Author: Brandon Hutchinson

Keeping Tabs: Standout players from Preliminary Finals

WITH each passing week we lose more teams, and with them, more 2018 debutants. Though the ones who made it this far have continued to prove why they deserve their spots. This weekend, we will have at least one debutant given a Premiership Medal and experience very few players have.

Liam Ryan

The high-flying West Coast sensation has secured himself a spot in this week’s Grand Final against the Magpies. He, with the Eagles, made quick work of the travelling Demons, racking up 18 possessions (10 contested) at a 72 per cent disposal efficiency. He had 14 kicks, nine score involvements, one goal assist and four marks (one contested and two inside 50). Ryan also hit the board himself in West Coast’s domination, kicking one goal and a behind. This year he has added much needed depth and class to his team’s forward line and it continues to show on the stat sheet. His on-ball skins were utilised, picking up three clearances, three rebounds and two inside 50s, as well as gaining 448 metres with the ball. Ryan also laid two tackles and gained four free kicks, marking the end of excellent performance in one of the League’s most important games.

Jack Higgins

Though obviously not the result he wanted, Higgins put up some solid work against a formidable Collingwood unit. The 2017 Morrish Medal kicked two goals, and finished the second highest goalkicker for the Tigers. He tallied 14 possessions (nine contested) at a 79 percent disposal efficiency, which was impressive enough given the circumstances. The last time Higgins faced the Magpies, he kicked the goal that would go on to earn him Goal of the Year honours. This time he was just as pivotal on the goal front, having six score involvements and two marks (one inside 50). He would be right to use this as a learning experience, now being part of a small group of 2017 crop to play finals. Despite a heavy loss, he has a leg up on his peers now. With Richmond’s recent dominance, it should serve him well in 2019. An excellent season nonetheless.

Jaidyn Stephenson

In the last 30 years, no Collingwood player has kicked 34 goals in their debut season. The last such effort came from Graham Wright (38) in 1988. There is no doubt that Stephenson is well on his way to stardom, getting to play in his first ever AFL Grand Final this weekend. To get there, the young man put up a solid effort against Richmond – collecting 14 possessions (four contested) at a 93 per cent disposal efficiency. The youngster was dominant over head, taking five marks (one contested) and kicked a goal with three score involvements. Last week, Stephenson was playing much unlike himself. This week, as with Collingwood, he was determined to make a statement. The 2018 Rising Star winner laid two tackles (one inside 50) and had three inside 50s. The young Magpie is on his way to having one of the best debut seasons in a long while, and could add a premiership to it on Saturday.

Charlie Spargo

The finals dream is over for Melbourne and Charlie Spargo at the hands of the Eagles. For the day, he took 10 possessions (two contested) at a rather poor disposal efficiency (40 per cent efficiency). This sparks no surprise given the weight of the Eagles onslaught, plus the very few Demons who had good performances. He kicked a behind and had four turnovers, but also took four marks (one inside 50). It was one of his quieter performances but it’s still an important lesson.

Player Focus: Bailey Williams

The Dandenong Stingrays took out the resilient Sandringham Dragons by 42 points to earn their rightful place in next week’s Grand Final against the Oakleigh Chargers.

Despite playing against potential top five pick Ben King, Bailey Williams was easily the most dominant key forward on the day.

Williams first caught eyes in 2017 after some impressive showings for Dandenong Stingrays, earning a position in the Vic Country side as a bottom-ager. He mostly played in the ruck, which he has continued to improve on in 2018. His supreme running leap coupled with great strength was often too much for his opponents in the ruck, but despite this Williams has proved more valuable as a forward than a ruckman. Picked in the AFL Draft Central TAC Cup Team of the Year as forward pocket, and TAC Cup Team of the Year as ruckman, for both his size and position, Williams offers great versatility.

Williams has had a rough trot in front of goal since the Under 18 National Championships, struggling to convert off his set shot. Though this is likely more of a confidence issue than anything to do with his ability, finding himself in a bit of a funk. Before the Championships, his set shot was not brought into question. In Round Four, he kicked seven against the Western Jets. This was also around the time he was pegged within the top 10 of the AFL Draft Central Power Rankings. Though since of some his smaller issues, he sits twelfth. On the run, with players hanging off him, around the body – Williams will convert. He is a multi-dimensional player who marks well, plays low, applies intense pressure and can continue to have an impact up the ground, and that is exactly the kind of forward modern AFL sides look for.

Bailey Williams
198cm | 95kg
Dandenong Stingrays/Vic Country

Quarter by quarter:

Though originally named in the ruck, Williams found his way down forward for the first quarter. He got around a lot of the early kicks inside 50 but none really sat to his advantage. He got his first hands on the footy off a boundary throw-in, winning the hit-out but was unlucky not to have his work converted. Later in the game, Williams dropped a chest mark after leading up into the midfield. He followed up by working back onto the ball and managing to gain possession and free it from under a tackle. Assigned to the ruck contests up forward, Williams won a hit-out in the square, followed it up with a tackle to dispossess but the ball spilled to the Dragons’ advantage. Though after a hit-out in a similar spot soon after, Williams won a ruck contest over the back of his opponent which quickly converted into a goal. Off a quick chip kick, Williams took a brave mark overhead running into Dragons defence, which he followed up with a good set-shot goal, landing his first for the day. He later found himself on the other end of the ground, knocking the ball over the line for a behind and soon followed up by applying intense pressure to the Dragons’ forwards, gaining a possession and diving onto the footy to help disrupt a run on goal, forcing a behind. Williams continued to stand up in the ruck, contributing greatly to the one-sided affair. After winning two hit-outs in the centre which quickly resulted in stoppages, Williams flew high to thump the ball far from the pack of players into the hands of Zac Foot who sent it inside 50. Towards the end of the quarter Williams saw more time in the ruck. He rarely failed to get first hands to it, using his strength and incredible leap to shadow his opponent, but his hitouts became very contentious for the players below him, seldom hitting a man on the full.

Williams started in the ruck after an impressive showing in the first. In his first contest he got bodied off the ball by James Rendell, with either of them barely getting a hand to it. The pair continued to display a strong contest under the footy, with Rendell using his positioning and Williams his athleticism to win the hitouts. Rendell later pinned Williams in a tackle and earned a free for holding the ball. After that, Williams found his way forward where he quickly began to flourish again. After being taken on as the Dragons attempted to rebound, Williams kept his man and switched quickly as they dished off the footy. He forced the defenders to rush their disposal which resulted in a turnover, a return inside 50 and subsequent goal. Tagged heavily in the marking contest, Williams took a big knee in the back under the football but was the first to regain his feet in the pack. His work in the ruck early on, involved a bit more wrestling than tap downs. For both ruckman there were very few hitouts to advantage, so despite being on the ball more, Williams’ impact was much lesser than the first.

For the third, Williams started on the bench but surged back on come the three-minute mark. Again, sticking to his forward role, the ball came his way twice, but unfortunately not to his advantage. The day’s windy conditions impacted a lot of inside 50s, so the kicks forward for both teams suffered. The second kick inside 50 found its way to the boundary line where Williams got to show his skill in the ruck contest. He won the hit-out, collected his own football off the deck and followed up with a snap at goal but missed. Williams continued to have trouble hitting his man from the ruck contest but getting first hand to the football was easy enough for him. Similarly to his first ruck contest for the quarter, he outmuscled his opponent to win the tap down, collect his own footy and again snap at goal. Like the first, he missed but continued to make these opportunities for himself. Williams later went up for a mark inside 50, knocked it in front of him, followed up and handballed to Toby Bedford who kicked a brilliant goal. The big man very rarely lost a one-on-one contest, using his second efforts to pin his opponent if they tried to break away. Williams’ highlight for the quarter came after the two defenders tagging him collided, allowing the forward to scoop and handball over his shoulder to the goal square, resulting in a run on goal. Great vision and clever football. He later followed up by marking the footy among three Dragons defenders, but missed his set shot on goal against the wind. This made for three behinds for the quarter but allowing himself these opportunities at goal with a couple of defenders following him around was impressive.

Williams sought to correct his mistakes from the third quarter early on. He proved too strong in the marking contest, earning a set shot at goal 20 metres in front. The big man kicked his second for the day and dwindled Sandringham’s hopes of a comeback. If that was not enough, Williams followed up by kicking Dandenong’s next goal after losing his man running toward goal. As the game continued, the Dragon defenders relieved a lot of their pressure, allowing the Stingrays to take a lot of uncontested marks in the forward 50. Williams could have seen himself under a lot but would have had to collected his own teammates to do it. His final highlight for the day was not bowling over teammate, Finlay Bayne, on the boundary line as the pair ran toward the high ball.

 

Stats

6 kicks

5 handballs

11 disposals

3 marks (2 contested)

4 tackles

14 hitouts

3 goals

3 behinds

Williams is likely a first round pick, being the most dominant tall in Victoria after Ben King and Max King. The big man could be taken somewhere between 15-25 but could go earlier if he fits a team’s criteria. He still has a game left to lift his stocks, so anything is on the cards until the cup gets lifted.

Player Focus: Xavier Duursma

GIPPSLAND Power launched their finals campaign by knocking off a resilient Geelong Falcons by 35 points on Saturday at Ikon Park.

Xavier Duursma had some important eyes on him for his first 2018 finals appearance. Coming up against arguably the league’s best in Sam Walsh, the Gippsland Power captain may have served himself in holding his ground against the possible number one pick.

Duursma was one of four Gippsland players to earn a National Combine invitation. Thought to be a future first rounder, Duursma’s season and form have been hard to fault. His performance in August continued to be impactful, racking up 29, 26 and 21 disposals in his three games. He finished high in the Morrish Medal tally and showed consistently throughout the season that he can play both on the inside and the outside, as well as impact the scoreboard.

He led his team well in their victory over the Geelong Falcons as he has all season, featuring among their best for the day and continuing to put his hand up for a possible top 15 pick. Duursma also earned his selection in the TAC Cup Team of The Year, placed on the half-back flank for his ability to gain metres with the ball in hand and being able fly with the best of them despite his much lighter frame. Weighing only 71 kilograms, nothing has stopped the versatile commodity from getting more involved on the inside for the Power in the second half of the season and doing it well above all else.

Quarter by quarter:

Duursma laid the first tackle for the game on Cooper Stevens following the initial centre bounce and caused an immediate stoppage. After the second bounce he almost snatched it off the deck but copped a hit and lost his feet. He went on to intercept a kick from Walsh heading inside Gippsland’s defensive 50 but began to show unprecedented form, following up with a kick out on the full. Though in everything for the first five minutes, Duursma disappeared midway through and only appeared again late in the quarter. He helped create a chain heading inside 50 early in the game and remained present around stoppages, but it was his dropped hanger late in the quarter where he gathered most of the attention.

Similar to the first, Duursma had an immediate impact from the first centre bounce of the second term, resulting in a stoppage. He applied some good pressure around the ground, laying a tackle to dispossess a player in the Gippsland attacking half. The pressure continued as he maintained a close distance to his opponent and worked hard on the chase. He took a couple marks from defensive kick-ins and delivered well by foot. Again, he was unlucky not to have the ball fly his way, but when it did he made effective use of it. He demonstrated this well when he popped up to take a mark in front of goal from a kick out of congestion. Duursma struck it well and landed his first and only goal for the day.

His first dig at it in the third quarter came from a hurried clanger out of congestion. He struggled with his efficiency at certain points, putting another out on the full and uncharacteristically missing his targets. Despite struggling with his disposals, Duursma marked strongly overhead in front of goal midway through, but missed his set shot from 40 metres out. He intercepted a kick down the passage, reading it better than the rest and later lost a good marking contest against Oscar Brownless. While losing that battle, Duursma continued to pluck the ball from the air, taking two more intercept marks to reset momentum for Power, and earning a free for positioning himself better under the ball. Late in the quarter, he took the ball cleanly in his defensive 50 and created some run out of half back.

Continuing his efforts down back, Duursma began the final quarter with a strong clearance out of the backline. Soon after, he followed up by chasing down Walsh through the midfield bringing him to ground off a diving tackle but failed to hold or dispossess him. The effectiveness of his kicks lifted plenty this quarter, doing well to clear congestion. A big kick from the defensive half resulted in a run on goal, and another launched deep inside 50 to help setup his forwards. He managed to lose his opponents on Gippsland’s defensive 50, taking a crucial mark from a kick-in, and later followed up with a mark inside 50 which he used to set up Bailey Beck. By the second half, Duursma had figured out how he was going to best impact this game, maintaining his superb aerial ability and outstanding kicking.

 

Final Stats:

25 disposals (12 contested)

21 kicks

11 marks

4 clearances

3 inside 50s

3 rebounds

1 goal

 

Xavier Duursma is currently pegged as the fourteenth best prospect in Australia in our AFL Draft Central Power Rankings, so we are confident he will get taken early in the draft. Gippsland have made it deep into finals, so Gippsland’s captain could still have a couple games left before a final opinion is cemented. As the contest lifts, Duursma will respond and deliver. I have no doubt that his finals campaign has a lot more to show us.

Weekend Previews: TAC Cup – Elimination finals

THE weekend is set for four huge games, with no turning back for the eight sides running out on Ikon Park in the elimination finals this weekend. Here is a quick look at how the four games shape up.

Dandenong Stingrays vs Greater Western Victoria Rebels

Saturday, September 8, 12pm
Ikon Park, Carlton North

The Greater Western Victoria (GWV) Rebels face their most daunting challenge yet as they come up against the Dandenong Stingrays in the first round of finals at Ikon Park. GWV faced the Northern Knights the week prior and won comprehensively, but unfortunately the Stingrays are a much different beast. With 15 wins and a single loss, Dandenong sit three wins ahead of second place (Gippsland Power) and boasts 17 Combine invites compared to the Rebels’ four. Dandenong bolter Sam Sturt has been the talk of the town lately, with every club interested in the forward, while Zac Foot, Bailey Williams and Will Hamill are among some of the names who loom as big players in the finals series. The last time the pair faced in Round 10, the Rebels copped a 59-point loss at the hands of the significantly undermanned Stingrays as they had many players competing in the National Championships. While at neutral territory this time, the Rebels face a complete Stingrays side. If they win, it will be arguably the upset of the season, so it is important for GWV’s talent to embrace the challenge.

Jed Hill had a strong showing against the Knights last week, kicking two goals and again proving useful by foot. Riley Ranieri rebounded well and earned the contested ball, with Matt Schnerring getting plenty of the pill and Matty Lloyd caressing the ball well along the wing. Lloyd, along with Scott Carlin and Harrison Butler, all put two each on the board, while Patrick Glanford and Darcy McEldrew both did well in the ruck. Dandenong’s boys are well and truly rested as Riley Bowman returns to the side for Bailey Schmidt. The Stingrays look to add a perfect finals run to an amazing year of footy and take home their first premiership ever.

 

Gippsland Power vs Geelong Falcons

Saturday, September 8, 2.30pm
Ikon Park, Carlton North

The last time they faced, the Falcons were severely let down by their accuracy in front of goal, kicking three goals from 16 shots. Comparatively, the Power kicked 10 goals from their 15 shots, having seven goalkickers compared to two. It was not the Falcon’s finest game, but Saturday is a new day, and this time they have Connor Idun, Charlie Sprague, Oscar Brownless, Ned McHenry and possible number on pick, Sam Walsh. In the Wildcard Roound, the Falcons only just snared a victory from the Calder Cannons, coming back from an 11-point deficit at three quarter time to win by a point. While this game could go either way, the Power finished second on the table for a reason. If Cooper Stephens and Walsh can maintain their form from last week, the Power are bound to have some trouble.

The Power will be looking for Xavier Duursma to have a significant impact, racking up 29, 26 and 21 disposals in his three August games, and placing high in the Morrish Medal vote count. The Gippsland Power captain is one of many players looking to cement a future in the AFL and can do so by helping eliminate the Falcons from the finals race. McHenry and Brownless impressed with their two goals against the Cannons last week but could have some trouble going shot for shot with Noah Gown, who kicked four in his last game and placed fourth for the home and away season in goals. Sam Flanders also poses a threat up forward coming in at eleventh in the overall goal kicking tally.The Power will have their work cut out against this full-strength Falcons side, with no telling how it will go down. It is a game to watch.

 

Oakleigh Chargers vs Western Jets

Sunday, September 9, 12pm
Ikon Park, Carlton North

Not much separates the Oakleigh Chargers and the Western Jets, sitting a single win apart at the end of the home and away season. In terms of form, the Chargers emerged as a genuine premiership contender in the final couple of rounds, while the Jets will need to be at their best here to challenge them. In the Wildcard round last week, the Jets had some issues dealing with the Eastern Ranges’ first half onslaught. While managing to lift in the second half to secure a 38-point win, the Jets will not be able to get away with those standards against the Chargers.

Pivotal in their success were Xavier O’Halloran and Connor Thar who combined well in the midfielder, with Thar earning best on ground honours. Emerson Jeka kicked three while Stefan Radovanovic remained a pillar in the backline. While the Jets took the win (19 points) the last time they faced the Chargers, the team they faced were not a complete Oakleigh side, playing without the likes of Will Golds, Will Kelly and James Rowbottom. The difference is evident since Round 15.  In Round 16, the Chargers defeated GWV Rebels by 90 points, giving them their largest winning margin all season. Oakleigh will be looking for a huge performance from Riley Collier-Dawkins if he aims to increase his stock come draft night. Similarly, O’Halloran will need to bring his best if the Jets are to get up. Potential first-rounder, Isaac Quaynor is also pegged to have a big game for the Chargers with a strong month leading into finals. Chargers are tipped to win, but the Jets are still a chance to surprise a few people.

 

Sandringham Dragons vs Murray Bushrangers

Sunday, September 9, 2.30pm
Ikon Park, Carlton North

Unlucky not to land a top four spot, the Murray Bushrangers made short work of the Bendigo Pioneers over the weekend to move on to the Elimination Finals and face the Sandringham Dragons. Both teams have not been in their best form these last few rounds, with the Bushrangers losing their last three during the home and away season, and the Dragons losing their final two. Unlike the Dragons though, the Bushrangers are coming into this game with a win, simply outclassing their opposition at Ikon Park.

Ely Smith’s clearance and contest work was at his usual standard, mopping up the footy off the hit outs and breaking lines with booming kicks. Mathew Walker’s pressure was well over standard as well, laying nine tackles. The test they face is whether they can minimise Liam Stocker’s impact for the Dragons. The Dragons’ Morrish Medal winner stands to make a big statement, playing to earn a finals appearance and a possible top 10 pick in the National Draft. His work on the inside has been his biggest highlight for the month, stepping up in Bailey Smith’s absence. Ben King, returning in Round 15, is also set to make waves and prove himself as a potential number one pick. The last time they faced, the Bushrangers claimed a 65-point win, with Hudson Garoni kicking eight. The Bushrangers forward was kept goalless last week so could be ready to prove himself come the weekend. The Dragons are still favourites to take the win and eliminate the Bushrangers from the race, but it will be a hotly contested match.

Player Focus: Ely Smith

MURRAY Bushrangers have secured their spot in the finals race after outclassing the Bendigo Pioneers at Ikon Park over the weekend, defeating them by 27 points.

Ely Smith continues to make a case for a possible late second round pick with another strong showing in the Wild Card round against the Bendigo Pioneers. While originally missing selection in Vic Country’s original side, Smith later received a call up after Country lost their inside midfielders in Jye Caldwell and Mitch Riordan, and Smith’s continued showing of good form.

In the TAC Cup, Smith leads in clearances, sits third in disposals, third in contested possessions, third in handballs, tenth in inside 50s and twelfth in tackles. This strong bodied midfielder knows how to take a tackle and use his size and strength to gain prominent position. While his inside game is easily his most impressive quality, he by no means lacks an ability on the outside.

With stakes increasing heading deeper into finals, we could see a big lift from the Bushrangers’ contested possession winner and a big add to his stocks heading into the 2018 National Draft.

Quarter by quarter:

Ely Smith’s usual impact was nowhere to be seen in the first, tallying only the two possessions for the quarter, and being quickly dealt with on his first touch.

After some time to reflect at the break, and probably some choice words from his coach, Smith entered the second term with a huge lift in form. Off the tap down he read the drop best and manoeuvred well in tight space to burst into the Bushrangers’ attacking half. He shot off a lot of clean passes from the middle, aiding the Bushrangers’ aggressive run forward and picked his man well despite having Pioneers hanging off his back. He continued to boast a perfect read on the ball, spoiling a mark along the wing and collecting it off a bounce. He copped a tackle soon after but got a short pass away, quickly regained possession and chipped it up to the square and affected a Bushranger goal.

He kept lifting in the third, earning a clearance from the first stoppage and locking down a getaway in the second. In the next centre bounce, Smith earned himself a clearance and an inside 50, bursting away with the pill and setting up a shot on goal. He trapped the ball carrier out of the next centre bounce, causing a stoppage, and laid a second tackle to dispossess and hand Dylan Clarke a clearance. Some strong kicking and a burst away from congestion frequently broke Pioneer lines. Breaking one tackle and withstanding a second, Smith kicked clean down the passage which resulted in another Bushrangers goal. He repeated the same action soon after, booting the ball over the centre square out of their defensive half, shattering Pioneer lines. If he was not first to the footy, he was usually a close second, wrapping up his man before they could take a step.

The hitouts stopped going his way at the beginning of the final term, with one thumped long and another hit high. Though unlike the first, Smith turned it around and gained his first disposal with a chip kick inside 50 from a lead through the passage. He went onto to clean up his team’s messy clearance work from the stoppage, extracting it from the congestion and again creating movement. He broke lines with excellent work out of the back, including a strong kick in the defensive 50 which created some easy movement. Not long after, he received the ball at the end of the chain that he started inside 50 but missed to the left with his set shot. He got a second chance at it off the kick in, causing a turnover, but was unsuccessful in converting. Smith is an easy pick for best on ground, for his massive second and third quarter impact, dominating both the inside and outside game for the day.

 

Final Stats:

29 disposals (16 contested)

12 kicks

17 handballs

12 handball receives

6 tackles

6 clearances

6 inside 50s

2 rebounds

 

It cannot be said definitively but it is likely Smith will be taken somewhere in the middle of the Draft. Producing a strong showing in the finals has the potential to catch recruiters’ eyes, so if he is able to keep his form up and goes deeper into finals, that’s more time to affect a positive opinion.

Fantastic Five: Memorable moments from the weekend

WITH sights set toward finals for teams fortunate enough to secure their spots, now is the time to honour our season’s best across all competitions. Our Under 18s make strong cases for first round selection, AFL’s debutantes get the recognition they deserve, and we get a glimpse of some finals football with Box Hill facing Port Melbourne in the VFL’s second Elimination Final.

Morrish Medal and TAC Cup Girls Best and Fairest announced

Sandringham Dragons’ Liam Stocker has taken out 2018’s TAC Cup best and fairest, securing the Morrish Medal, joining Calder Cannons captain Madison Prespakis and Geelong Falcons’ Nina Morrison as the best players in their respective competitions. Stocker joins the likes of Hugh McCluggage, Clayton Oliver and Jack Higgins as a medal recipient despite only playing 12 games after suffering a broken jaw. The big-bodied midfielder recovered and rebounded to finish the year strong, similarly to Prespakis who secured seven votes in the last three rounds to tie with Morrison. The pair have both been named in the Women’s Under 18 All Australian side and are pegged as the first two picks in October’s National draft.

Tim Kelly named best first year player

The AFL Players’ Association have awarded the Best First Year Player Award to Geelong’s Tim Kelly. While the 24-year-old was ineligible for the NAB Rising Star due to his age, it seems to us all that he has well and truly risen. Speedy and powerful, Kelly averaged 23.1 disposals, four clearances, three tackles and three inside 50s across 22 games. He placed as Geelong’s fourth highest goalkicker behind Dangerfield, kicking 23 for the season. The South Fremantle star managed to slip into a midfield with the likes of Selwood, Ablett and Dangerfield – a trio with more personal accolades than some AFL teams – like he had been there for years. There was never any doubt.

Jaidyn Stephenson wins NAB Rising Star Award

It’s been a while since a debutante stepped into the AFL with the confidence and self-assurance of Jaidyn Stephenson. Taken at pick No. 6 in last year’s NAB AFL Draft, the Eastern Ranges’ icon secured the NAB Rising Star Award with 52 votes, edging out Adelaide’s Tom Doedee by 10 votes. Last year brought his AFL player career into question following news of a genetic heart condition, but Stephenson has more than squashed those worries, becoming one of the AFL’s biggest goal sneaks in his debut year. For goals, Stephenson finished ahead of the likes of Dustin Martin, Jarryd Roughead and Eddie Betts, placing 21st in the competition. Win or lose, September will give the youngster a taste of AFL’s next level, and given his confidence, I have no doubt we will see him take it on.

Box Hill Hawks triumph over Port Melbourne in extra time

In one for the ages, the Box Hill Hawks took home the win over Port Melbourne in the VFL’s second Elimination Final in extra time. With the first half of the game going the Hawks’ way, keeping Port Melbourne goalless in the second and holding a 30-point lead at halftime. It was a massive third quarter effort by Port Melbourne that saw them back in the fight, kicking five goals to Box Hill’s one. The Hawks’ effectiveness in front of goal dropped immensely, but in the end, it was two extra time goals kicked by James Cousins and  Chris Jones and a huge difference in behinds that knocked back a resilient Port Melbourne outfit.

The 2018 AFL Women’s Under 18 All Australian announced

Following the completion of the recent State of Origin match, the AFL Women’s U18 All Australian team was announced with more than one third being made up by bottom-agers. Victoria boasted the largest showing, with Queensland landing six to outdo Vic Metro and place second behind the seven picked out of Vic Country. The AFL Women’s Under 18 Championships’ Most Valuable Players, Madison Prespakis, Nina Morrison and Alyce Parker all received selections, along with South Australia’s MVP, Montana McKinnon and Queensland’s MVP, Natalie Grider. In October, many of these ladies are set line up for the AFLW National Draft and begin their careers at the highest level come next year.

Weekend Wash-up: TAC Cup – Wildcard Round

WILDCARD Round is done and won, and four sides are out of the premiership race. While Geelong Falcons, Greater Western Victoria (GWV) Rebels, Murray Bushrangers and Western Jets advance to the finals, Calder Cannons, Northern Knights, Eastern Ranges and Bendigo Pioneers seasons are over.

 

Calder Cannons 8.7 (55) defeated by Geelong Falcons 8.8 (56)

By: Brandon Hutchinson

In one of the games of the year, and for a second week in a row, the Geelong Falcons snare a come from behind victory against the Calder Cannons to eliminate them from the finals race. Struggling to capitalise with their scoring shots in the third, the Falcons turned the tables in the final term, kicking three goals to one and winning from an 11-point deficit at the break. The Cannons’ big third quarter effort put them ahead and gave them the largest lead of the game. Neither team was ever out of the race, but in the end, it was a behind and the Falcons’ defensive pressure that snatched away the victory.

Cooper Stephens was instrumental with three rebounds, four inside 50s, five clearances, a game-high 27 disposals and a final quarter goal. Co-captain Sam Walsh finished similarly with four rebounds, three inside 50s, five clearances and 26 disposals racking up an impressive 16 contested possessions. Sam Conway dominated in the ruck with 27 hit outs, beating the Cannons’ total hit outs of 25 on his own. Jay Dahlhaus (16 disposals, five marks, five inside 50s and two goals), Oscar Brownless (18 disposals, four clearances and two goals) and Ned McHenry (20 disposals and two goals) impressed in front of goals, with Doyle Madigan (23 disposals, 15 contested, four clearances and two inside 50) also proving very dominating.

Will Jury had a strong performance with a game high 16 contested possessions (19 disposals), three marks (one contested), five clearances and six inside 50s. Lachlan Sholl (23 disposals, six marks, two inside 50s and one clearance), Brodie Newman (13 disposals, six marks and four rebounds) and Daniel Hanna (16 disposals and seven marks) all presented strong overhead. Curtis Taylor (11 disposals and five marks) and Jake Riccardi (12 disposals, three marks, six hitouts, three clearances and four inside 50s) kicked two goals each, while Jacob Martin (17 disposals, four clearances and six inside 50s) and Rhylee West (12 disposals, six clearances, five inside 50s and one goal) were among the best for the Cannons. 

 

Northern Knights (3.4.22) defeated by Greater Western Victoria Rebels (14.7.91)

By: Brandon Hutchinson

Finals are now well and truly over for the Northern Knights after being handed a smashing by the GWV Rebels at MARS Stadium. Though only a point between them come the second quarter, the GWV lifted to produce a 37-point second quarter, with seven shots on goal to two. The third proved just as disappointing for the Knights with just the one point scored for the quarter, summing up a rather dismal performance with 21 scoring shots to seven.

Riely Ranieri’s work in the Rebels’ defensive half was extremely pivotal in their win, racking up 19 disposals (11 contested), four clearances, and seven rebounds. Matt Schnerring boasted a team-high 22 disposals, moving the ball well with three inside 50s and two rebounds, and contributed to their big second quarter with a late goal. Matty Lloyd capped off a solid game with 20 disposals and kicked two big goals, with Scott Carlin close behind on 19 disposals, five clearances and two goals of his own. Jed Hill and Harrison Butler also put two each on the board, while Patrick Glanford (11 disposals, 27 hit outs, four clearances and three inside 50s) performed well in the ruck alongside Darcy McEldrew (18 hitouts).

Despite their poor showing, the Northern Knights still had plenty of strong performers on the day. Sam Philp had a game-high 23 disposals and dominated out of the stoppages with 9 clearances. Philp moved the ball well to collect six inside 50s for the match. Similarly, Tom McKenzie delivered well with his seven inside 50s, showcased his strong hands (six marks) and got a bit of footy with 20 disposals. Adam Carafa (four clearances, two inside 50s, three rebounds), Josh D’Intinosante (three clearances, three inside 50s, two rebounds), Jackson Davies (four clearances, four inside 50s and three inside 50s) and Braedyn Gillard (10 contested possessions, three clearances and three inside 50s) also had considerable impacts.

 

Western Jets 12.12 (84) defeated Eastern Ranges 7.4 (46)

By: Michael Alvaro

Western Jets survived an early Eastern Ranges onslaught to claim a 38-point win and earn their spot in the TAC Cup final eight. The sixth-place Jets had every reason to be nervous coming into the game against second-last Eastern given both sides outside of the top eight beat their more fancied counterparts in the previous day’s play, and that fear would have been heightened as the Ranges stormed out to a first half lead. Three first half majors to bottom ager Ben Hickleton put Eastern in good stead, as they put on five straight goals to open the game and kept Western goalless in the second term to hold a 16-point buffer at the main break.

Their run came to a grinding halt once the ball went down to start the third term, as key Western ball-winners Xavier O’Halloran and Morrish Medal runner-up Connor Thar came into the game, with Stefan Radovanovic solid down back and Emerson Jeka providing a target forward of centre. Western jetted into the lead with four goals to none in the third term, and kept their form in the last as they piled on another five to Eastern’s one.

For the winners, O’Halloran (17 disposals, four tackles) stepped up when it counted, while Thar (32 disposals, six tackles, four marks nd one goal) was arguably their best. The Western forward line was dangerous as ever too, with Daniel Pantalleresco and Jeka claiming three majors each, while 23rd man Cassius White was also dangerous, booting two.

In one of Eastern’s better displays, Kye Quirk continued to rack up the possessions with 24 touches, 10 handball receives and six marks, while Joel Burleigh and Xavier Fry were their main ball-winners with 32 touches each. Bottom ager Hickleton also impressed with his three goals, finding himself in good areas inside 50.

The Jets now face an in-form Oakleigh side full of stars in the first week of finals, while Eastern’s season ends on the back of a fighting effort.

 

Murray Bushrangers 9.18 (72) defeated Bendigo Pioneers 6.9 (45)

By: Michael Alvaro

Murray Bushrangers rounded out the TAC Cup wildcard round with a comfortable, yet wasteful 27-point win over Bendigo Pioneers. Having been booted out of the top four in the last two rounds, the Bushies looked to have learned a lesson from the previous wildcard games as the favourites broke out to a 22-point lead to open the game, keeping the Pio’s goalless.

To Bendigo’s credit, they didn’t give in and hit back with three goals of their own in the second term to reduce the margin to 12 points at the main break. Neither side could really snatch a good run of momentum, as the buffer stayed at a steady three-four goals going into the final break – with Bendigo’s accuracy (6.4) keeping them within reach in quarters two and three as Murray complied a wasteful 5.8 in comparison.

But the class of Murray proved too much as they held on with a further 1.5 in the fourth quarter to shut out the trying contest and their nagging opposition. Ely Smith continued his good form in the midfield to be named Murray’s best with 29 disposals and six tackles, while Mathew Walker (21 disposals, nine tackles, six marks and three goals) was not far behind. Zane Barzen and Lachlan Ash were the Bushranger’s other multiple goal kickers with two each, with the latter also gathering 20 disposals in a more advanced role.

For Bendigo, Jacob Atley was the clear standout up forward as he collected 21 disposals and marked well while claiming half of his side’s six goals. Liam Marciano was also industrious with his 27 disposals, six tackles and five marks and one goal, while Bailey Henderson (22 disposals and six marks) was also solid. Jye Caldwell also showed some brilliant glimpses before unfortunately injuring his hamstring.

Murray will go on to face the Sandringham side which snatched their top-four spot in what looks like being a tantalising contest.

Liam Stocker takes out Morrish Medal in close vote count

WHEN Liam Stocker came from the field with a broken jaw in Sandringham Dragons’ clash with Gippsland Power at Morwell, it meant the talented midfielder’s hopes and dreams of representing Vic Metro were dashed. Instead of worrying about the uncontrollable factors, Stocker went head first into his recovery, shortening it from eight weeks to six and getting out on the park the first chance he got. From then on the inside midfielder went from strength to strength, earning the admiration of not only his teammates and coaches, but the umpires as well.

Stocker out last night’s 2018 Morrish Medal, the accolade awarded to the player judged as the best and fairest in the TAC Cup competition, joining the likes of Brisbane’s Hugh McCluggage and Richmond’s Jack Higgins as winners of the award. Stocker finished the vote count with 18 votes, two ahead of Western Jets midfielder Connor Thar.

The inside ball winner has been uncompromising in his approach to his football this season, overcoming that broken jaw to play 12 games for the season. Stocker averaged 22.8 disposals, 2.8 marks, 4.8 tackles, 5.7 clearances, 5.2 inside 50s and 2.1 rebounds. He has won 55.6 per cent of his possessions at the coal face.

Speaking of the moment his season would change, Stocker recalls how it was just a concoction of bad luck.

“Basically I got an errant handball, and stuck my jaw out where it was meant to be hit and copped a shoulder across the face,” Stocker said. “I sort of woke up in a daze – I think I was out for a minute and a half or so. “It was more the concussion that got me in strife, but went in and had surgery at the end of that week and I knew I had a pretty long road ahead.”

Stocker’s injury dealt him a heavy blow when he missed opportunities to play with Vic Metro – including running out on AFL venues, the MCG and Optus Stadium. He turned the disappointment into motivation and, coupled with a huge preseason, believed they were the factors instrumental for his strong back end of the season.

With a big shift in perception following his injury, Stocker sought to reestablish himself as a real competitor in the TAC Cup before season’s end. According to the Morrish Medal winner, much of this success came off the back of his new mindset instilled by Sandringham Dragons’ Senior Coach, Jeremy Barnard

“I sort of thought ‘you know what you can go and be a mediocre player for the rest of the year and not care about your performance, or you can take some attention to detail and knuckle down,” Stocker said.

Knuckle down, he did. So much so he finished the season as the best player in the competition in the umpires eyes. When asked about his success, Stocker believes he was lucky with the team he had behind him. He said the medal is more a testament to the talent of Sandringham’s midfield group and their continued support, claiming it as more as a collective reward than his own.

“I had a couple games around the season where having the support of my teammates probably helped me a lot more than anything else, so I kind of view this less as a personal award and more as, you know, the midfield group behind me with Bailey (Smith), Ryan Byrnes, Kai Owens behind me,” Stocker said. “They kind of got to me the situation I’m in now, rather than just a huge personal effort.”

The Sandringham Dragons have selection challenges throughout the year with so much of their list playing school football, but luckily for Stocker, the midfielder knows how to adapt. He has a unique backstory having spent a portion of his childhood in Hong Kong, remembering how tough it was playing against bigger bodies as a child.

“The only access we really had to footy was Grand Final day where all the Australians in Hong Kong would go and watch the Grand Final together,” he said. “Beyond that, I went to Auskick in the summer, but you have 16 year olds over there thinking they can make the AFL from Hong Kong Auskick. “It wasn’t much fun there, I was sort of getting poleaxed 24/7 as an eight year-old.”

He has not had to worry about that much lately, with the strong midfielder able to use his bigger frame to win the contested ball. The potential first round pick will be hoping to do plenty of that as he leads the Dragons onball brigade in September, starting with the Murray Bushrangers in the elimination final this weekend.

Morrish Medal Leaderboard:

1 Liam Stocker – Sandringham Dragons (18)
2 Connor Thar – Western Jets (16)
3 Atu Bosenavulagi – Oakleigh Chargers (14)
3 Campbell Hustwaite – Dandenong Stingrays (14)
3 Sam Walsh – Geelong Falcons (14)

Keeping Tabs: Standout players from Round 23

For some, it’s the last game of footy they’ll play until 2019. For others, they’ll be playing the most important games of footy they’ve ever faced. In our last Keeping Tabs, we look back on a few familiar faces, where they sit for the season, and pay our usual respects to this round’s top performers.

Tim Kelly

Though ineligible to win the NAB Rising Star Award, Kelly without a doubt was 2018’s best first year player. Averaging 23.1 disposals, four clearances, three tackles and three inside 50s across 22 games, Geelong’s newest recruit tallied up 23 goals, placing as the Cat’s fourth highest goal kicker for the season (one behind Patrick Dangerfield). In Round 23, Kelly maintained his class. His power showed out of stoppages, as he collected three clearances and an exciting goal around the body. He finished with two more goals (100 per cent efficiency) and nine score involvements for the afternoon, plus 23 possessions (seven contested) at a disposal efficiency of 74 per cent. Kelly was able to beat his stat sheet on the weekend, taking eight marks (two inside 50s), boasted 24 pressure acts and four inside 50s. Give him one more season, and Kelly could be named in the 40-man All-Australian squad. Though you could argue he was stiff not to get a nod this season, if the Cats claw their way to the end of September, a Norm Smith conversation might not be off the cards either.

Zac Bailey

Bailey injected real class into the Brisbane Lions’ line-up this year, Bailey put on another show for onlookers against the Eagles. Clean with ball in hand, Bailey finished with 20 possessions (six contested) and a list-high 85 per cent disposal efficiency. His first quarter started well, kicking a goal on the run from 30 metres out, and later adding his second in the third quarter (six score involvements). He was able to showcase his strong marking ability, with four marks on the weekend. Bailey topped off an already impressive performance with two tackles, three inside 50s, 364 metres gained, and earned three free kicks. The Lions know what they’re doing with their crop. With Cam Rayner, Hugh McCluggage, Eric Hipwood, Alex Witherden and Bailey, the future’s looking strong for Brisbane.

Aaron Naughton

Though having a few stints up forward this season, it seems Naughton’s continued reliability in the backline was again too much to pass up. Earning himself the final NAB Rising Star nomination for the year, the dependable defender played his role well in minimising Richmond’s forward onslaught. He collected 18 disposals (12 contested) at a 78 per cent disposal efficiency. Naughton took nine marks (five contested) and 12 intercept possessions with only one turnover. He sits atop the Bulldogs list for intercept possessions at 112, but only 54th in the competition. If the Bulldogs remained more consistent with Naughton’s role, perhaps he would have placed higher and received the Rising Star nomination earlier. Nevertheless, his impact is unmistakable, sustaining good football across 23 rounds.

Liam Ryan

Ryan’s game has much to be admired. He’s proven himself as a talented goal kicker (17 goals in 10 games), a slick mover with the ball, and generally just adds a lot of flavour to the plays he produces. Unsurprisingly, this game was no different. The 21-year-old kicked three goals for the game (six score involvements) and collected nine of his 12 possessions out of a contest. His disposal efficiency was a little poor at 58 per cent, but his goal sense and one-on-one work put him above, taking four marks (two contested) and laying four tackles. West Coast are going into the finals with a confident and talented forward line, with Ryan and Willie Rioli adding unfathomable amounts of finesse and agility. Their inclusion this season has made the Eagles a much more dynamic side than the one we saw in 2017.

James Worpel

Taking up the role of Hawthorn’s resident hothead in James Sicily’s absence, Worpel continued to play his footy with great intensity. His work through the midfield proved damaging, collecting 23 possessions (nine contested) at a solid 78 per cent disposal efficiency. He kicked an easy goal from a dropped mark off a Sydney kick-in, had seven score involvements and one goal assist. He worked well going forward with three clearances, four inside 50s and two marks in front of goal. He also had two tackles, 13 pressure acts, five intercept possessions, and two rebound 50s. His work rate was up for four quarters, positioning and using his body well in the contest. 

Jack Higgins

It seems Richmond’s wins at the MCG are getting slimmer with each round heading into September. Higgins expressed his frustrations early on, but found his head and maintained a strong presence in assisting Richmond’s win. The personable youngster collected 18 possessions (nine contested) at 61 per cent disposal efficiency, as well as seven score involvements and two goal assists. His clever tap-down to Jason Castagna inside 50 created an important goal in the third, making up part of his five one per centers for the game. Richmond envisioned a small-forward/midfield role in 2017 for this prospect and showed great interest in his game-average five tackles. This year, the Tigers were able to get what they wanted as Higgins topped his game with 28 pressure acts, and five tackles (three inside 50). With his speed, instincts, pressure and goal sense, Higgins should be well on his way to stardom.

Ben Paton

Paton gave St Kilda something to look at come selection next season with a stellar third-game performance. He gathered 16 disposals (seven contested) and peaked his kicking efficiency at 88.9 per cent with nine kicks. He earned himself a goal (five score involvements and one goal assist), took three marks, laid two tackles and had 19 pressure acts. In such a chaotic game of football, it’s impressive to see a young player hold their nerve and keep their efficiency at such an elevated level. 

Lochie O’Brien

This weekend O’Brien got himself to a lot of the footy even with Carlton’s inability to do much with it. Collecting 22 disposals (four contested) at 58 per cent disposal efficiency, the young Blue maintained a strong presence around the ground, finishing third behind Marc Murphy and Patrick Cripps in possessions. The No.10 pick finished with four marks, three clearances, six inside 50s and four rebound 50s. It probably wasn’t the most ideal way to close out an already poor season, but O’Brien may take solace in now having 18 games under his belt come 2019. If the Blues can strengthen their list, they’ll have a better chance of strengthening their draft crop.

Keeping Tabs: Standout performers from Round 21

WITH the race to the Rising Star award reaching the home stretch, the Keeping Tabs’ favourites continue to make their appearances. At the beginning of the year, I would have predicted Stephenson easily, however there’s still plenty of standouts who want their name in this conversation.                   

Jaidyn Stephenson

Spreading his class throughout the ground against a resilient Brisbane Lions, Stephenson returned to his Rising Star form. Pivotal in their victory, Magpie’s debutante finished with 19 kicks, six handballs, eight marks and 524 metres gained. This year, Stephenson proved himself up forward with countless goals to show for it. He showed his versatility last weekend, proving himself dominant by foot through the midfield and going forward. He closed out the game against the Lions with five inside 50s, one rebound 50, 10 score involvements, two one percenters and most impressively, two goals. It seems in the conversation of Rayner v Stephenson, it’s safe to say the Magpie won this round.

James Worpel

All eyes were on the young Hawk this weekend in yet another close finish against the Cats. Worpel came out with wings fully stretched, laying eight tackles (two inside 50s) and 17 pressure acts. When facing Geelong skipper Joel Selwood, in one of the game’s desperate moments, Worpel snatched the pill off the deck, spinning out of danger and assisting the ball forward for an important goal. The simple, yet courageous act may have saved the game. For the day he had 12 kicks, 11 handballs and five marks. His work was solid around the stoppages, with four clearances, four inside 50s and two rebounds. This week’s Rising Star nominee loved attacking the football and seems to be developing well under the great, Alastair Clarkson. The youngster could see himself in a premiership side this year if Hawks continue their strong form.

Jack Higgins

Richmond’s favourite personality had yet another stellar performance. His consistency has been his most impressive feat this year, flowing well with the chaotic Tigers and injecting some of his own unfamiliar flavour. Higgins collected most of his 16 disposals across the wings, at an 81 per cent efficiency with six contested possessions last weekend. The most impressive of his stats came from his two goal assists, seven score involvements and two contested marks. The unselfish footballer impacts the scoreboard through clever and timely passing. Despite not kicking a big number this year, Higgins doesn’t sit on his hands in the forward line, creating goals through great instincts and great agility. Furthermore, he had 18 pressure acts and a clearance to show for his day.

Ed Richards

Ed ‘Red’ Richards has quickly become a famous name for Bulldog supporters. This debutante stood up in the back half of this season, adding plenty of class up forward at times, and sensational run out of the backline when needed. The latter was prominent in this week’s match. Richards had 17 possessions at 77 per cent disposal efficiency, cleaning up the footy comprehensively in the Bulldogs’ defensive half. He had an impressive run along the wing, bringing the ball inside 50 with a few bounces, creating a goal. For the day, he had two inside 50s, one rebound, 14 pressure acts, four intercept possessions and two marks. It is outstanding how much of the spotlight the debutantes have stolen this year, and Richards is definitely a fan favourite.

Tim Kelly

Though not at his usual form, Kelly still performed well enough to have his spot on this list. He had 11 kicks and six handballs with a 65 per cent disposal efficiency. His most impressive feat came from his 385 metres gained and five one percenters. It’s fair to say if this was a Tim Kelly best performance list, this one wouldn’t make it, but Kelly still had his fair share of an impact. His accuracy in front of goal was dismal at 33 percent, kicking one out of three. Though like usual his stats were well spread, finishing with four clearances, four inside 50s, two tackles and 13 pressure acts. Hopefully we can see Geelong’s heavy hitter lift this week and play some of the footy we saw against the Tigers.

Paddy Dow

Dow is slowly establishing his trademark with his strong running across the wing. First using it to score a Goal of the Week nomination, Dow used his second run to setup a teammate and secure an easier score. Finding his zone in recent times, it seems the nerves of elite football are things of the past. Carlton’s young ball carrier secured 10 kicks and five handballs at a 60 percent disposal efficiency and nine contested possessions. His impact was spread across forward and back, with seven score involvements and 11 pressure acts. He proved strong in the clearance yet again, securing four, and showed his dominance delivering the ball with five inside 50s. With the way these last few weeks are going, I can see 2019 being the year of Dow, and I sure can’t wait to see it.

Tom McCartin

Though only having 10 possessions, McCartin managed to make them all count at a 100 per cent disposal efficiency. He split his disposals perfectly with five contested and five uncontested possessions, as well as spreading them 50-50 across the defensive and forward halves. He also collected six score involvements, one goal assist and a goal for himself. He took an impressive six marks (two contested), laid three tackles, had four inside 50s and four one percenters. McCartin is holding up as a reliable footballer, making his possessions count and not getting caught with the footy. He has adapted well to Sydney’s neat brand of football and will bring in the next generation of champions quite nicely.

Aiden Bonar

The former Dandenong Stingrays forward was at his exciting best, booting 2.2 in the GIANTS’ win over Adelaide in what was a season-defining game. Bonar had just the nine touches, but had five marks (one contested and three inside 50), four tackles and an inside 50. Most importantly, he laid two of his four tackles inside 50, providing that vital forward pressure. He has exciting speed and X-factor in the forward half and will be one that continues to develop at a rapid rate which a huge ceiling.