likely top two picks at their disposal in Matt Rowell and Noah Anderson, as well as highly rated talents Trent Bianco, Dylan Williams and Nick Bryan among others, the depth at the Chargers was phenomenal. They held the 2018 Under 16s Vic Metro Most Valuable Player (MVP) in Will Phillips, as well as securing exciting tall forward, Jamarra Ugle-Hagan from the Greater Western Victoria (GWV) Rebels following his decision to play closer to where he boards at Scotch College. We look back on the Chargers’ 2019 season to see how they made it to the final match of the 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:

CALDER CANNONS 0.0 | 5.4 | 6.4 | 7.4 (46)
OAKLEIGH CHARGERS 4.4 | 4.4 | 6.6 | 10.9 (69)

The Rolls Royce stars of Oakleigh slowly clicked into gear on Sunday, helping the Chargers to a 23-point win over Calder. The Cannons were dismantled last week and responded well to going four goals down in the opening term this week, hitting back with five majors to nil in the second stanza to take a lead into the major break. With the ledger all but level going into the home straight, the likes of Dylan Williams and Noah Anderson stood up when it mattered to drag Oakleigh over the line. Williams was kept relatively quiet, but managed to snare three goals in the fourth quarter, while Noah Anderson (44 disposals, five tackles, five inside 50s, two goals) was near-on unstoppable. Matt Rowell also showed his class for 31 disposals, with bottom-ager Finlay Macrae (21 disposals, 1.2) dangerous up forward. Just as dangerous at the other end was Josh Kemp, who pulled Calder back into the game with two crucial goals in the second quarter and ended with three. Brodie Newman (21 disposals, five rebound 50s, four marks) was a calming influence in defensive 50, and Sam Ramsay was a good forward driver with 18 disposals and five rebounds. With plenty of improvement shown, Calder will face Western Jets at RAMS next week, with Oakleigh set to meet fellow premiership fancies, Sandringham in a ripping match-up.

ROUND 3:

SANDRINGHAM DRAGONS 2.3 | 5.5 | 7.9 | 9.11 (65)
OAKLEIGH CHARGERS 2.0 | 3.1 | 4.5 | 8.7 (55)

Hosts Sandringham got the better of the Round 3 top-of-the-table clash, downing the Oakleigh Chargers by 10 points to remain undefeated atop of the ladder. The Dragons were in control for most of the contest in perfect conditions to showcase the raft of draftable talent on display, and held on in the face of a late Oakleigh charge. Charlie Dean started strongly up forward, clunking big marks and putting two majors on the board to remain the competition’s leading goal scorer. Hugo Ralphsmith was the only other Dragon to slot two goals, and was dangerous in each of his forward forays – much like Oakleigh’s Noah Anderson, who booted two goals from 26 disposals. Along with Anderson’s efforts, Oakleigh’s midfield force was led by Matt Rowell (31 disposals, 11 tackles, seven marks) and co-captain Trent Bianco (26 disposals, five rebound 50s, four inside 50s), but was ultimately outdone by the Dragons’ depth. The centre bounce trio of Jack Mahony (25 disposals), Finn Maginness (24, six inside 50s, one goal), and Ryan Byrnes (21, six inside 50s) worked tirelessly to win a wealth of possessions and send Sandringham forward, with Josh Worrell a force off half-back. With the amount of talent on show, the game fully delivered on expectations with respects to getting a good glimpse of the game’s future stars, and the two sides would surely provide another corker should they meet in the post-season. Both teams now go on to face academies in Round 4, with Sandringham hosting Sydney, while Oakleigh travels to Brisbane to take on the Suns.

ROUND 4:

GOLD COAST ACADEMY 1.3 | 6.4 | 10.8 | 14.11 (95)
OAKLEIGH CHARGERS 1.1 | 2.2 | 3.4 | 3.6 (24)

Gold Coast SUNS Academy became the third non-Victorian side to pick up four points on the weekend, opening Sunday’s Queensland double-header with a 71-point win over Oakleigh. The Chargers came in heavily depleted like most of their fellow metro sides, but it didn’t show early as they battled well in an even first term. It was all Gold Coast from thereon though, as the Suns pulled away to a 26-point half time lead. With eight goals to one, it was more of the same in a dominant second half from the home side as they pushed to claim top spot at round’s end. Connor Budarick again had a day out, leading the Suns with 28 disposals, eight marks, eight tackles and a goal, while Corey Joyce and Ashton Crossley won the ball well with 22 possessions apiece. Josh Gore could have had a huge game, claiming 2.5 from his 20 disposals as one of four Suns multiple goal kickers, with Mark Steiner booting two of Oakleigh’s three goals for the match. Chargers over-ager and 2018 Vic Metro representative Joe Ayton-Delaney (26 disposals) was influential through midfield alongside Kaden Schreiber (24, seven marks, five clearances), but both were beaten to being named best by ruckman Jacob Woodfull who managed five clearances from 15 disposals. With two losses on the trot, Oakleigh will look to bounce back after the break against Dandenong, while Gold Coast is set to face another metro side in Eastern as its NAB League stint edges over the half-way mark.

ROUND 5:

DANDENONG STINGRAYS 2.2 | 10.4 | 12.8 | 19.10 (124)
OAKLEIGH CHARGERS 2.1 | 3.2 | 4.4 | 8.6 (54)

In their first three clashes, the Dandenong Stingrays have enjoyed absolute nail-biters, winning by a goal twice, and the drawing with Geelong Falcons in Round 3. While the opening term scores suggested this one would head down the same path, the action told a different story with the Stingrays on top, but not putt ing the scores on the board. That happened in the second term when they took full control of the game from Oakleigh Chargers, piling on eight goals to one with the breeze in a windy day at Shepley Oval. In front of a home crowd, the Stingrays put an understrength Oakleigh to the sword, extending the lead to 52 points by the final break, before running away with it in the last term as both sides managed to break through for goals. Eleven majors were kicked as Dandenong won that quarter seven goals to four, and enjoyed a massive 70-point win. In the absence of Hayden Young, Ned Cahill stood tall to be the standout player on the ground, while Luke Williams also contributed with his long-range goals a highlight. Jack Toner and Clayton Gay were solid throughout, as was Sam De Koning who took a multitude of intercept marks at centre half-back. For Oakleigh, Jacob Woodfull is hard to miss, rocking a mullet, but the ruck was sensational throughout the match, while Sam Seach and Ryan Valentine were also named among the best. AFL Academy members and co-captains Trent Bianco and Dylan Williams showed signs across the ground, but the Stingrays controlled the play for the most part in the impressive win.

ROUND 6:

TASMANIA DEVILS 3.0 | 5.2 | 6.5 | 8.7 (55)
OAKLEIGH CHARGERS 3.4 | 3.5 | 6.6 | 8.8 (56)

Oakleigh Chargers held on for a hard-fought win by the narrowest of margins over Tasmania at North Hobart Oval, helping them climb back into the NAB League top eight. After breaking to a slim quarter-time lead, the Chargers gave up a nine-point half time lead after going goalless in the second term. With their backs against the wall, Oakleigh stood up to reclaim the lead, and hold on until the final siren as both sides contributed 1.2 in the fourth quarter. Oakleigh’s Thomas Lovell was efficient in front of goal with half of his eight touches ending in six points, but it was co-captain Trent Bianco who was his side’s best with 42 disposals, five marks, seven clearances, nine tackles and eight inside 50s. Josh May was also instrumental with 28 disposals and five clearances, while ruckman Jacob Woodfull was handy with 16 disposals and 27 hitouts. Harrison Ireland was named the Devils’ best for his role as an undersized ruck, while Ollie Davis was their leading ball winner with 21 touches and five clearances. Fellow bottom-age star Sam Collins was not far behind, matching AFL Academy member Will Peppin‘s effort of 18 disposals, while Will Harper and Rhyan Mansell each booted two goals. While Oakleigh can enjoy a bye in Round 7, Tasmania faces a trip to Bendigo to face the Pioneers, who are also 2-3.

ROUND 7:

Bye.

ROUND 8:

NORTHERN KNIGHTS 1.2 | 2.4 | 4.6 | 5.10 (40)
OAKLEIGH CHARGERS 1.2 | 2.6 | 3.8 | 6.10 (46)

Oakleigh Chargers scraped home in a dour low-scoring affair, overcoming a three-quarter time deficit to beat the Northern Knights by six points. The match served as a curtain-raiser to the NAB League Girls finals at Shepley Oval, but both sides came out slowly on the big stage to play out a deadlocked 1.2 apiece first term. It proved much of the same in the following quarter, but Oakleigh managed to hold on to a two-point lead at half time after kicking the first goal of the term through Spiros Sklavenitis. The Knights hit back following the main break after Oakleigh’s Thomas ‘Love Machine’ Lovell again ensured the Chargers had the first goal of the quarter, with majors to Ryan Gardner and Joel Trudgeon putting them in a winning position heading into the last turn. It wasn’t to be though, with Dylan Williams‘ inspired move forward proving the difference as the Oakleigh co-captain booted two last quarter goals and assisted another to help his side sneak ahead and hold on. Bottom-aged Chargers Lochlan Jenkins (23 disposals, eight clearances) and Fraser Elliot (28 disposals, six clearances) were terrific in midfield, with the wing pairing of Josh May (24 disposals, six inside 50s) and Jeromy Lucas (23 disposals) also finding plenty of the ball. Thomas Graham joined Williams as the only other Oakleigh multiple goal-kicker, with no Knight achieving the same feat. Sam Philp (28 disposals, nine clearances) and Gardner (15 disposals, seven inside 50s) were named amongst Northern’s best and also found the goals, with Ryan Sturgess (19 disposals, 10 rebound 50s) resolute in defence and Lachie Potter (17 disposals) providing plenty of run. A second-consecutive narrow win sees Oakleigh sneak into the top eight, with Northern just outside on three wins as the competition heads into a development weekend.

ROUND 9:

MURRAY BUSHRANGERS 1.2 | 2.6 | 4.7 | 9.11 (65)
OAKLEIGH CHARGERS 3.6 | 8.11 | 14.12 | 18.14 (122)

Oakleigh Chargers made it three wins on the trot as they comfortably accounted for the Murray Bushrangers by 57 points, consolidating their top eight standing. After scraping over the line by under a goal in each of their last two outings, the Chargers emphatically returned to form on the back of huge second and third quarters where they piled on 11 goals to three to establish dominance. Goals came in droves for the winners, with five of their six goal kickers claiming multiples – led by bottom-ager Connor Stone and Nicholas Staphopoulos, who each bagged five majors. Both were named amongst the best, with the bottom-aged midfield pairing of Fraser Elliot (26 disposals, six inside 50s) and Lochlan Jenkins (24 disposals, eight clearances) again right in the thick of it, and Vincent Zagari (17 disposals, seven rebounds) also solid. Jimmy Boyer was the clear best for Murray on a tough day, amassing an equal game-high 27 disposals and nine rebound 50s, with Vic Country squad member Cam Wild (20 disposals, 2.3) also good. Hudson Kaak joined Wild as the only other Murray multiple goal kicker (three), with over-ager Will Christie (12 disposals, nine tackles, 26 hitouts) working well around the ground. Murray’s search for a third win heads to Tasmania next week as they ready themselves to do battle with the Devils, while Oakleigh hosts and in-form Calder side with both teams looking to stretch their win streaks.

ROUND 10:

CALDER CANNONS 2.3 | 2.4 | 3.5 | 4.6 (30)
OAKLEIGH CHARGERS 3.1 | 6.6 | 11.6 | 15.9 (99)

Oakleigh continues its charge up the ladder an into form, accounting for the Calder Cannons by 69 points in the sides’ second meeting at RAMS Arena for 2019. While they won ugly in Rounds 6 and 8, the sixth place Chargers are now on par with the top four sides after wins by a combined 126 points in Rounds 9 and 10. While a 26-point half time buffer was more than handy, Oakleigh well and truly pulled away in the second half with nine goals to two in a more typical Chargers display. The inclusion of bottom-age stars Jamarra Ugle-Hagan and Will Phillips on the back of school football breaks proved telling, with the former booting five goals and the latter leading the possession count. Fellow bottom-agers Lochlan Jenkins and Fraser Elliot were not far behind Phillips in those stakes to continue their good form, while GWS Academy member Jeromy Lucas played a good hand with two goals. For the Cannons, who had previously won four of their last five, Ben Overman was named best, with Ned Gentile again among the votes alongside the likes of Jeremy O’Sullivan (two goals) and Sam Ramsay. Unable to rectify their Round 2 loss to the Chargers on the same ground, the Cannons now slip below their weekend opponents to seventh with a bye on the horizon. Meanwhile, Oakleigh will look to continue its hot form and break into the top four with a win against Gippsland in Round 11.

ROUND 11:

GIPPSLAND POWER 4.4 | 5.6 | 10.10 | 13.13 (91)
OAKLEIGH CHARGERS 1.2 | 4.7 | 4.7 | 6.9 (45)

A Vic Country bye boded well for the Gippsland Power as they climbed into third with a strong win over the dangerous Oakleigh Chargers. After kicking out to a 20-point quarter time buffer, Oakleigh hit back to find themselves just five points down at the main break with 3.5 in the second term. The see-sawing continued though, as the Chargers were held goalless in the next stanza, and could only answer back with 2.2 in the final period to the home side’s powerful eight-goal second half. Four of Gippsland’s best half-dozen were Country representatives, with Fraser Phillips (20 disposals, 5.3) enjoying a day out to lead the lot and earn a Draft Central Player of the Week nomination. Leo Connolly narrowly missed out on that gig with his game-high 32 touches and lone goal, while skipper Brock Smith, Ryan Sparkes, and bottom-ager Sam Berry each had 26 disposals as Gippsland dominated possession. The likes of Tom Fitzpatrick (17 disposals, 2.1), Harrison Pepper (20 disposals, one goal) and Mason McGarrity (18 disposals, 1.4) were others on the verge of having big days. For Oakleigh, whose winning run has snapped, Vincent Zagari was named best for his team-high 22-disposals effort, with Lochlan Jenkins (18 disposals, 10 tackles) and Josh May (18 disposals) working hard in a weakened midfield. Over-aged debutant Cooper Sharman was one who impressed among the raft of Oakleigh changes, collecting 20 disposals and booting a goal. The Chargers will look to get back on the winners list as they clash with Sandringham next time out, while Gippsland faces a Geelong team desperate for form.

ROUND 12:

SANDRINGHAM DRAGONS 1.3 | 2.8 | 3.8 | 4.16 (40)
OAKLEIGH CHARGERS 1.4 | 1.5 | 7.8 | 8.10 (58)

A wasteful Sandringham Dragons squandered the opportunity to defeat a gallant Oakleigh Chargers, kicking 1.8 in the final term in a tight contest at Trevor Barker Beach Oval. Cold and blustery conditions meant skills and finishing were made trying, however Oakleigh willed themselves over the line with some strong tackling and defensive efforts led by Lachlan Johnson and Nicholas Stathopoulos. Oakleigh kicked away halfway through the third term, slamming home six goals and taking a commanding lead into the final break. An inspired Dragons outfit came out with vengeance in the last but their inaccuracy and inability to convert their chances cost them a victory. Failing to capitalise on ample supply from midfielders Hugo Ralphsmith and Jackson Voss (five inside 50s each), the Dragons eventually succumbed to Oakleigh’s superior class and polish in front of goal. Oakleigh power forward Jamarra Ugle-Hagan slotted three goals and Stathopoulos two, with midfielders Reef McInnes (23 disposals) and Lochlan Jenkins (21 touches) working hard. For the Dragons, Ralphsmith (23 disposals) and rebounding defender Will Mackay (23 disposals, eight rebounds) were dominant forces in the misfiring Sandringham line-up. Oakleigh’s win places them as a strong contender for the finals, equalling Sandringham’;s seven wins for the year.

ROUND 13:

GEELONG FALCONS 2.3 | 3.3 | 5.4 | 6.6 (42)
OAKLEIGH CHARGERS 5.4 | 10.6 | 14.8 | 20.9 (129)

All of Oakleigh’s top-end guns fired as the Chargers easily accounted for a depleted Geelong Falcons side by 87 points to see out the round. Returning co-captains Dylan Williams (five goals) and Trent Bianco (24 disposals, two goals) were fantastic, with a raft of bottom and top-age talents helping Oakleigh to their big win. Bottom-agers Jamarra Ugle-Hagan (four goals) and Reef McInnes (29 disposals, two goals) did their best to live up to the standard set by Williams and Bianco, with over-ager Thomas Graham (24 disposals, 23 hitouts, one goal) monstrous in the ruck and Kaden Schreiber handball-happy with 25 among his 29 disposals. For Geelong, Charlie Sprague‘s three goals were a shining light, while bottom-agers Charlie Lazzaro (23 disposals, four rebound 50s), Noah Gribble (20 disposals, five marks), Cameron Fleeton (19 disposals, seven marks) and Henry Walsh (11 disposals, 26 hitouts) gave a glimpse of the future. Desperate for form, a meeting with GWV Rebels is next for Geelong, while Oakleigh will be red hot heading into its top four clash with table-toppers, Eastern.

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:

OAKLEIGH CHARGERS 2.2 | 4.3 | 10.5 | 12.8 (80)
WESTERN JETS 1.2 | 5.3 | 5.3 | 9.4 (58)

A barnstorming second half saw Oakleigh get the better of Western and slot into the all-important third place, with all teams bar Tasmania having now played 14 games. The Chargers gave up a six-point half-time lead after heading into the first break with an identical margin to the good, but turned it on in typical Oakleigh fashion to boot six goals to Western’s nil in the third term. While Western managed to claw back a bit of the margin in an improved final quarter, it was to no avail as Oakleigh held firm despite missing both of its co-captains. Chargers midfielder Lochlan Jenkins was the standout with 35 disposals, 10 inside 50s and a goal, backed by fellow bottom-age ball finder Reef McInnes (28 disposals, seven marks, nine tackles). Over-ager Jeromy Lucas (26 disposals, six tackles) was another to stand up with some of the Chargers’ guns absent, while Nicholas Stathopoulos was efficient in front of goal to prize three goals from seven disposals and Cooper Sharman (10 disposals, 2.1) continues to excite. For the Jets, Archi Manton was just as economical with 5.1 from seven kicks to do most of the damage as his side’s only multiple goal kicker, but Josh Honey was named best for his 24-disposal effort. Over-ager Daly Andrews (23 disposals) keeps on finding the ball, with returning defensive duo Lucas Rocci and Josh Kellett doing the same and bottom-ager Billy Cootee booting a couple of handy goals. Both sides are set to play their final regular season games in the Avalon Airport Oval triple-header, with Western opening the show against Northern and Oakleigh closing it in a mouth-watering clash with Sandringham.

ROUND 17:

SANDRINGHAM DRAGONS 3.2 | 5.4 | 10.6 | 13.6 (84)
OAKLEIGH CHARGERS 3.3 | 6.6 | 8.7 | 14.7 (91)

Pure star power dragged the Oakleigh Chargers over the line and into third place with an incredible seven-point come-from-behind win over Sandringham Dragons in the thick of what was a finals-like atmosphere. After the Dragons looked to have sealed the game with three goals in the first five minutes of the final quarter, a Noah Anderson-inspired Oakleigh hit back in style with four majors in the following five minutes, and ended with the last six of the game altogether to snatch victory. Both sides enjoyed spurts of momentum throughout the game and looked like getting on top on numerous occasions, but Oakleigh’s final thrust came at the ideal time as they charged home to claim the remarkable win. Anderson’s game-winning 24 disposals and three goals were arguably matched for importance by the efforts of Matt Rowell (34 disposals, seven tackles) – who hardly put a foot wrong – and skipper Trent Bianco (28 disposals). The high-marking forward duo of Jamarra Ugle-Hagan and Cooper Sharman also shone, combining for six goals and a couple of highlight reel moments. For the Dragons, Finn Maginness did his level best to drag his side over the line with 17 disposals and three goals, with Darcy Chirgwin (30 disposals, seven tackles) doing the tough stuff through midfield and Angus Hanrahan influential on the outside (23 disposals, two goals). Bottom-ager Archie Perkins was another to impress with his three goals from 11 disposals, while Corey Watts put in a mammoth effort in defence with 12 disposals, six marks and seven rebound 50s. With an absolute raft of combine invitees and representative players taking the field, it was one of the highest quality Under 18 games in recent memory and truly lived up to the pre-game hype as a number of top-end stars stood up.

QUALIFYING FINAL:

GIPPSLAND POWER 2.2 | 9.2 | 11.3 | 12.3 (75)
OAKLEIGH CHARGERS 5.1 | 5.3 | 9.7 | 12.11 (83)

OAKLEIGH Chargers have advanced through to the 2019 NAB League Boys Preliminary Final after downing Gippsland Power in one of the finishes of the year. Both teams had momentum swings throughout the contest, with the Chargers on top early, the Power storming in front, only for the Chargers to come again with seven of the last 10 goals to run over the top and take home the chocolates.

The first quarter belonged to Oakleigh with four consecutive goals to open proceedings, and Western Bulldogs Next Generation Academy (NGA) prospect Jamarra Ugle-Hagan looking dangerous against a defence missing their best interceptor in captain Brock Smith. Ugle-Hagan took four marks in the first term, converting two goals from set shots and setting up another one to Bailey Laurie with class tight on the boundary. Without hesitation he spun and delivered a neat centring pass into Laurie who did not let him down with the set shot. The first goal had come from Nick Stathopoulos who found himself free inside 50 and had no problems converting the set shot from straight in front. Facing a four-goal deficit and frustrated, Gippsland Power’s Caleb Serong gave away a downfield free for a late bump, only to suck the player he knocked over to put him on the turf and his appeal to the umpire was successful to win the ball back. It seemed to ignite Gippsland who to that point had been a rung below a switched on Oakleigh side. Trent Baldi booted back-to-back goals with a set shot and then getting free and doubling back to goal to kick one from point blank on the run. Having cut the deficit to a couple of goals, it was painful when Cooper Sharman somehow got his hands free in a congested stoppage inside 50 to flick the handball behind his head to the running Reef McInnes who slammed it home seconds before the siren for Oakleigh to head into the break 17 points ahead. Serong was on fire for the Power, picking up nine touches and taking a contested mark over the much taller Nick Bryan, while Oakleigh had plenty of ball winners with bottom-agers Will Phillips (nine), Finlay Macrae (seven) and Laurie (seven) leading the way. The ominous sign for the Chargers was that despite the lead, their two biggest names in Matt Rowell and Noah Anderson had combined for just 11 touches in the first term.

If the first quarter belonged to Serong, the second quarter belonged to Sam Flanders. The dynamic forward booted four consecutive goals to steal the show and open up a massive 23-point lead at half-time. The term started with Harvey Neocleous booted a goal from a quick snap in the opening minute after great work from Serong out of the middle, before a run-down tackle from Fraser Phillips aided a goal to Leo Connolly who Phillips handed it off to on the run. The long raking kick from Connolly outside 50 sailed through and the Power were up and about. Oakleigh had a rare chance through Laurie inside 50 but his set shot missed to the left, and the Power immediately made them pay. Flanders proceeded to put in one of the best individual quarter performances, piling on 12 touches and four goals over the next 15 minutes, all of which came from set shots. He was isolated one-on-one with an opponent and time and time used great body work to nudge his opponent off and apply more scoreboard pressure. After his fourth Flanders went into the middle and immediately went to work setting up the next major, bombing long inside 50 to Serong who rotated deep with his Vic Country teammate, and it came off hands for Phillips to run onto it perfectly and dribble it home. The siren sounded with Gippsland remarkably on top after booting nine of the past 10 goals.

After counter-opposite opening terms in the first half, the third quarter became an early shootout with both sides showing off their ability to hit the scoreboard. Stathopoulos quickly added Oakleigh’s first major since the last few seconds of the first term, running into the open goal for his second goal. It seemed to open the flood gates at both ends as Tom Fitzpatrick won a 50m penalty and converted from point blank. Both Phillips’ got on the board for their respective sides, with Will turning onto his right and snapping around his body for Oakleigh, before Fraser did the same from the next clearance off his left from a Serong clearance. Flanders had an ambitious shot from the pocket but sprayed it out on the full, then Laurie made it count with a successful shot from the other end. When Stathopoulos made the crowd believe it was Groundhog Day – running into the square and booting it from point blank range again – Oakleigh was back into single digits. Will Phillips and Ugle-Hagan both had chances to cut the deficit further but missed. At the final break, Flanders (23 disposals, six marks and four goals) and Serong (20 disposals, four marks and five inside 50s) were dominant, while Phillips (20 disposals, four inside 50s and one goal) and Trent Bianco (20 disposals, four inside 50s) were the top disposal winners for the Chargers.

As if the players needed a challenge in the last term, the heavens opened and the rain poured down and it became a slog. Not before Ugle-Hagan could slot his third and cut the deficit to within a kick. Riley Baldi quickly responded as the rain began to fall, running into an open goal and answering the call with a major, but from then on goals were hard to come by. Bianco seemed to defy that though when he unleashed a bomb from just inside 50 and it sailed through for a vital major either side of a Ugle-Hagan spray from 15m out. The behinds were enough to put Oakleigh up by a couple as Gippsland desperately tried to get the ball forward. But instead it was Oakleigh through Stathopoulos who somehow found a way deep in the pocket to kick an almost impossible goal and hand the Chargers an unlikely come-from-behind win.

Rowell finished the day with an influential second half and 30 disposals, two marks, five tackles and four rebounds, joined among the big ball winners in Will Phillips (28 touches, four tackles, six inside 50s and three rebounds) and Anderson (25 disposals, three inside 50s), while Stathopoulos and Ugle-Hagan combined for seven majors. For the Power, it was the duo of Flanders (28 disposals, seven marks, four inside 50s, seven tackles and four majors) and Serong (24 disposals, four marks, six inside 50s and four tackles) who did the bulk of the damage, while Connolly (21 touches, 11 rebounds and a goal) and Tye Hourigan (16 disposals, four marks, nine rebounds and two tackles) were also consistent.

PRELIMINARY FINAL:

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

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.

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.

Scouting notes: NAB League Boys – Preliminary Finals

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

Oakleigh Chargers:
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.

Sandringham Dragons:
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

Eastern Ranges:
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.

Gippsland Power:
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.