THERE were some low-scoring contests in Round 12, as well as some big final scores for some teams in a weekend littered with heavy rain, and we took down notes at the four Saturday games. The Gippsland Power/Murray Bushrangers notes will come tomorrow.
Sandringham Dragons vs. Northern Knights
By Owen Leonard and Scott Dougan
#2 Alastair Richards
In cold, windy conditions at the Trevor Barker Oval by Port Phillip Bay, Richards’ skills stood out early. The outside midfielder was always looking to take the game on and has serious speed. Used his pace to link up on numerous occasions, dishing off and receiving handballs. Richards did not stop running all day and applied strong pressure when the opposition were in possession. The type of player whose presence makes the opposition nervous.
#6 Harry Houlahan
With the Dragons’ Vic Metro representatives out of the side, Houlahan was able to play as a pure midfielder, a promotion from his usual defensive role – and he relished the opportunity. The Mentone Grammar school football captain had no issues finding the leather, while his gut-running was on display, gaining possession all over the ground. Put the icing on an impressive performance by kicking truly after a 50-metre penalty in the third quarter, which effectively brought the margin to an unassailable 25 points in horrible conditions. It was the type of game that could have Houlahan firmly placed into draft calculations.
#7 Liam Stocker
After missing the Vic Metro campaign at the Under 18 National Championships with a broken jaw, Stocker’s Dragons return was nothing short of sensational. The clearance king dominated around stoppages and displayed the scarce ability to not only win the ball on the inside, but find the Sherrin on the outside, too. A genuine midfield bull, Stocker’s road to the draft could be similar to that of Clayton Oliver’s, who also missed the national championships, but dominated the back end of the TAC Cup season to eventually be drafted with pick four. Stocker shrugged off tackles with ease and consistently sent the ball to the hotspot. Menacing when resting up forward, when the ball is in Stocker’s territory, something is going to happen. Plays similarly to Dustin Martin – one to watch closely as the season starts to enter its twilight.
#19 Sam Forbes
Playing a traditional winger role, Forbes was an important outside player in trying conditions. While the St Kevin’s College student isn’t a mass accumulator, he often made possessions count, and on a day where disposal efficiency was understandably down, Forbes’ above-average skills stood out. In addition, he was a consistent outside option, constantly hovering around stoppages.
#33 Will Kennedy
Coming off a strong game against Oakleigh, Kennedy played a centre half-back role against the Knights. An important piece of the Dragons defensive puzzle which were able to rebound any Northern Knights threat on multiple occasions and kept the opposition to a paltry five goals.
#61 Fischer McAsey
The bottom-age ruckman was a strong presence for the majority of the day. More than competitive in ruck contests, McAsey gave the Dragons midfielders regular opportunity. Notably, McAsey’s big frame was well-used to block the defensive 50 exits of the opposition, even despite not intercept marking, creating a strong contest where Dragons ‘crumbers were often beneficiaries.
#1 Ryan Gardner
Gardner won plenty of the ball early in the first quarter, on the inside and outside of the contest. He provided plenty of run for the Knights going forward and his ball use was clean, especially on an extremely windy day. Gardner was involved in a crunching tackle from an opposition player half-way through the first term and was unable to take any further part in the game.
#7 Harrison Grace
Grace was involved in the Knights first scoring play of the day, delivering the ball inside 50 to the leading Ryan Bowkett. During the second quarter, Grace spent plenty of time on the bench with what appeared to be a sore back. He was unable to return to the field, leaving the Knights two men short for the remainder of the game.
#15 Oscar White
In only his fifth match of the season, White impressed playing predominately on the wing. He was efficient around stoppages, demonstrating his clean hands in tight situations. During the first quarter, White took a diving mark in the middle of the ground and was able to kick the ball forward, resulting in an important goal for the Knights.
#17 Josh D’Intinosante
The classy forward was instrumental up forward, booting two goals. D’Intinosante has impressive goal sense and always finds a way to hit the scoreboard. His ball use was exceptionally clean in blustery conditions and his decision making was evident. He showcased his defensive pressure with some impressive chase down tackles, proving that he can influence the contest both offensively and defensively.
#30 Justin McInerney
McInerney was significant for the Knights, playing across half-back and on the wing. His speed on the outside was clear and he worked hard to present himself as a strong option for his teammates around the ground. His ball use was good for the majority of the day and he even took some of his teams’ defensive kick-outs.
Oakleigh Chargers vs Eastern Ranges
By James Goller and Scott Dougan
#11 Mitch Mellis
Mellis started the match on the wing, having a positive effect around stoppages and as an outside runner. He won some early contested possessions and was able to put his speed to good use, bursting away from congestion in tight situations. He found plenty of space on the outside and worked hard to have an influence on the match, but due to the Chargers dominance on the day, his impact was limited.
#23 Xavier Fry
In difficult conditions, Fry’s skills were important for the Ranges when rebounding out of the defensive 50. He spent most of the game across the half-back line but also drifted through the midfield at times. Fry accumulated plenty of possessions and made smart decisions with the ball in hand, rarely turning the ball over. He spreads well from the contest and his work-rate gives him the ability to get involved in many passages of play. Fry was one of the Ranges most dominant players on the day.
#24 Kye Quirk
After amassing 30 disposals for the Ranges last week, Quirk found it difficult to have the same impact against the Chargers. He started the match across half-forward but saw little of the ball, with the Charges booting six goals to the zero in the first quarter. Quirk was at his best in tight, gathering the majority of his possessions in contested situations. He showcased his clean skills throughout the match, especially at ground level. He drifted forward in the fourth quarter and was able to hit the scoreboard, kicking an impressive goal from 40 metres out.
Dandenong Stingrays vs Geelong Falcons
By Brandon Hutchinson
#13 Riley Bowman
Bowman put a lot of space between his best efforts this Saturday, kicking one goal in the first term and an additional three in the fourth. It was evident in the final quarter that he knew how to work the forward line. Bowman created space leading up the guts and read the ball best in the marking contest, all while positioning himself for the best kick at goal. He was one of Dandenong’s best for the day with his final efforts reminding the competition why the Stingrays are placed at the top. Though in the future, we would prefer to see more consistency across the game. It seems Bowman punished a withering Falcons, sensing weakness in the game’s last moments.
#15 Toby Bedford
When Bedford grips the football, it is not likely a player will bring him to ground. His countless efforts on the contested ball had him take it with ease, showing great agility and control as he passed the ball off to the best option. Despite players hanging off him, he stood his ground and cleaned up the congestion. His ball work was clean, deliberate and effective, often centring the ball and assisting successful link ups through the passage. An instinctive footballer, Bedford showed no trouble beating his opponent on the loose ball and seemed oblivious to pressure. He brought quick hands to everything and remained agile and evasive when it meant feeding off the football. With repeat inside 50s, Bedford had a hand in most goals, directly assisting a couple as well. It’s obvious Dandenong’s midfield would be very different without him gaining the hard ball.
#17 Finlay Bayne
Consistent and effective, Bayne kept himself in form and involved for all four terms. He was great off hands, with line breaking passes and his involvement in a good deal of link ups. He worked his man well around the stoppages and picking up a handful of clearances. He lost the ball on the wing in the Dandenong’s forward half but with a tackle and follow up pressure, he managed to force a turn over. A composed footballer with great vision.
#20 Sam De Koning
De Koning’s regard for his own safety is quite minimal as evident on the pitch. Charging head on into the contest, De Koning will put his body over the everything. If he was late to the hard ball, he made his opponent earn that possession. He laid strong tackles to help switch momentum and promoted a counter attack which aided in their victory. The aggressive backman provided an offensive brand of defence to the Stingrays backline, keeping his opponents off balance and under pressure as they approach goals. Though wild off the football, De Koning shows great focus with it in hand, switching well and picking the right pass to clear the backline.
#58 William Hamill
Hamill’s efforts off the ball proved just as effective as his ability with it in hands. His defensive work was on display throughout the midfield, as he forced the turnovers and stopped ball carriers in their tracks. Possessions were made to be worked for when Hamill was close by, keeping his man under pressure until the ball released. He opened the game up with his smothering, tackling and general presence around a contest. In the first quarter, he prevented a definite goal by bringing his opponent to ground. He showed good composure and focus when he set his sights downfield, picking up repeat inside 50s and a beautiful goal on the run from the pocket. It was his presence through midfield that helped trap the ball forward and crushed rising momentum as the Falcon’s propelled forward.
#39 Connor Idun
Showed off his power around stoppages, and lengthy kicks when clearing danger. Idun knows how to use his body to dominate his opponents, powering through congestion and holding his form despite being tackled. He was strong overhead, gaining a few intercepts and winning the contested mark. Idun made no mistake in desperate times, bringing clean hands to the low ball and clearing kicks out from their defensive half. A built unit who offers a lot in the midfield and possibly one of the safest options to hit up in a link.
#44 Sam Conway
Conway dominated the ruck contest despite having his opponent switched on him quite regularly. He proved very adaptable in switching up his approach to different opponents, using a superior leap to get first hands to the ball. He was pivotal to the Falcon’s clearance work out of the midfield, but did not utilise himself well enough out of the ruck work. It would be good to see him collect a few disposals and make an impact in ways outside the bounce.
#48 Blake Schlensog
Though quiet for much of the game, Schlensog had a decent final quarter. The big man led up the ground well and ran hard at the loose ball. He showed no problems getting low to the ground, laying strong tackles and scooping up the football. He is clean off hands and quick for his size. He showed great strength in bringing down Matthew Cumming in front of goal, but was unlucky not to be awarded a free. It was unfortunate that we only saw glimpses of Schlensog’s greatness on Saturday, but the young man was pivotal nonetheless.
#49 Dane Hollenkamp
Hollenkamp marked more of Dandenong’s ball than their forwards, racking up a tonne of intercept marks for the day. Playing out of full back, Hollenkamp often found himself in one on one contests in the square, winning a lot more than he lost. His ability to read the ball and his strong hands overhead, made him near impossible to beat even with added pressure. He positioned himself well and lunged at the footy at the best moment. On the loose ball, he used his body better against his man, taking him out of the contest and rushing it to safety. He was unfortunate a couple times when outnumbered in crucial moments, so had a couple goals kicked on him. Though given that’s the life of a backman, a couple isn’t so bad. Hollenkamp played some elite level defence this weekend and despite being the smaller man, worked his opponent to perfection, rebounding the football countless times.
Calder Cannons vs Western Jets
By Michael Alvaro
#8 Lachlan Sholl
In his first TAC Cup outing since returning from Vic Metro duties, Sholl looked a class above. Typically effective by foot, the clever half-back often played a kick behind the ball and intercepted a number of Western’s rushed forays forward with some strong overhead marks. When the ball hit the deck, Sholl showed both a clean pair of hands and heels to set Calder on the attack in a very direct manner. His trap gather at speed in the third quarter was a particular highlight, and had the TAC Cup Radio team fawning over him.
#27 Tye Browning
Browning was another Cannon who looked a step above, despite requiring some time to warm into the contest. His first of two goals came in the opening term with the Cannons only managing to snare five behinds to that stage – it was a tidy snap from about 35 out in blustery RAMS conditions. His hands were strong as we’ve come to expect, with some trademark one-hand gathers catching the eye. Mixing time between the wing and half-forward, Browning made most of his impact during the second half as he found more of the ball in forward positions and ended up with another goal and assist to round out his day.
#30 Mitch Podhajski
Fresh off a successful stint with Coburg in the VFL, Podhajski was near best-on in a hard-working display. Starting in the midfield, the overager worked Jets star Stefan Radovanovic over at the stoppages with some solid contested ball gets as he willed the pill forward. As if he were his side’s barometer, Podhajski came to life in the third quarter with a blistering run from centre half back to assist Will Jury’s goal, while also setting one up for Mohammed Abou-Eid later in the term. Having spent more time forward in the second half, Calder’s co-captain also managed to hit the scoreboard with what was one of two highlight reel moments. His goal came after a desperate run down tackle on Daly Andrews, running on to slot the six-pointer from 50 and displaying his enormous work rate. The second highlight was a contested mark floating in from the side of a pack, but he failed to convert the set shot.
#17 Daly Andrews
Andrews took guard on the wing and did not stray far from it throughout the match. While the way the game was played didn’t exactly suit his brand of football, Andrews was still able to show off his agility and speed in short bursts. The wingman has a good tendency of keeping his hands free while being tackled, and it proved valuable as it allowed the Jets to keep the ball rolling. Andrews found himself on the outer at most of the stoppages, dipping in at the right moments and dishing out when he managed to snare the ball. He likes to take the game on and went on a big run through the middle of the ground in the third quarter to remind spectators of his presence.
#20 Darcy Cassar
The bottom-ager was hard to miss with his dreadlocks and long sleever, calmly going about his business throughout the day. While he started forward, Cassar pushed hard up the ground and made it to a wealth of contests, often accompanying Lachie Sholl at the stoppages early on. A clever user of the ball by hand, Cassar looked unfazed under pressure and is a natural footballer. He copped a heavy knock in the second half from a marking contest which looked to have taken him out of the game.
#37 Hamish Murphy
Murphy had the tough job of accompanying an in-form Jake Riccardi in the early stages of the game, and did relatively well to keep the mobile forward goaless despite his dominance. Riccardi almost caught him out with a fumbled mark, while also catching him holding the ball, but Murphy kept at it and was more composed leading into the main break. The key back looked at his best when the ball hit the deck where he gathered well, ran his measure and delivered the ball effectively. Unfortunately, there was not much he could do in the face of the Cannons second half onslaught.
#39 Stefan Radovanovic
Another star returning from Vic Metro duties, Radovanovic put in a solid shift for his side. Plying his trade further up the ground in the midfield, Radovanovic was a presence at the stoppages and tried hard to get his trademark run going. While he was caught holding the ball early, the Jet was confident enough to stand in tackles and take them on with good aggression. The highlight of his game was a lunging tackle on Tye Browning in the second quarter which prevented a near-certain major. He was solid defensively, but turned the ball over a few times with rushed kicks out of congestion as Western struggled to find their way forward in the second half.
Gippsland Power vs. Murray Bushrangers
By Craig Byrnes
#2 Caleb Serong
Coming off an impressive Vic Country campaign across half forward, the talented bottom ager was given the opportunity to spend long minutes through the midfield and was arguably the most influential player on the ground. He started Gippsland’s dominance with an intercept and two class inside 50s before producing the highlight of the day, an instinctive torpedo from the arc that sailed through the goals with minimal effort. He was brilliantly clean in the slippery conditions and just as effectively defensively, laying eight tackles and doing so with physical intent. A second goal came in the third with a brilliant left foot snap, before eventually ending a quality outing with 23 disposals and five clearances.
#9 Irving Mosquito
The Hawthorn Next Generation Academy prospect provided the spark for Gippsland’s fast start, kicking two vital first quarter goals that were worth much more in the horrendous conditions. The first came from a clever crumb, before finding space inside 50 and rolling onto his trusty left boot in characteristic fashion. He was in and out of the game from there on, but the damage was already done in a low scoring contest. He went to the midfield and won some vital clearances, finishing the day with nine disposals and four tackles.
#12 Brock Smith
The reliable bottom age defender didn’t have a whole lot to do as Gippsland dominated possession in the forward half, but did his job well when called upon. He reads the play well and is often found in the prime position against his opponent when the ball arrives. He is a fighter and would have been frustrated to have given away an unlucky free kick inside 50 to Barzen in the final term.
#16 Josh Smith
With Rylan Henkel a late withdrawal due to illness, Smith was forced to take on the ruck load with fellow 17 year-old Marcus Toussaint against Vic Country ruckman Mark Marriott. Giving seven centimetres to his opponent and having to attend many stoppages due to the heavy conditions, Smith exceeded expectations to be one of Gippsland’s best. He competed all day to win 16 hitouts, but made his physical presence known at ground level to lay seven tackles and even cleanly gain possession on occasions. Consecutive intercept marks on the far wing topped off an admirable performance.
#23 Noah Gown
The talented basketballer has been making plenty of noise up forward in recent weeks, but was required to start in defence on Hudson Garoni in the absence of Kyle Reid. While the ball hardly entered Murray’s forward arc, Gown’s close checking literally restricted his highly regarded opponent to zero impact. Garoni did not look himself and came off at half-time, which freed Gown up to go forward. He once again looked dangerous, creating anxiety for his opponent with smart leads and presence. A brilliant one-on-one strength win against Nick Murray in the third term saw him gather possession, turn and calmly kick a goal. Potential bolter.
#29 Boadie Motton
I have been a bit of Boadie Motton advocate for some time now and he continues to provide those AFL attributes that can be easily missed on first glance. He is such a clean and efficient, one touch footballer. After getting an awkwardly spinning wet ball to ground in the first term, he followed up brilliantly to gather and deliver inside 50 to Mosquito for a goal assist. His sharp releases often get teammates into offensive positions that are difficult to defend once executed. He is defensively relevant too, laying nine tackles including a vital holding the ball in the corridor early in the game. If there is one area of improvement, it is turning more of those 15-20 disposal games into 25-30 versions.
#5 Ely Smith
Coming off a typically prolific Vic Country debut the week before, the big bodied Smith continued his outstanding form in weather made for his style of play. He is a true stoppage specialist, using his strength to protect his position and powerfully breakaway or push through congestion. His use of the ball was good considering the heavy ball and the contested nature of his possessions, even though an occasional handball missed the intended target. He finished brilliantly on the run with a banana goal in the fourth term to end a solid outing with 30 disposals, eight clearances and six tackles.
#7 Zane Barzen
The extremely talented Barzen started in defence and provided moments throughout the day, as he has done all year without reaching his full potential. He provided a couple of strong defensive one on one efforts deep in the back half, read the play well and rebounded attractively with ball in hand. He moved forward in the second half and looked dangerous on occasions despite the lack of supply, highlighted by a diving lead and nice set shot late. But he has so much more to give and hopefully the talented Shepparton product can get close to his high ceiling by the end of the season.
#12 Lachlan Ash
Another bottom-aged player who was a clear standout for their team, Ash singlehandedly ended numerous potentially dangerous Gippsland chains throughout the day. He was one of the few Bushrangers who found time under pressure, calmly moving through traffic with elite lateral movement on occasions and getting the ball forward. He read the play superbly and put his body on the line, courageously running back with the flight to intercept or acrobatically spoiling to advantage as he did in the second and third terms. A prolific third quarter in particular saved Murray more scoreboard misery and he would end the day with 26 disposals to rival Serong for best on ground honours.
#14 Jye Chalcraft
Playing mostly as a small forward option, Chalcraft made the most of the limited opportunities inside 50 to have an impact. He took a brilliantly clean mark on the lead in the second term which unfortunately wouldn’t be paid due to a free further up the ground, but it showcased his elite hands in the slop. He provided another clean moment later in the quarter to gather a ground ball and smartly draw the high free kick inside 50. He missed the set shot, but didn’t waste his next chance in the third term when finding space in the pocket and snapping the set shot to finally bring up the Bushrangers first goal.
#16 Nick Murray
The Bushranger’s number one key defender had plenty to do as Gippsland bombarded its forward arc with entrances throughout the day. He rotated through many opponents including Gown in the second half, throwing his fist at any aerial ball to ensure the contest was killed. He looked hell bent on breaking spoil records Harris Andrews style at times and was rarely, if at all beaten in the air. His only blemish was losing a battle of strength against Gown in the third term that resulted in a goal. You could not question his effort though.
#23 Mark Marriott
The 201cm ruckman was dominant at the stoppages in the absence of Henkel with 31 hitouts, but couldn’t replicate the impact of his opponents at ground level, especially defensively. He gave Ely Smith some silver service at times and possesses good peripheral vision, but it would have been nice to see some greater physical intent and to see him take control as the most experienced ruckman on the ground.
#28 Kyle Clarke
The small midfielder come forward was one of Murray’s better contributors for the day, fighting offensively and defensively to collect 21 disposals, four clearances and eight tackles. He arguably provided the greatest intent on a poor day for his side, highlighted by a multiple effort play defensively in the second term that set up a rare score. While his kicking was a bit messy overall, he hit a diving Chalcraft lace out with a bullet in the centre of the ground during the third term, after taking an impressive mark from the kick out.