Tag: Eastern Ranges

Classic Contests: Ranges raid Launceston in split fixture

IF you are missing footy like we are, then let us somewhat salvage that with a look back in a new series of Classic Contests. In today’s contest we look at one of the would-have-been Round 9 clashes in the NAB League this year between the Tasmania Devils and Eastern Ranges. In this edition, we wind back the clock just one year to when the sides met for their first clash since the Devils’ instatement as a full-time NAB League side.

2019 NAB League, Round 12
Saturday July 13, 10:45am
UTAS Stadium

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

Draftees in action:

Tasmania – Matthew McGuinness (North Melbourne), Mitchell O’Neill (West Coast)
Eastern – Nil

Eastern and Tasmania did battle on the Apple Isle on a weekend where every other NAB League side enjoyed a bye, with the standalone Round 12 fixture taking place two weeks later. The hosts were in the middle of a form slump, losing in four of their previous five outings to hold a 4-7 record outside of the top eight equation, while Eastern was riding high atop the table with its five-game winning streak and 9-2 overall record.

The Ranges had been pushed all the way by a struggling Murray side the week before, while Tasmania went down comfortably to Bendigo in a low-scorer, making its run of three-consecutive home games largely fruitless. But in another home outing, there would lie a bit of hope in causing an upset against the well-drilled and organised Ranges as both sides boasted near full strength squads.

Any form of confidence would have been justified, too after a high-scoring opening term, as Tasmania more than matched the Ranges to lead by a goal at the first break. The five-goal to four period of play was followed by far closer ones as the Ranges shut up shop and snuck ahead by under a goal at the next two breaks to set up a grandstand finish.

But that was not entirely to be as the visiting side piled on four goals to one to kick away to a 22-point victory in their highest-scoring term for the day. While it was a valiant effort given the conditions and circumstances, Tasmania simply could not match it with the Ranges for the full four quarters as they tightened their structure and forced the game to be played on their terms after quarter time.

The sole eventual draftees afield, both for Tasmania had decent days; with Matt McGuinness (16 disposals, five marks) assuming his usual role in defence, while Mitch O’Neill had his day cut short through injury after collecting 12 touches. Bottom-age Academy members Oliver Davis (23 disposals) and Sam Collins (16) were also prominent, while Jackson Callow had a big day out with his 14 disposals, six marks, and 4.3.

Eastern’s trio of ball winners again did the job, with Mitch Mellis‘ 33 disposals leading all comers, while Zak Pretty (23, one goal) and Lachlan Stapleton (22) played their usual roles. Bottom-age guns Wil Parker (22 disposals) and Connor Downie (19, one goal) also had their say on the game, with Jamieson Rossiter enjoying one of his better outings for the year in bagging two goals from 16 touches.

The Ranges would of course go on to finish as minor premier and avoid Wildcard Round, making it all the way to the grand final where they would lose by 53 points to Oakleigh. The Devils finished outside the top eight and would go down to Calder by a goal in Wildcard Round, slashing their finals hopes.

Marquee Matchups: Joshua Clarke vs. Bailey Laurie

DESPITE remaining in the unknown of football’s temporary absence, Draft Central is set to ramp up its draft analysis with another new prospect-focussed series, Marquee Matchups. We take a look at some of the high-end head-to-head battles which look likely to take place should the class of 2020 take the field, comparing pairs of draft hopefuls to help preview who may come out on top.

Our next matchup takes place on the outer, with flying flankers/wingmen Joshua Clarke (Eastern Ranges) and Bailey Laurie (Oakleigh Chargers) put under the spotlight. Of course, the pair will likely be teammates for Vic Metro should a national carnival go ahead, but have already faced off twice in the NAB League – including in the grand final, no less. Both were prominent as bottom-agers in the 2019 season decider, with Clarke assuming his usual role off half-back, while Laurie ran riot at half-forward.

Clarke’s 18 underage games are testament to his ability, as he quickly became a key member of the highly successful Eastern side credit to his damaging work moving forward from the back. Laurie managed seven outings in Oakleigh’s premiership side last year, mixing his time between Chargers duties and APS school football at Caulfield Grammar. A popular teammate, Laurie ranks as elite for his agility and is a livewire in the forward half who harnesses his phenomenal creativity.

Without further ado, get up to speed with how the two match-up in terms of their form to date, strengths, improvements, and what has already been said about their performances in our scouting notes.

PLAYER PAGES

Joshua Clarke
Eastern Ranges/Vic Metro

DOB: March 5, 2002

Height: 180cm
Weight: 71kg

Position: Half-back/wing

Bailey Laurie
Oakleigh Chargers/Vic Metro

DOB: March 24, 2002

Height: 178cm
Weight: 76kg

Position: Forward/outside midfielder

FITNESS TESTING PROFILES

VERTICAL JUMP

Clarke – 48cm*
Laurie – 58cm

RUNNING VERTICAL JUMP (R/L)

Clarke – 66cm/56cm*
Laurie – 63cm/74cm

SPEED (20m)

Clarke – 3.10 seconds*
Laurie – 3.19 seconds

AGILITY

Clarke – 8.24 seconds*
Laurie – 7.97 seconds

ENDURANCE (Yo-yo)

Clarke – 20.4*
Laurie – 20.5

* – 2019 testing data

Inevitably, it is impossible to compare testing results from the two athletes given only one of them tested this year, however, Clarke did participate in 2019 to give us some data to work with. The pair ranks very highly in agility, with Laurie’s sub-eight second effort landing him in the competition’s top 10. Speed is the area which seems to set the two apart, though Clarke’s 20m time of 3.10 seconds in 2019 is far from flattering to the pace he is able to build at full flight.

The pair fared similarly in terms of endurance albeit if the score are a touch low, and Clarke’s preseason injury interruptions would have made building on the 20.4 score difficult. As smaller players, their power and explosiveness seems to lack in the jumping tests, though they may rarely need to compete in the air given their nous at ground level.

>> PRESEASON TESTING RESULTS:

20m Sprint
Agility Test
Yo-yo Test

ON-FIELD PROFILES

2019 NAB LEAGUE STATISTICS

Clarke:

18 games
16.1 disposals (68.7% UP)
1.9 marks
1.5 tackles
1 clearance
3.1 inside 50s
2.3 rebound 50s
0.2 goals (4)

Laurie:

7 games
15.3 disposals (63.7% UP)
3.1 marks
3.6 tackles
2.6 inside 50s
1.9 rebound 50s
0.9 goals (6)

Obviously it is difficult to compare the figures of two players who have very different appearance numbers, but a factor that is somewhat alleviated given they occurred in the same competition.

Something that is immediately evident across both stat-lines is the uncontested possession rates, with both athletes rating at above 63 per cent. For Laurie in particular, it displays his knack of finding space and getting busy on the outside, and his average of 3.1 marks is credit to his leap and ability to find space.

The rebound and inside-50 numbers for both player are also solid, but stand out more glaringly for Clarke given half-backs typically rack up more rebounds. His greater average of inside 50s highlights his ability to break the lines coming out of defence as a real metres-gained asset, getting on the end of handball receives and putting the ball into goal-threatening areas.

That aspect of Clarke’s game means he is also able to find the goals from further afield, while Laurie is seldom far away from the big sticks either and can create chances from nothing. Having put up solid numbers as bottom-agers, it would have been great to see more of their development in 2020.

BEST GAME

Clarke:

2019 NAB League Round 4 vs. Brisbane Lions Academy
Eastern 13.8 (86) def Brisbane 12.3 (75)

21 disposals
3 marks
2 tackles
5 inside 50s
5 rebound 50s
1 goal

Laurie:

2019 NAB League Grand Final vs. Eastern
Oakleigh 12.17 (89) def. Eastern 5.6 (36)

17 disposals
5 marks
4 tackles
6 inside 50s
2 goals
2 behinds

While there may well have been other appearances right in the mix to be chosen for either player, we feel they best showcased their most significant traits in these games.

Coincidentally, Laurie’s chosen best game is also the pair’s previous meeting, beating out his season-high 19 disposals against Calder, and one of his other two-goal efforts – Round 19 against Gippsland. On the biggest of stages, the elusive forward took the game by storm, setting the base for Oakleigh’s triumph with some eye-catching moments early on. Laurie crucially found the goals, but also brought others into the contest and broke it open with his ability to burst out of congestion.

Clarke also had a good batch of games to choose from, but his 21 disposals and one goal up in Queensland against the Lions Academy was a memorable one. We could well have opted for his 22 disposals and one goal in the grand final, or four other showings of over 20 touches across his 18 games. Against the Lions, Clarke had a similarly profound impact and kicked a crucial goal on the run to lift his side in the tight contest. That is somewhat a trademark of Clarke, as is his ability to penetrate either arc. It was all on show in this game, a top effort.

PREVIOUS MEETING

2019 NAB LEAGUE GRAND FINAL
Oakleigh Chargers 12.17 (89) def. Eastern Ranges 5.6 (36)

Clarke:

22 disposals (15 kicks)
2 clearances
7 rebound 50s
1 goal

Laurie:

17 disposals
5 marks
4 tackles
6 inside 50s
2 goals
2 behinds

You already know about Laurie’s efforts in the grand final given we judged it as his best game, but Clarke was also one of his side’s best players in a losing effort. He managed to collect his second-best disposal tally for the year (22), while also finding the scoreboard in typical fashion on the run from range, and providing plenty of rebound from defensive 50. Clarke’s two clearances and weight of rebound 50s reflect how much pressure the Ranges defence was under, which he held up well in, however tallies of zero marks and tackles reflect Clarke’s reliance on the uncontested and attacking game.

STRENGTHS

Clarke:

Speed
Rebound
Run-and-carry
Kick penetration

Laurie:

Agility/evasion
Creativity
Impact
Finding space

The speed-versus-agility battle comes to the fore in either players’ strengths, with Laurie obviously excelling with sideways movement, while Clarke is able to hit the gas moving forward. Laurie’s evasion can be particularly eye-catching, with his ability to side-step and sneak into improbable pockets of space nothing short of elite.

Finding space also transfers to how busy Laurie gets, proving a pest to opposition defenders as a slippery customer. His creativity with ball in hand also works to break games open, able to hit short-range targets with good vision and execution to thus give him the added – and highly desirable – trait of having a high impact per possession.

Clarke’s best assets all tie into one another, with his speed, carries, and kick penetration essential to any rebounding half-back/wingman. He can prove equally evasive in congestion and once he breaks free, good luck catching him. Clarke is not afraid to carry the ball forward, but also gains serious meterage with his sweet left-foot kicks. Accustomed to booting goals from range, Clarke is a multi-faceted threat in a typically one-dimensional position.

IMPROVEMENTS

Clarke:

Contested ball
Defensive game

Player:

Contested ball
Consistent impact

Laurie’s listed improvement of contested ball is a difficult one to attribute, as he is quite good at weaving through congestion but tended to find more of the ball on the outside or in space up forward. Given his clear ability to move into the centre bounces, Laurie can also work on having a more consistent impact throughout the four quarters, while also accumulating bigger numbers. That aspect was evident even in his best game, where he was electric early but faded away in the latter stages. It may be a product of his forward role in 2019, but can always be worked on.

For Clarke, contested ball is also listed as an improvement given his largely outside game and uncontested possession rate of 68.7 per cent. It ties into the need to improve his defensive game, which Clarke alluded to in preseason himself, adding the defensive attributes to match that attacking flair off the half-back line. A key indicator of improvement will be building on his 2019 tackle average of 1.5, with defensive pressure an in-vogue and required trait for structures at the AFL level.

KEY SCOUTING NOTES

Clarke:

2019 NAB League Boys Grand Final
By: Ed Pascoe

In what turned out to be a dirty day for Eastern, a shining light was the game from young dashing defender Joshua Clarke, who did everything he could to get his team over the line with his dash and dare from the back half. Clarke had some eye-catching moments, using his speed to take the game on and get away from any would-be tacklers. He had a huge second quarter highlighted by a fantastic goal on the run on a hard angle and distance while also under pressure.

Laurie:

2019 NAB League Grand Final
By: Peter Williams

Has his moments where he can break a game open, kicking a couple of goals either side of half-time and really making his presence felt. The bottom-age forward is a metres-gained player and while he missed a couple of opportunities with two behinds, he still amassed 17 disposals, five marks, four tackles and crucially had six inside 50s, constantly applying pressure on the Ranges.

FINAL WORD

The two may be a touch separate in terms of draft range at this point, with Laurie’s agility, damage, and game-breaking abilities forward of centre making him a desirable option. That should not detract from Clarke’s impressive resume and range of traits, though half-backs and outside types are often put into the dime-a-dozen category. But Clarke’s speed and the improvements that can come from his game are exciting, and he can be just as much of a game changer. The pair would make for a dangerous combination up either end in the Metro side, would have again met in the NAB League this year. Laurie may be set for more midfield time, at 178cm, his best position at the next level with likely be up forward. If both players can harness the contested game sharpen their overall games, they will have little trouble in finding a place at the elite level.

Draft Central All-Star Teams: Eastern Ranges

EASTERN Ranges’ All-Star side has a potent defence and strong midfield group which makes it a competitive outfit when comparing its best of the best at AFL level. With Sam Mitchell voted the Best Player of the AFL Era, he is one of 28 players to have reached the 100-game mark, though nine of those played between 100-109 games. Instead, three players under the 100-game mark have been included with some strong showings from a couple of modern day players as well.

THE TEAM:

Across the board, the most noticeable aspect about the Ranges’ All-Star side is trying to work out the back six. The amount of small and medium defenders who have progressed from the TAC Cup up to the AFL is envious of any other side, with some like David Wirrpanda put in the forward line – where he did spend time later in his career – because of the defensive strength.

The midfield is very impressive with a nice balance, and there’s some really solid depth across the board. While other sides might have greater depth in the top-end, the Ranges team as a whole has some match winners and plenty of consistent ball winners who would worry the opposition.

DEFENCE:

The two key defenders were easy to pick in Mark Bolton and Jason Saddington as the obvious choices, but the four around them were a lot more difficult. In the end the Scott twins – Chris and Brad – make it in after successful stints in Brisbane’s golden era, while Sydney and Gold Coast’s Nick Malceski, and Lindsay Gilbee round out the back side.

Others coming off the bench who could slide into the role include Rayden Tallis, Jess Sinclair, Michael Firrito and Adam Kingsley which gives fans an idea of just how many players could have slotted into the defensive 50. That is even before you consider Wirrpanda (half-forward) and Kade Simpson (wing) who in their prime would be half-backs.

MIDFIELD:

The combination of Rory Sloane, Mitchell and Kane Johnson is one that other opposition midfields would fear. It is also a highly underrated midfield with Mitchell only really getting the plaudits he deserved later in his career. Liam Shiels and Simpson provide the run on the wings, while Heath Hocking makes the bench, and along with Kingsley, could come in and have an impact through the midfield.

With seven best and fairests and four All-Australians between Sloane and Mitchell, the duo would be a strong one-two hit combination onball. They would rove to Melbourne, Fremantle and Richmond ruck, Troy Simmonds who again was the standout choice for the ruck position, and as a whole the midfield would do its job and be tough to beat.

FORWARD:

The less experienced third of the ground is definitely inside 50, though that is not to take away from Wirrpanda and Travis Cloke who both earned All-Australian honours and played more than 200 games. Cloke also won a best and fairest in 2007 and provides the strong marking ability the team needs. He would team up with the relatively inexperienced and injury prone – but incredibly talented – Jon Patton (89 games, 130 goals) as the two talls inside 50.

Brad Fisher (99 games, 127 goals) was a third tall named inside 50, though that was mainly due to just lacking another small-medium type with Christian Petracca (85 games, 79 goals) – who could be anything by the end of his career – and Chris Knights rounding out the front six.

DEPTH:

Despite three players with less than 100 games making it into the team, there were a further seven players who had just reached the 100-game mark. A couple of players expected to force their way in over the coming years will be Hayden Crozier (108) and Paul Seedsman (101), while the other options of players who have reached 100 games were Simon Godfrey (105), Leigh Adams (104), Matthew Bate (102), Matthew Lobbe (100) and Aaron Young 100).

Of the current players expected to force their way in over time, Blake Hardwick (66 games), Jaidyn Stephenson (40) and Adam Cerra (41) have all made strong starts to their careers. Along with Callum Brown (35), James Parsons (35) and Sam Weideman (31) who have all passed the 30-game mark, the more recent crop of players coming through has plenty of positives for the future.

Classic Contests: Falcons overcome Stephenson-inspired Ranges in Box Hill thriller

IF you are missing footy like we are, then let us somewhat salvage that with a look back in a new series of Classic Contests. In today’s contest we look at one of the would-have-been Round 8 clashes in the NAB League this year between the Eastern Ranges and Geelong Falcons. In this edition, we wind back the clock to 2016 when the two teams faced off at Box Hill City Oval.

EASTERN RANGES 4.3 | 9.3 | 11.5 | 13.7 (85)
GEELONG FALCONS 4.3 | 7.5 | 11.7 | 13.14 (92)

TAC Cup, Round 15 | Sunday, July 31, 2016
Box Hill City Oval, 2pm

Future draftees:

Eastern: Jaidyn Stephenson (Collingwood), Jordan Gallucci (Adelaide), Dylan Moore (Hawthorn), Josh Begley (Essendon), Trent Mynott (Essendon), Sam Hayes (Port Adelaide)
Geelong: James Worpel (Hawthorn), Gryan Miers (Geelong)

Crossing the West Gate and heading up the Eastern to meet the Ranges at Box Hill, the top of the table Geelong Falcons were strong favourites against a seventh placed Ranges outfit. Despite having a ton of talent – almost 20 draftees over the next two years – Eastern was six wins from 14 games with a number of players unavailable throughout the season. The Falcons also had plenty of top-end talent missing, but the game was not without some future AFL young stars in Jaidyn Stephenson and James Worpel on opposing sides.

Both sides hit it off early with neither team able to be split in the first term. From seven scoring shots, the sides headed into the first break with a 4.3 scoreline each and the knowledge that their opposition was not going to back down. Against the odds it was Eastern that broke clear in the second term. The Ranges piled on five goals, largely helped by the influence of Stephenson up forward, whilst the Falcons booted the three to be trailing by 10 points at the break. Again both sides had the same amount of scoring shots, but the 5.0 to 3.2 in favour of the home side was the difference at half-time.

The ladder leaders would get back on track in the third quarter, booting 4.2 to 2.2 and take a two-point lead by the final break, The stage was set for a ripping last quarter, and while there was only a combined four goals kicked between the sides, the tension was unbelievable. Geelong had the lion-share of disposal, recording nine scoring shots to the Ranges’ four. Whilst inaccuracy could have hurt the Falcons, they did enough to dominate the ball and capitalise where possible with forward 50 possession and eventually got the four points, 13.14 (92) to 13.7 (85) in a tight contest.

Tough midfielder, Max Augerinos was named best for the Falcons with 18 disposals, two marks, six tackles and a couple of goals, just ahead of the Falcons top prospect Worpel. He racked up 17 disposals, two marks and a goal, whilst laying a game-high 19 tackles. Harry Benson (14 disposals, three marks and six tackles) and co-captain Cooper Stephens (14 disposals, two tackles) were also named among the best, as were Zachary Zdybel (21 disposals, eight marks, 19 hitouts, two tackles and a goal) and Patrick Killen (23 disposals, six marks and four tackles).  The other drafted Falcon in Gryan Miers was lively up forward with a goal from 17 disposals, three marks and two tackles.

Despite the loss, Stephenson was the clear best on ground, slotting five goals from 14 touches, four marks – two contested – and four tackles, while Trent Mynott (two goals) was busy with 20 disposals, four marks and four tackles. Future Crow, Gallucci was also among the top Ranges, helping himself to 18 disposals, two marks and four tackles, but gave away five free kicks. Working hard through the ruck, Sam Hayes had 33 hitouts from 18 touches, seven marks – two contested – and two tackles in the defeat, while Tate Short and Billy Norris booted a couple of majors each and were named in the best. Of the other draftees, Dylan Moore (18 disposals, three marks and two tackles) and Josh Begley (16 disposals, three marks and eight tackles) both contributed strongly.

The Falcons would end up finishing second on the TAC Cup ladder and reach a preliminary final but fade away in the second half against Sandringham Dragons. A fortnight earlier, Eastern Ranges would fall two points short of the Dragons on their way to the 2016 TAC Cup premiership.

AFL Draft Watch: Connor Downie (Eastern Ranges/Vic Metro)

IN the build up to football eventually returning, Draft Central  takes a look at some of this year’s brightest names who have already represented their state at Under-17 or Under 18s level in 2019. While plenty can change between now and then, we will provide a bit of an insight into players, how they performed at the NAB League Preseason Testing Day hosted by Rookie Me and some of our scouting notes on them from last year.

Next under the microscope in our AFL Draft watch is classy Eastern Ranges captain Connor Downie, who was one of the few bottom-agers to crack last year’s stacked Vic Metro line-up. Utilised mostly as an outside midfielder and half-back during his bottom-age year, Downie became a key member of the Eastern side which took out the NAB League minor premiership. The well-built Hawthorn NGA prospect looks primed for more inside midfield minutes in 2020 though, with his class on the ball and ability to find it both transferrable assets.

NAB LEAGUE PRESEASON TESTING HIGHLIGHTS:

Vertical Jump: Average (#52)
Running Vertical Jump: Average (#47)

CONNOR DOWNIE’S Q&A FEATURE

Talent manager Sean Toohey on Downie:

“Connor is flying at the moment, we had our camp on the weekend and was voted in as our 2020 captain so I don’t think that will be any real surprise. “He’s in really good shape.”

PLAYER PAGE:

Connor Downie

Height: 184.9cm
Weight: 83.4kg
Position: Half-back/outside midfielder

2019 NAB LEAGUE STATS: 14 games | 16.4 disposals | 2.6 marks | 1.4 tackles | 1.6 inside 50s |  3.8 rebound 50s | 9 goals

Strengths: Versatility, leadership, kick penetration, efficiency
Improvements: Inside craft

2019 SCOUTING NOTES:

Under 17 Futures All Stars Match

By: Michael Alvaro

Gave a glimpse into his role for next year with a mix of time between his usual outside position and in the midfield. Downie’s willingness to get on his bike at every opportunity and move the ball forward was a feature, fitting the metres-gained role well on the outside. He would often dish off on the move and continue his run to get it back, ending his move with a long kick forward on his customary left side.

NAB League Preliminary Final vs. Gippsland Power

By: Ed Pascoe

The Hawthorn NGA prospect continued his fine form in this year’s 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 glides across the ground well and looks to have great athleticism to go with his skill.

Qualifying Final vs. Sandringham Dragons

By: Ed Pascoe

Downie is not eligible to be drafted until next year but he has already made a name for himself this year and had another strong performance, showcasing his run and dash and willingness to drive the ball forward. Downie showed great composure and intent throughout the game and worked hard up and down the ground. His left foot can really be a weapon when given time and space.

Round 17 vs. Calder Cannons

By: Michael Alvaro

The hero of the day… his moment in the sun came on the back of staying with the play and laying a strong tackle to force the spillage and deciding free kick, converting cooly after the siren to win Eastern a thrilling contest.

Round 10 vs. GWV Rebels

By: Sophie Taylor

Found some good space to clear the ball early, made a solid kick inside 50 to player on the move, and showed good run and carry with the flow of the game. Took a great intercept mark in the second for an attempt at goal, slotting one of his three majors. Put his hand up for Metro selection once again after coming out of the side for this week.

Q&A: Joshua Clarke (Eastern Ranges/Vic Metro)

AS the postponement of all seasons commenced over the last few weeks, we head back to the pre-season a month earlier where we sat down with a number of athletes across the country. In a special Question and Answer (Q&A) feature, Draft Central‘s Michael Alvaro chatted with Eastern Ranges’ Joshua Clarke at the NAB League Fitness Testing Day hosted by Rookie Me.

The speedy half-back flanker already boasts an impressive NAB League resume having featured across 18 games in Eastern’s 2019 minor premiership-winning side, and is one of five Ranges currently attached to the Vic Metro Academy Hub. Clarke’s speed and line-breaking ability going forward helped him stand out as a bottom-ager, while his penetrating left boot became an asset throughout 2019. Looking to continue a similar role in 2020, the 181cm prospect would have been raring to go come Round 1 despite a pre-season groin niggle.

Q&A:

MA: Josh, you’re sitting out the testing today – what’ve you picked up?

JC: “I’ve got a little bit of a sore groin, it’s not 100% at the moment so I thought I’d just take a rest out.”

Are you going to be ready for Round 1?

“Yeah I’ll be ready for Round 1, definitely.”

What about the rest of the preseason to date, have you had a solid one?

“I’ve had a fairly solid preseason. “Probably been out for maybe two or three weeks but the boys are going along really well and we get along as a great bunch.”

Playing off half-back in a really good team last year, how’d you rate your bottom-age season?

“I was pretty happy to even just play one game as a bottom-ager but was lucky enough to play the whole year so I was very happy with my performance as a bottom-ager. But I’ve just got to step up this year and be a leader.”

What’s it like for the team having the grand final experience from last year, will it put you in good stead?

“Obviously last year we didn’t have any drafted which showed that we are a team and it’s the same this year. “I think we’ve got the same character, the same mottos we go by so again, I think that us as a team will do pretty well this year.”

Are you looking to move up the ground a little bit, or will you lock down that half-back role again?

“I don’t really mind. “I’d love to have a half-back role, I feel like I can play my best footy there. “On a wing is another place I’m pretty good at so yeah, I like to move forward and kick goals.”

Being around the traps at the Vic Metro Hub, how’s that been for your development?

“It’s been a lot of help, surrounded by players that are better than me and a lot of good leaders and people setting the standard. It’s been really good to learn off them.”

Who are some of the players you’re looking forward to playing alongside this year for Metro?

Eddie Ford, a pretty exciting character. “And definitely Bailey Laurie, he’s a very quick sort of player that I want to (emulate).”

In terms of your game on-field, what are some of the things you’re looking to iron out heading into your top-age year?

“Obviously playing half-back, to nail being a defensive player because that’s my role at the start of the day. “So becoming tighter on my defending, more aware but when I can impact and run off, that’s when I’ll do that.”

Are there any landmarks that you’re looking to hit or goals you’re setting at the moment?

“For me it’s just to set the standard at Eastern. “There’s a lot of boys there that haven’t had the experience, were lucky enough to play last year or been through the system. “So to sort of guide them through that, and we have a great captain in Connor Downie to put us under the wing – he’s very good.”

Classic Contests: Seven-goal third term sees Eastern douse Suns

IF you are missing footy like we are, then let us somewhat salvage that with a look back in a new series of Classic Contests. In today’s contest we look at one of the would-have-been Round 5 clashes in the NAB League this year between the Eastern Ranges and Gold Coast Suns Academy. In this edition, we wind back the clock to 2019 in what has been the only clash between the pair.

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

Round 5 | Saturday, April 27, 2019
Trevor Barker Oval, 1.15pm

After four rounds of the NAB League Boys season, Eastern Ranges were looking good thanks to three consecutive victories to have them fourth with a 3-1 win-loss record. Though Gold Coast Suns Academy had also notched up three consecutive wins, albeit against fellow Academy sides and a weakened Oakleigh Chargers outfit the week before. It still mean the Suns sat atop the ladder with a a massive percentage of 237.5.

The first half was certainly not one to write home about with just three goals kicked from both sides. Bailey White was the first one the board with a major in the 12th minute of the game, while Ben Hickleton made it two early in the second term to hold a 14-point lead. In the last couple of minutes, Riley Buckland finally brought the 48-minute goalless drought for the visitors and despite it being the Suns first major of the match, they trailed by just eight points at the major break.

It was the third term where the Ranges put the foot down and won the game. Keeping their opponents to just two behinds in the quarter, Eastern piled on 7.2 in a dominant performance that would be indicative of the Ranges ability to win when challenged. Zak Pretty was first on the board in the second half, followed back back-to-back goals to White who had three to his name. Jamieson Rossiter got in on the party with two majors of his own, before two late goals in the last two minutes – to Cody Hirst and a remarkable fourth to White after the siren – had Eastern 50 points up with a quarter to play. Danger signs were there when Rossiter booted his third and his side’s eighth consecutive goal just 45 seconds into the last term. Luckily for the Suns, the defence managed to stem the flow over the next 20 minutes until Hickleton converted the Ranges’ 11th and his second for a 65-point advantage. A consolation goal to Ethan Dawson with three minutes to play ensured the Suns at least finished with two goals on the board.

From the 11 goals, White, Rossiter and Hicketon would combined for nine of them in a remarkable effort up forward, also combining for 35 disposals, and 12 marks in the process. From Eastern’s dominant midfield, Pretty had an absolute day out, feasting on 37 disposals (21 contested), five tackles, eight clearances, seven inside 50s and a goal. Fellow consistent ball winners, Lachlan Stapleton (27 disposals, four marks, five tackles, six clearances and four inside 50s) and Mitch Mellis (24 disposals, three tackles, six clearances and three inside 50s) were busy, while bottom-age talents Wil Parker (23 disposals, seven marks and three rebounds) and Josh Clarke (21 disposals, five marks, three tackles, four inside 50s and seven rebounds) were also prominent. Riley Smith was a star in the ruck wiht 37 hitouts from 19 touches, while future Swan Hirst finished with 20 disposals, three marks, four tackles and a goal on the day.

Eventual Hunter Harrison Medallist, Connor Budarick had a team-high 27 disposals, six marks, 16 tackles and five for the Suns, as well as three clearances and four rebounds. Max Pescud (23 disposals, four marks, three tackles, four clearances, five inside 50s and six rebounds) and Ashton Crossley (22 disposals, three marks, three clearances, three inside 50s and two rebounds) also found plenty of the ball. In defence, Brandon Deslandes and Corey Joyce combined for 13 rebounds from 39 disposals and seven marks.

Eastern Ranges would go on to earn the minor premiership, making it all the way to the NAB League Grand Final before bowing out to Oakleigh on the big stage. Gold Coast Suns would still win the overall Academy Series thanks to defeating Sydney Swans Academy for the title.

Classic Contests: Flanders and Phillips star as Gippsland finds a way against Eastern

IF you are missing footy like we are, then let us somewhat salvage that with a look back in a new series of Classic Contests. In today’s contest we look at one of the would-have-been Round 4 clashes in the NAB League this year between the Gippsland Power and Eastern Ranges. In this edition, we wind back the clock to 2019 when the teams played out a see-sawing affair in Morwell as the Power held on for victory.

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

Round 6 | Sunday May 5, 2019
Morwell Recreation Reserve, 1pm

The pre and post-National Championships periods often see NAB League sides stacked to the brim with top-end draftable talent, and it was no different in last year’s Round 6 contest between Gippsland and Eastern at Morwell Recreation Reserve. The Ranges had shot out of the blue to make a 4-1 start to the season, but a meeting with the highly-fancied Power side awaited – on the road, no less – and would always prove a test of their true credentials. The Power were 3-1 having already notched up a bye, going down only to reigning premier, Dandenong to that point. Both sides came in off wins over Northern Academies, with Gippsland scraping over the line against GWS, while Eastern comfortably accounted for Gold Coast.

Five eventual AFL draftees lined up for the hosts, as Sam Flanders, Brock Smith, Fraser Phillips, Charlie Comben, and Harrison Pepper formed a formidable spine, with 2020 top-ager Zach Reid only consolidating it at full back. While the 2019 Ranges squad only produced one mid-season draftee (Cody Hirst), there were a bunch of notable players in the line-up. 2020 over-ager Jamieson Rossiter slotted in at centre half-forward, with top-aged Academy members Connor Downie and Joshua Clarke also on the team sheet. 2019 Vic Metro representatives Lachlan Stapleton, Mitch Mellis, and James Ross made for reliable operators all year, and would certainly have their hands full against quality opposition in this fixture as leaders of the group.

A high-scoring opening term set the stage for an action-packed clash, with both sides shooting sharply in front of goal to register a combined 9.2. It was the Ranges who found their way on top though thanks to their superior five-goal effort, hitting back at each of the Power’s advances and gaining the ascendancy late as Bailey White cancelled out Flanders’ equalising goal. But with the advantageous end, Gippsland began to have their say with a four-goal to two second stanza – all while both sides maintained remarkably accuracy. In an end-to-end final five minutes of the half, Phillips and Riley Baldi put the Power two goals ahead, before White’s second goal brought the margin back to single digits.

It was again Eastern’s turn to shift the tide and the Ranges somewhat managed to do so with two goals to one in the third term as the contest tightened up. Harvey Neocleous’ third-minute major did little to stop Eastern from hitting back with six-pointers as the Power began to stray in front of goal. With the lead cut to four points heading into the final change, a grandstand finish awaited. Ben Hickleton immediately put the pressure on the Power as he goaled with two minutes on the clock in the final term, putting the Ranges in front before Billy McCormack extended the buffer to eight points. But the cream rises to the top, especially in the clutch, as Flanders and Comben goaled to reinstate Gippsland’s ascendancy. Tom Fitzpatrick’s major with a tick over six minutes left meant the Ranges required two goals to win, but they could only managed a single behind as the hosts held on for victory.

Eastern’s ball magnets stood up in the engine room despite the losing effort, with Stapleton (28 disposals, nine tackles, six inside 50s) and Zak Pretty (28 disposals, six inside 50s) leading all comers, while Mellis found it 21 times. White and Hickleton were the main culprits in front of goal, each bagging three majors while McCormack managed two as the only other Eastern multiple goalkicker. 2020 top-agers Downie (10 disposals) and Clarke (13) had steady games, with Rossiter able to claim one major from his eight disposals.

For the stacked Gippsland side, Flanders led the way with two goals from his 25 disposals and five inside 50s from midfield, trailing only Phillips (20 disposals, seven marks, three goals) in terms of scoreboard impact. Skipper Smith racked up a team-high 27 touches from defence, while Riley Baldi (26 disposals, one goal) and Ryan Sparkes (21 disposals) were others to stand out. The remaining two draftees, Pepper and Comben, managed 18 and 14 touches respectively, with bigman Comben also notching six marks and a goal.

The two sides would meet just once more in 2019, with Eastern getting the chocolates in their preliminary final tie to the tune of 30 points. The Ranges, who also ended up minor premiers, fell short of a rampant Oakleigh side in the grand final, while Gippsland bowed out at that preliminary final stage after finishing one game adrift in second.

Classic Contests: Downie kicks after-the-siren winner for Ranges

IF you are missing footy like we are, then let us somewhat salvage that with a look back in a new series of Classic Contests. In today’s contest we look at one of the would-have-been Round 2 clashes in the NAB League this year between Eastern Ranges and Calder Cannons. In this edition, we wind back the clock to 2019, and for Ranges fans, this will be one to savour, while for Cannons fans the ending was a heart-breaking one.

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

Round 17 | Saturday, August 17, 2019
Avalon Airport Oval, 12.30pm

It was the final round of the season last year and two of the top five teams were doing battle with plenty on the line. While the top of the table Eastern Ranges had sewn up the minor premiership – they were only four points clear of Gippsland Power but a good 28 per cent in excess – it was all about Calder Cannons who sat fifth on the table and percentage out of the top four. The match straight after would see fourth placed Sandringham Dragons and third placed Oakleigh Chargers go at it, with a loss to Sandringham allowing Calder to sneak into fourth spot on the ladder ahead of Wildcard Round if the Cannons could get it done. The Ranges would refuse to make it easy on the Cannons and one of the games of the season ensued with a see-sawing contest with plenty of swings and one of the best end-to-end last plays possible.

Eastern was coming off a narrow five-point win over Dandenong Stingrays a couple of weeks prior – with a development weekend in between – while the Cannons had not played since July 28 where they survived a scare from the Greater Western Victoria (GWV) Rebels to win by four points. The first term of the clash saw Calder race out of the blocks as Harrison Jones, Curtis Brown and Jackson Cardillo all piled on goals with Eastern’s inaccuracy hurting the Ranges. Trailing by 15 points at one stage, Ranges’ forward Ben Hickleton got his side on the board with a late major. It sparked four consecutive goals for the minor premiers either side of the break as Eastern showed it had come to play. Draft prospects, Jamieson Rossiter, Lachlan Stapleton and Lachlan Gawel all booted majors with Calder not scoring until the 21st minute when Jake Sutton put through a crucial settler. Heading into the main break, the Ranges were back on top, but only marginally – by four points.

Eastern’s leading goalkicker, Jordan Jaworski got his name on the board just 90 seconds into the third term to stretch the margin to 10, before Sutton kicked his second, and defender-cum-forward Mason Fletcher regained the lead for the Cannons with a major 15 minutes into the term. Another lead change occurred when Mihaele Zalac found the big sticks, but that lasted three minutes as Sutton’s third goal provided the Cannons with the lead at the last break. The fourth term might have been slow to get going, but the finish was insane, with the first goal coming 11 minutes into the quarter to Calder’s Jeremy O’Sullivan. Two minutes later, Riley Smith pulled the deficit back to a goal and less than 60 seconds more had expired on the clock when Stapleton levelled the scores. Fletcher booted his second goal of the match 16 minutes into the term and the Cannons held a crucial six-point lead, with a rushed behind to the Cannons with five minutes to play a potential separator between the teams. Hickleton converted his second with four minutes to play, but the Cannons still held the lead. A behind to Ned Gentile made the margin two points with a couple of minutes on the clock, ensuring the Ranges would have to kick a goal to win.

Fast forward to the last 32 seconds of play. The Ranges still trail by two points with the ball in defence and in possession of the pill. They need a near perfect end-to-end play in order to execute the unthinkable and win the match. For Calder, one mark would surely be enough to chew up the clock and hold on for a remarkable upset. With 32 seconds left, Parker has the ball and looks straight down the middle of the ground. He uses his pace to give himself some extra space on an opponent and hits up a loose Mitch Mellis on the back of the centre square. He turns around hoping to play on but an opponent is there, so he thumps the ball as far as he possibly can to a one-on-one at half-forward. Chayce Black and Giacomo Thomas grapple in a marking contest and the umpire determines both – or neither – have infringed and the ball spills to ground. The class and quick thinking of Under 16s star, Tyler Sonsie comes to into play as he collects the loose ball, runs a few metres to the top of the 50 with 17 seconds remaining and puts a lace-out pass to Smith. He has the front position, but Calder’s Declan Tully does enough to force a spill. Brown pounces on the loose ball and goes to take off but runs into teammate, Ben Overman. He bounces back and is immediately set upon by Connor Downie with the ball spilling free with less than 10 seconds on the clock. Overman picks up the loose ball but no sooner has he done that the whistle sounds. The umpire had cited incorrect disposal and now Downie would take the free kick from just 25 metres out on a 35-degree angle. The Calder players protest the free, but it falls on deaf ears as Downie, one of the most accurate kicks for goal in the competition – with 14.2 for the season to that point – slotted the winner. Teammates flocked from everywhere to celebrate, and for the Cannons it meant a missed opportunity to potentially steal fourth spot.

Calder would end up going through to the semi-finals to play Sandringham Dragons – their likely opponent in that match up anyway if they had won this match – before going down, while Eastern would reach the Grand Final with wins over Sandringham and Gippsland Power before falling to eventual premiers, Oakleigh Chargers.

In terms of the performers on the day, the Eastern midfield trio of Mellis (26 disposals, four marks, six clearances and three rebounds), Stapleton (23 disposals, three marks, six tackles, seven clearances, three inside 50s and two goals) and Zakery Pretty (24 disposals, two marks, five tackles, four clearances and four inside 50s were all busy. In defence, James Ross had 17 touches, three marks, two inside 50s and three rebounds, while Sonsie showed his class despite being two years below many of his peers with 17 disposals, three tackles, two clearances, three inside 50s and two rebounds. In defence, Todd Garner and Billy McCormack combined for 10 rebounds, while the hero Downie had 12 touches, three tackles, three inside 50s and that match-winning goal.

For the Cannons, future-Blue Sam Ramsay had a game-high 27 disposals, two marks, seven tackles, six clearances, five inside 50s and two rebounds, while Daniel Mott (21 disposals, four tackles, 10 clearances and six inside 50s) and Gentile (20 disposals, two marks, three tackles, three clearances and four inside 50s) were both busy. Cardillo was lively in the attacking half of the ground with 19 touches, four marks, five tackles, three clearances, five inside 50s and a goal, while Brown was just as prolific in the back half with 17 disposals, three marks and six rebounds. Of the other draftees, Jones had 17 disposals, four marks, four hitouts, two inside 50s and a goal, while Lachlan Gollant finished with 10 disposals, two tackles, three clearances and three inside 50s in the loss.

Q&A: Connor Downie (Eastern Ranges/Vic Metro)

AS the postponement of all seasons commenced over the last few weeks, we head back to the pre-season a few weeks earlier where we sat down with a number of athletes across the country. In a special Question and Answer (Q&A) feature, Draft Central‘s Michael Alvaro chatted with Eastern Ranges’ Connor Downie at the NAB League Fitness Testing Day hosted by Rookie Me.

MA: How’s the preseason testing day been for you?

CD: “Yeah it’s alright, it’s been good seeing the other boys from the other regions.”

You must have a bit of that being involved with the Vic Metro hub. How’s that been for your development?

“Yeah it’s really good. “I met a few new boys that I wouldn’t really have met if it wasn’t for that, so I’m really grateful for that experience.”

Which boys are you looking forward to playing alongside you’ve met in the hub?

“Definitely Josh Clarke is one of my good mates at Eastern so keen to play with him. Same with Tyler Sonsie and all those boys.”

You’re a part of Hawthorn NGA as well, how’s that been for you?

“It’s been really good. Nathan Foley who’s is a really good mentor for me down there. “He’s helped me out with a lot of tips about my game and goes through vision with me and stuff, so he’s been really good to me.”

It was a good results-based season for Eastern last year, how’s it been being able to crack that team and being a part of it? Do you feel more of a leader this year?

“Yeah definitely. “Last year I had a really good group of top agers to guide me through the year and help me get experience and this year I can take what I learnt from them. “From the leaders last year like ‘Rossy’ (James Ross) and stuff, to hopefully be a good leader this year for the boys.”

Do you have any goals this year?

“Obviously I want to hopefully help the boys get to the finals and hopefully win the grand final for Eastern. “But I want to have a good impact in Metro carnival and AFL Academy and hopefully the Draft Combine later in the year.”