Last year’s runners up have experienced an inconsistent season and head into the finals on a three match losing streak. Adding to the conundrum, Dandenong have been defeated twice by their elimination final opponents the Western Jets this season.
The year started on a high for new coach Craig Black and the side with a one point victory over Gippsland in Morwell before going on a five match run of alternating results.
They finally managed to string three wins together in the middle of the season against Tasmania, Northern Knights and Gippsland Power before consecutive losses to the Rebels and Cannons.
Three more wins followed against the Bushrangers, Pioneers and Sandringham, leaving the possibility of a top four finish open. However the season ended on a sour note with defeats to two of the eventual top four and their opponents in their first final. Their final position of seventh is an accurate reflection of the season the boys from Shepley Oval endured.
While not as highly rated as other sides in the top eight, you can write the Stingrays off at your own peril. Flick a switch and the Stingrays can produce outstanding football and they will leave nothing out on the park on Sunday, especially with last year’s Grand Final defeat still on the minds of many.
Coach: Craig Black
Talent Manager: Mark Wheeler
Captain: Jack Lonie
Leading goal kicker: Taylor Joyce
Final place: Seventh
Best win: Round 14 win against Bendigo at Shepley Oval
Poorest loss: Round 18 loss against Geelong at North Port Oval
Finals threat: Western Jets
The gun: Tom Lamb
Lamb is undoubtedly the Stingrays’ best player and is rated a top 20 draft prospect, however it’s his attitude which lets him down. He also lacks some consistency, whereby at some point in a game his performance will drop. Nevertheless, his running off the half back flank will ensure that Dandenong continue to press their opponents up the ground and attack deep. Played in last season’s Grand Final so his experience may help those who didn’t.
The smokey: Bailey Dale
Dale has played every game for the Stingrays this season and finds the ball regularly however his disposal efficiency sometimes lets him down. He has kicked 12 goals in 2014 and was best on ground against Tasmania, when he kicked three goals and had 21 disposals.
Mr Consistent: Daniel Caprion
Caprion is all you could ever ask for of a 189 cm defender. Sure, he may not have incredible speed but he always wears his heart on his sleeve and does the team thing. You need not worry when Caprion takes the kick ins as he is as reliable a kick as any in this Stingrays squad and is nice with his hands too. Will be crucial to Dandenong’s chances.
The x-factor: Taylor Joyce
Joyce has played 12 games this year and kicked 29 goals, the most of any Stingray. Two weeks ago he kicked two goals against the Jets and his season high was five in the match against Tasmania. He has a great ability to find the footy around goals and usually is on target, with snaps around the body a large component of his game.
Under the radar: Mitchell White
Mitchell White has certainly gone under the radar this season. He played six games an an under-age player for the Stingrays last season, but he has stepped it up this year, playing 13 and being named in the best nine times. Missed the last meeting against the Jets but the time before he was best afield for Dandenong in a close loss.
The match winner: Aaron Wilson
Wilson is perhaps the Stingrays’ most talented big man, sitting second behind Taylor Joyce on the goals tally with 22. He comes into the finals with form, having kicked four goals last week against Geelong, however he hasn’t kicked a goal this year against the Jets.
Finals specialist: Blake Mullane
Mullane experienced VFL action this season but is back to assist Dandenong’s finals aspirations. The boy from Mt Eliza played in last season’s Grand Final and will be looking to help exact revenge. Mullane’s two best matches this season have been against the Jets so he will go in confident of putting on a good performance.
Finals prediction: Elimination finalist
Unfortunately for Dandenong their opponents in the first week of the finals are the Western Jets, a side that has perhaps underachieved so far in 2014. The Jets have a really impressive list, led by Liam Duggan, and the fact that Dandenong haven’t beaten their week one opponent this season adds to the prediction. The Stingrays have met most expectations this season with a new coach however next year the team will be expected to climb higher on the TAC Cup ladder.
The Stingrays have reached the Grand Final four times since the TAC Cup’s introduction in 1992 but are yet to win a premiership. Last season they were smashed by Eastern Ranges as they were in 2008 by the Murray Bushrangers. In 2005 they gave Gippsland a run for their money only to fall short by 15 points while in 1997 after finishing on top, they were beaten by North Ballarat.