In the first match of preliminary final weekend, Dandenong Stingrays take on Eastern Ranges from 11am at Ikon Park.
Dandenong Stingrays earned a week off after defeating the Murray Bushrangers by a goal in the qualifying final a fortnight ago, while Eastern Ranges managed to shock the Geelong Falcons last week with a dominating performance.
This week, Bound For Glory News Rising Stars takes a look at the key issues ahead of the match and what both teams need to do to win.
Rock solid defence
Without a doubt, Dandenong’s defence is the best in the competition.
With Jacob Weitering a top two pick and Kieran Collins a first rounder in the upcoming draft, the keys are the best one-two combo since the Geelong Falcons’ Hugh Goddard and Patrick McCartin played up forward in their bottom-age year.
Weitering is the intercept, run and carry type, while Collins is the lock-down dour defender, who positions himself so well, one-on-one.
Dandenong’s defence bats a lot deeper than just those two however, with the exciting Bailey Rice, reliable and clever Daniel Capiron and the Rouse twins all very capable of creating link-ups from defence.
The Stingrays prefer a tough, hard lock-down contest because their footskills out of defence are usually good and they have the ability to run-off opponents to help a teammate out.
The game could be won and lost as to whether Eastern can penetrate the Dandenong wall.
The ruck battle
This ruck battle is pretty tantalising for those watching on.
Gach Nyuon will take on Beau Mitchener, both of whom are in form.
Nyuon played his best game of the season in round one, destroying Bushrangers ruck Max King, who was arguably Vic Country’s number two ruck.
Mitchener was beaten against Calder’s Mark Kovacevic in the first round, but coming up against a handful of Falcons rucks last week, he was well on top.
Mitchener does not go as well against the big-bodied rucks like Kovacevic, preferring the athletic types, of which Nyuon is comfortably one.
However Nyuon is the most athletic ruck in the competition and he can get the job done around the ground, so Mitchener will need to keep him accountable.
Luckily, Mitchener has been known to go forward and kick goals, which is something he must do on the weekend.
With so many talented players out there, it’s hard to single out the most crucial ones.
But, looking at last week’s game, Ryan Clarke was the difference early on as he strolled out of defence like he was going for a Sunday morning run, dodging and weaving around opposition players and hitting up targets at will.
Dandenong cannot afford to let Ryan Clarke do what he likes or it will end badly.
He is such a creative player with good run and carry, he can transition the ball from defence to attack in a matter of seconds.
The big question will be whether or not Dandenong assign a defensive forward onto Clarke when he goes forward, or back their forwards to be getting to the right positions.
One thing is for sure, if Ryan Clarke has a day out, Eastern will win.
How can Dandenong win?
1. Don’t get sucked into a shootout
Eastern love to run with the ball, move it fast and catch the defence off-guard on the counter attack.
While they did it against Calder, many dismissed it as the quality of the opposition, but then they completely destroyed the Falcons in the same manner and suddenly everyone took notice.
Dandenong are unbelievably strong at defence and the moment they try and move into a shootout, they are playing against their strengths.
While shootouts are great for the neutral, if the Stingrays get sucked into this playing style, their defence begin to think about running off haphazardly, looking forward of the ball rather than back and going prematurely rather than holding the fort down back.
If they can hold it up and hit up targets sensibly, while remaining accountable, they can stagnate the Ranges into making mistakes.
While Eastern have a number of players who are good by foot, like any team, there are those who aren’t as capable, so forcing those players to maintain the ball will do the world for Dandenong’s chances.
2. Play Daniel Capiron as the loose man
Daniel Capiron was unlucky not to be drafted last year, but he has dusted himself off and performed well once again.
Capiron has great positioning, takes a heap of intercept marks, stands in the hole up forward and picks off loose balls, and is not afraid to go across the contest and spoil the ball away. As a bonus, he is a lovely kick, who can hit up targets up the ground.
The big question mark over him was whether he could play other roles. After all, the loose back man is not a highly sought out position at AFL level, particularly when the player is pidgeonholed into it.
However in saying that, for Dandenong to take advantage in this game, he needs to play that loose man, floating in front of the forwards and taking important grabs.
While Eastern do not have the tall forwards Murray had, he will still be useful against the smalls.
3. Don’t be afraid to throw Weitering forward
Jacob Weitering might be the best defender in the draft, but he has shown he can get the job done at either end.
With Eastern’s smaller forward line, Weitering might have the luxury of going forward and stretching the defence.
Jonathan Freeman can kick a number of goals, but his set shot routine is not the most reliable, while there are a number of smaller players up there that can also make magic happen.
Throwing Weitering into attack could cause headaches for the Eastern coaching panel, particularly if its mid-game.
While it is anticipated Weitering will start back, if the forward line does not appear to be functioning like in the final round against the Geelong Falcons, the top two pick should be thrown forward and given the opportunity to win the game for the Stingrays.
What do Eastern need to do to win?
1. Be unpredictable
Eastern has made it this far without a genuine key forward, but instead a bunch of strong midfielders and dangerous small to medium forwards such as Blake Hardwick and Patrick Kerr.
Unlike the Murray Bushrangers who would direct the inside 50s to Josh Schache the majority of the time, Eastern has the luxury of having a number of players presenting, without a dominant force up there.
Hardwick would command a fair bit of the ball, but he has shown he is unselfish and not afraid to present as a dummy lead to drag players away.
Mixing it up with keep the defence guessing and the only way to get ahead of a defence like Dandenong’s is to keep them guessing and move the ball swiftly, but smart into attack, not picking out the obvious option, but the most advantageous option, even if it is the fifth or sixth forward.
2. Run, run and more run
Dandenong go into this match as favourites and rightly so. The Stingrays have proved that they are rock solid and make smart decisions with the football.
While they don’t have a particularly outstanding forward line, they get the job done through good decision making and hard work.
Eastern must back themselves and run the Stingrays off their feet. The Ranges must continually play on, move the football fast, but hit up short targets, because turning the ball over will end badly.
While fast and smart footy do not always go together, anything that allows Dandenong to set up their back six will not help the Ranges.
If all else fails, wet weather footy style is better than holding it up. Even bombing it long and backing the forwards to run onto it would help more so than waiting for an option to arise.
As long as Eastern’s midfielders are willing to work defensively, the forwards could all push up to the 50 metre arc and then a long bomb inside 50, could see the forwards dart back and beat the defenders to the ball, getting a lot of quick goals over the top.
One-on-one contests would suit Dandenong defenders to a tee, as would high up-and-under balls, which the likes of Jacob Weitering and Daniel Capiron would chop off with ease.
Play fast, play smart and if all else fails, play long.
3. Make your chances count
Eastern Ranges have been relatively good at making the most of their chances this finals series.
That must continue if they are going to win.
Often against Dandenong, 80 points could get the job done, but Eastern will be made to earn every single point.
Any side with a strong defence will not let you have too many shots on goal, so the ones the Ranges do get must count.
It is particularly important late in the contest because Dandenong have had the extra week off, so while they might start slowly, they will likely finish strongly, so Eastern must take advantage and capitalise in the first half.
Likewise, when they do kick a behind, Eastern must lock the ball inside forward 50, because once it’s out, Dandenong can wreak havoc on the counter attack.
This match is set to be an entertaining contest of a team that takes the game on against one that defends with steely resolve.
A week ago, Dandenong would have been my tip pretty comfortably, but after seeing Eastern’s last two performances, the Ranges have the tools to defeat Dandenong, although the week’s break will pose a challenge.
If Eastern are more than five goals in front at three quarter time, they will win it, but if it is any less or Dandenong are in front, the Stingrays will run away with it.
Dandenong to win by four points in extra time