Metro surge on despite Country challenge

VIC Metro has kept its unbeaten streak at the 2018 National AFL Under 18 Championships alive after surviving a late scare to overcome rivals Vic Country by 26 points at the MCG yesterday. Vic Metro booted the first three goals of the game, including two to Sandringham Dragons captain Bailey Smith, before Geelong Falcons duo Sam Walsh and Ed McHenry combined for Country’s three goals in the opening term.

A five goals to one second term looked ominous with Vic Metro seemingly running away with the contest, holding a 27-point lead at half-time. Country refused to give in however, booting four of the next five goals to draw within a kick in the final term, before Metro kicked away again, booting the final four goals of the game to run away with the 13.6 (84) to 8.10 (58).

Smith finished the game with three majors, as did Curtis Taylor who looked the most damaging forward on the ground. He slammed the door shut with a set shot midway through the final term and showed plenty of X-factor throughout the match. Overager Noah Answerth, potential number one pick Ben King, and Metro captain Xavier O’Halloran each booted two goals.

For Country, McHenry missed a few gettable shots after his opening two majors in the first term, while Sam Flanders was the other multiple goal kicker with two majors, but the Goal of the Day belonged to Oscar Brownless who snapped a perfect banana from the tightest of angles in the third term off a step. Bendigo Pioneers’ mid/forward Zane Keighran also scored a goal on debut after narrowly missing one earlier in the game.

Both Smith (20 disposals, four clearances, five tackles and three inside 50s) and Rhylee West (20 disposals, five clearances, two tackles and three inside 50s) were crucial in the midfield, working hard with Tom McKenzie (23 disposals, 12 marks and six rebounds) and Answerth (21 disposals, four marks and six tackles) finding plenty of the football and getting it forward. West in particular was important in close, while Smith provided great run down the field. Taylor (13 disposals and eight marks) was the beneficiary of the strong Metro midfield, while James Rowbottom (20 disposals, eight marks, four clearances and four inside 50s) was also solid, as was Eastern Ranges’ defender James Blanck (11 disposals, six marks and five rebounds) in the back 50.

Walsh (29 disposals, three marks, four tackles, five clearances, and six inside 50s) was clearly the standout player on the day, dominating from start to finish and stamping his authority as the best midfielder in the 2018 draft crop. He was ably assisted by McHenry (17 disposals, three marks and 10 tackles) and Gippsland Power captain Xavier Duursma (19 disposals, six marks, five tackles, five clearances and seven inside 50s) – of whom the latter narrowly missed two shots running into goal. Flanders (13 disposals and four marks) and Hayden Young (13 disposals, three marks and four inside 50s) would have caused a number of recruiters to take note for next year, while ruck Riley Bowman (10 disposals, three marks and 20 hitouts) and key defender Connor Idun (restricted King) were also impressive in their respective roles.

Both sides had wounded players from the clash, with Mitch Riordan injured again – he injured himself in the opening game of the carnival – while Jack Bytel also left the field and looks set to spend time on the sidelines.

Vic Metro now get a week’s rest from the National Under 18 Championships, while Vic Country face Western Australia on Friday when they meet at GMHBA Stadium in Geelong. Metro then play the final game of the tournament against South Australia on Wednesday, July 4 – in what will likely decide the overall title – while Country have the bye in the final round.

VIC METRO        4.1    9.1    9.5    13.6 (84)
VIC COUNTRY    3.1    4.4    7.6    8.10 (58)   

GOALS
Vic Metro: Smith 3, Taylor 3, Answerth 2, King 2, O’Halloran 2, Collier-Dawkins
Vic Country: McHenry 2, Flanders 2, Walsh, Bowman, Brownless, Keighran

BEST 
Vic Metro: Smith, West, Taylor, McKenzie, Answerth, Rowbottom
Vic Country: Walsh, Duursma, McHenry, Flanders, Bowman

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