FOUR rounds down the ladder is starting to take shape, with unbeaten Dandenong Stingrays facing their biggest challenge yet with the in-form Oakleigh Chargers, while there will be some redemption for one of the disappointing teams last week with the Dragons and Jets facing off. Meanwhile Eastern Ranges will chase their first win, with a clash against Gippsland Power in Healesville.
SANDRINGHAM DRAGONS v. WESTERN JETS
Round 5 – Saturday, April 28, 10.30am
Trevor Barker Beach Oval, Sandringham
Both the Sandringham Dragons and Western Jets had a week to forget last week, with a chance to atone for their heavy losses in round four with a victory against the other at Trevor Barker Beach Oval in round five. Captain Bailey Smith will be a welcome inclusion for the Dragons, who were smashed in the clearances last week, losing the stat 37-21, and also had 19 fewer inside 50s. For the Jets, they actually came close to breaking even in the middle, remarkably registering 36 clearances to the Stingrays’ 38, and had just one less in the centre square. Their efficiency going forward was poor, still notching up 40 inside 50s for just 11 scoring shots, while allowing their opponents to have 64 inside 50s for a whopping 37 scoring shots. The Dragons were more effective inside 50, having 18 scoring shots from 36 entries, however their opponents aldo, with 28 scoring shots from 55 entries.
Smith tore Northern Knights to shreds in round one on his way to the AFL Draft Central Player of the Week title, but with Alastair Richards (five clearances), Kai Owens (two) and Anthony Seaton (two) all missing the clash, the Dragons lose some midfield talent. Liam Stocker looks set to be Smith’s right hand man, having 18 disposals, three clearances, four inside 50s and five tackles, while assisting teammates with three scores. The Dragons have also brought in James Rendell who booted four goals in the second half back in round three to sink the Calder Cannons, as well as Ethan Casey who provides good height around the ground.
For the Western Jets, Emerson Jeka is a prestigious talent up forward with the likely top 10 2019 draft pick returning to assist the Jets with some more firepower. As mentioned the Jets won the football – they only had 10 less disposals and two less clearances than Dandenong – last week, but failed to capitalise when getting to half-forward. Josh Honey (three goals) and Steven Kyriazis (two) provided the bulk of the goals in the 126-point drubbing. Even more crucial to the Jets setup is Stefan Radovanovic who missed the round four loss, and will return to provide some serious run off half-back. The Jets were missing it in the last match and he provides a crucial link in the scoring chain for Western, so expect him to be a key player in the match. With Connor Thar, Xavier O’Halloran and Jaden Rice still leading the onball brigade – the trio had 21 clearances last week, the same as the entire Sandringham team – the Jets will back their onballers to get first hands on the ball.
OAKLEIGH CHARGERS v. DANDENONG STINGRAYS
Round 5 – Saturday, April 28, 1.45pm
Warrawee Park, Oakleigh
Dandenong Stingrays are clearly the benchmark team at the early part of the season, off the back of 99 and 126-point wins over their past two opponents. This clash is set to be a great challenge for the Stingrays, with the Chargers also cruising along nicely at 3-1 after four rounds. The Stingrays had 12 individual goal kickers in round four, led by AFL Academy members Bailey Williams (seven) and Riley Bowman (three), while one of the most in-form players in the competition, Zac Foot, kicked three majors as well. For the Chargers, a 70-point win was almost overshadowed by the Stingrays belting of the Jets, but Oakleigh easily accounted for Bendigo at Queen Elizabeth Oval on Friday night. With Ben Silvagni and Dylan Williams leading a host of very handy ins, the Chargers they will bring it up to Dandenong for depth.
Dandenong has that unique ability to completely destroy teams, yet when you look at the stats sheet, there is not a 30-possession or 10-clearance player in sight. The ability for the Stingrays to share the load is remarkable, with just two players having more than 20 possessions last week, yet 18 reached double figures, indicating a great structure and “team-first” mentality. Even last season, the likes of Luke Davies-Uniacke and Hunter Clark while having their moments, often never had the mid 30s disposals that some standout mids can have. Dandenong share the ball around and dominate going forward, taking risks with fantastic outside speed and hurting opponents on the rebound. If you talk about sharing the load, the Stingrays had 64 inside 50s in their huge win over Western – 20 of the 22 players registered at least one inside 50. Now with Hayden Young coming in to provide some more great run and carry, the Stingrays will look just as ominous.
Oakleigh also shares the ball around, but plays a more possession-first style, with six players picking up more than 20 disposals in the Chargers’ victory over Bendigo last week. Riley Collier-Dawkins played his best game of the season, with 28 disposals, five marks, four clearances, four tackles and five inside 50s, while Xavier O’Neill (26 disposals and six inside 50s) was also prominent. The Chargers will miss James Rowbottom who had been their most prolific clearance mid after eight clearances last week, six of which were in the middle. Dylan Williams will provide extra composure down back, while Silvagni had the greatest impact on the scoreboard following the opening three rounds of TAC Cup action before school football came calling. The Chargers will need the extra firepower up forward, with Zac Hart also likely to cause some headaches, and this game is set to be a beauty with some free-flowing, fast action.
GREATER WESTERN VICTORIA REBELS v. MURRAY BUSHRANGERS
Round 5 – Saturday, April 28, 2pm
RAMS Arena, Craigieburn
Since their round one loss to Gippsland Power, the Murray Bushrangers have been crusing along nicely, picking up three consecutive wins, and you have to say, head into this game as strong favourites. The Greater Western Victoria (GWV) Rebels produced a jaw-dropping performance in round two with a thumping of Geelong Falcons, but with fourth quarter fadeouts against Bendigo Pioneers (round one) and Calder Cannons (round four), it is hard to work out exactly what to make of their form. They will be keen to bounce back here in round five against the Bushrangers, but their task is not going to be easy considering how the Bushrangers disposed of the Dragons last week.
Ely Smith, Noah Amery and Jake Bradshaw worked tirelessly in the midfield against the Dragons last week, combining for 15 clearances, just six short of the Sandringham total. Bradshaw will miss round five through injury, but the inclusion of Zane Barzen will excite the Bushrangers faithful. He adds an extra touch of class to the midfield/forward rotation, with his clean ball use and smooth moving in transition. He is not a huge possession winner, but rarely wastes a touch and he will no doubt be a player the Rebels hope to contain. Ben Kelly will work with Mark Marriott through the ruck once again in what is a formidable one-two combo, while Finbar O’Dwyer returns after early season form showed he can be a creative forward. The Bushrangers can tend to start games slowly then dominate, so they will be looking to address the form that saw them concede five of their 11 goals in the first term last week.
GWV Rebels will be ruing missed opportunities after surrendering a two-goal lead to the Cannons at the final break and going down by 18 points. Had it not being for two disappointing last quarters, the Rebels could be equal with the Bushrangers at 3-1, but instead the old habits die hard in terms of just dropping off for a quarter. From just four rounds this season, the Rebels have conceded 19.12 (126) to 5.4 (34) in final quarters, and remarkably, their best last quarter was actually the thumping at the hands of Dandenong. The Rebels will hope to capitalise on a fast start against the Bushrangers, as they did against the Falcons, booting 10 goals to zero in the opening half. With Tom Berry better for the run last week returning from injury, and Tylar Watts playing his best game, the Rebels midfield will hope through the likes of Lochie Dawson, Charlie Wilson, Matt Schnerring and Scott Carlin, that they can provide Jed Hill and co. up forward with some good looks.
EASTERN RANGES v. GIPPSLAND POWER
Round 5 – Saturday, April 28, 2.30pm
Healesville Sporting Complex
Gippsland Power has been one of the surprise packets so far this season, notching up three wins and a draw from five games, with the only loss coming against a dominant Dandenong Stingrays outfit. Even then, the Power took it up to the ladder leaders and have been ultra impressive with their speed and willingness to switch play and take the game on, not too dissimilar to the Stingrays themselves. For Eastern, their defence has held up well all things considering, but they are struggling up forward to put scores on the board. They are yet to taste victory, but will be hoping they can cause an upset and take down the consistent Power outfit.
Eastern had just six less inside 50s than the Geelong Falcons last week, but had 17 scoring shots to 27. They were soundly beaten in the clearances, with Kye Quirk notching up 25 disposals, five clearances and four inside 50s to be the most prominent midfielder, while Chayce Black and Lachlan Stapleton were also strong. Stapleton’s reputation as a tackling machine continued as he notched up 12 tackles. In this game, Eastern just needs to get first hands to it and make the most of its opportunities considering Gippsland has some serious pace. The defence for Eastern is well drilled and will hold up well, but need the transition forward to be a little cleaner. James Blanck is continuing to be a surprise packet in defence for the Ranges and he will no doubt have a key role tomorrow.
Gippsland have the air of X-factor about them, with plenty of pace and excitement. Sometimes the young side can make mistakes which cost them, but they roll the dice – as we saw in the final play last weekend – and take the chances they need to take in order to try and get the result. Jake Van Der Pligt looks to be another bottom-ager Gippsland have uncovered with serious talent to add to the ever-growing list of bottom age potential. They lose Rylan Henkel this week after he provided strength in the middle in round four, but regain captain Xavier Duursma, and forward Sam Flanders. In every Gippsland game you expect them to provide the heat and a real contest, but heading into this game, they go in as genuine favourites and while Eastern’s defence is a strength, the Power will look to unsettle its opposition with unpredictability throughout the game.
CALDER CANNONS v. GEELONG FALCONS
Round 5 – Sunday, April 29, 11.30am
RAMS Arena, Craigieburn
The first game on Sunday is a clash between two teams that in all honesty, are hard to read. The Cannons have been up and down, arguably could have been 3-1 if they had a bit more luck in round one, while the Falcons are 1-3 despite seemingly being strong on paper. They do have a lot of bottom-age talent, but with potential top five pick Sam Walsh, and the likes of Oscar Brownless and Connor Idun providing good support, Geelong seem like they are well positioned to go well again this season but are waiting to put it all together. Calder had a great come-from-behind win against the Rebels last week, led by co-captain Jack Bytel who was dominant, and they will be looking for more of the same against the Falcons.
Calder has lost Rhylee West to school football which is not ideal, but still retains Bytel and fellow AFL Academy member Curtis Taylor for the clash. Winning the midfield is a non-negotiable for the Cannons if they are to take home the four points, with Walsh arguably the best the best midfielder in the competition. The Cannons will need to nullify his influence, but it will be far from easy. What they do have, is good depth across the three lines, with defence and midfield a clear strength. Calder would probably like to increase its scoring a little, with Taylor often the main target floating between midfield and attack. Overager Jake Riccardi booted two goals last week, and could be a man to look for while the likes of Jake Firebrace and Dylan Landt sneak forward.
Geelong might have won its first game last week, but its progression has actually been evident since half-time against the GWV Rebels in round two. The Falcons won the second half, and then broke even with the Murray Bushrangers throughout round three, just falling short courtesy of a strong final term by the Bushrangers. Last week they put it together over four quarters to defeat Eastern Ranges, although their second half, in particular their third quarter could have been improved. In this game, you would always give them a chance with their midfield, it will just if they can make the most of their forward entries. The inside 50s will come, it will be a clear aim to put pressure on the scoreboard, as Calder have the ability to slow the game down and get the play back on their terms. Blake Schlensog is a player worth watching as he booted three goals and had two more scoring shots while assisting through the ruck. He has the potential to be damaging as a tall, while Brayden Ham is one of the most in-form players in the competition, booting another three goals last week.
NORTHERN KNIGHTS v. BENDIGO PIONEERS
Round 5 – Sunday, April 29, 2.30pm
Preston City Oval, Preston
Northern Knights return to their home ground at Preston for the second time this season, having just missed out on going 2-2 from the first four rounds after a draw with Gippsland Power last weekend. Bendigo Pioneers had a night to forget under lights at Queen Elizabeth Oval against Oakleigh Chargers, going down by 70 points. The Pioneers welcome back a couple of key inclusions in Jacob Atley and Daniel Keating, with the latter returning from an injury he suffered in round three. It is hard to pick a favourite going into this game, but Northern has the home ground advantage and will be confident after a solid showing in Morwell last week.
Knights captain Braedyn Gillard stood up in the absence of Tom McKenzie last week, winning eight clearances to help his side get up in that department by four. Northern had five less inside 50s, but five more rebounds, so defensively they stod tall. Sunny Brazier booted four goals in a low-scoring contest, while bottom-age talent Josh D’Intinosante does not need much of the ball to influence a contest. Harrison Grace showed some quick hands in close last week, and defenders Ryan Sturgess and Lachlan Potter continue to create drive off half-back and through the middle going forward. The Knights will look to win the midfield battle and strangle the Pioneers ball movement forward.
For Bendigo, the game stands as a good chance to pick up its first victory since round one. The Pioneers have shown they can be competitive with most sides in patches, and will be hoping to put together a four quarter performance here. They are a good rebounding team, with Hunter Lawrence, Matt Lias and Jack McHale picking up 20 rebounds between them last week. The Pioneers will also be excited to welcome Keating back, who was one of the most in-form rucks in the competition pre-injury. After the Pioneers were well beaten in the hitouts last week, Keating will provide good support in the centre square. Bailey Henderson, Noah Wheeler and Zane Keighran will also be important players for Bendigo and will be key cogs in trying to wrestle the midfield momentum from the Knights.