The Eastern Ranges triumphed in a top-of-the-table clash with the Sandringham Dragons in NAB League Boys Round 11, while the Murray Bushrangers sent the Dandenong Stingrays tumbling out of the top four in the first of two ‘Futures Rounds’.
The Futures Rounds across Rounds 11 and 12 require clubs to select at least 11 players who are currently in their 16th or 17th year, with team line-ups allowed to consist of up to 24 players and the 23rd player rule not in effect.
On a weekend when some of their teammates were part of Vic Metro’s first win at the NAB AFL Under-18 Championships, Eastern (1st on ladder, 8-2 record) and the Dragons (2nd, 7-3) were within arm’s length of each other for much of their showdown at Box Hill City Oval.
The Ranges kicked the first two goals of the game and maintained that lead throughout, with the final margin of 18 points – 8.8 (56) to 5.8 (38) – their largest buffer of the contest. Eastern has now strung together four straight wins – two of those coming against Sandringham.
Talent Manager Sean Toohey said the Ranges had “probably exceeded expectations” with their season so far, despite his confidence they would improve upon last year’s 2-14 campaign.
“A strong reason why we are where we sit now is consistent effort,” Toohey said. “We have very good leaders within the group that have galvanised the team together, and they can take a lot of credit for the way the group really plays for each other.
“The key against the Dragons was that effort and intensity, as well as taking ground with the ball given it was damp and slippery. It was a really scrappy, high-pressure game and we had to make the most of our opportunities when we went forward, which was probably the difference in the end.”
Toohey indicated a range of Eastern’s bottom-agers had regularly stepped up this season in the absence of top-agers missing through injury, school football or national representative duties – and they did so again in the weekend’s Futures Round.
“I think the top-end talent we have in our bottom-age group is really significant,” Toohey said.
“Salele Feagaimalii (20 disposals and eight clearances against Sandringham) has been pretty good for most of the year as a strong-bodied midfielder and Connor Downie (14) is in the Vic Metro squad so we expect those guys to perform, while Wil Parker (12) would be one of the stand-out half-back flankers in the competition over the last month.
“In terms of top-agers, Lachlan Stapleton was very good with 22 possessions – which were all very clean – and 10 tackles. He’s a class midfielder and hopefully he gets his chance in Vic Metro’s final game this Friday. Zak Pretty (24 disposals) has been super consistent winning the ball in the midfield, Billy McCormack (19, 23 hitouts and two goals) had a great game up forward and in the ruck, and our captain James Ross (15 and five rebound-50s) was really solid down back.”
* CLICK HERE to see full match results, goalkickers and best players from NAB League Boys Round 11.
Murray (10th, 4-6) benefited from an influx of talent from the Allies and Vic Country – which had a bye for Round 3 of the AFL Under-18 Championships – and knocked off the Stingrays (5th, 6-2-1) at Shepley Oval, 13.20 (98) to 10.4 (64). Despite inaccuracy in front of goal, the Bushrangers took control of the contest in the second quarter and didn’t relent, going on to record back-to-back wins for the first time in 2019.
Cameron Wild (game-high 29 disposals) and Will Chandler (15 and eight inside-50s) – recent representatives for Vic Country and the Allies respectively – were among Murray’s best players, while bottom-age forwards Dominic Bedendo and Ryley Bouker each booted three majors for the victors.
Another country-based team boosted by the return of national representatives was the Gippsland Power (3rd, 7-3), which posted a strong 13.13 (91) to 6.9 (45) win against the Oakleigh Chargers (10th, 6-4) at Morwell Recreation Reserve. The Power’s first win in three rounds was secured with a five-goal-unanswered third term and snapped a four-game winning run for Oakleigh.
Fraser Phillips shone for Gippsland with five majors from 20 disposals, with fellow Vic Country players Ryan Sparkes (26 disposals) and Brock Smith (26 and 10 marks) also influential. Leo Connolly had a game-high 32 touches and bottom-ager Sam Berry recorded 26 and nine marks in other key performances for the Power.
The Western Jets (4th, 7-3) moved into the top four at Dandenong’s expense thanks to a 9.4 (58) to 7.9 (51) victory over the GWV Rebels (12th, 2-8) at Mars Stadium. Western’s fourth consecutive win consigned the Rebels to a sixth straight defeat, GWV unable to overrun the Jets after reducing a 19-point deficit early in the third quarter to a one-point margin midway through the final stanza.
Daly Andrews (27 disposals and nine clearances) and Lucas Rocci (25 and nine rebound-50s) continued their consistent seasons for Western, with bottom-ager Cody Raak (14 and five rebound-50s) also prominent for the Jets. The Rebels were best served by Liam Herbert’s 28 disposals (a game-high), eight marks and eight tackles.
The Northern Knights (7th, 5-6) became the fifth Victorian team in a row to inflict a loss on the Tasmania Devils (9th, 4-6) across Bass Strait on their home turf, triumphing 8.10 (58) to 7.7 (49) at Twin Ovals in Kingston. The Knights never trailed in the match, booting four straight goals either side of three-quarter time to build a 33-point advantage Tasmania couldn’t overcome.
Northern skipper Jackson Davies (27 disposals, 10 marks and 11 rebound-50s) led his side from defence alongside Josh D’Intinosante (30, 10 tackles and nine clearances), Sam Philp (30 and eight clearances) in the midfield, while bottom-ager Ewan Macpherson was also important in the win with 16 touches and five rebound-50s.
Finally in Round 11, the Bendigo Pioneers (11th, 3-6) broke a six-game losing streak with a 13.5 (83) to 7.12 (54) defeat of the Geelong Falcons (13th, 1-8-1) at Mars Stadium, a six-goal-to-one second term seeing Bendigo establish a match-winning 43-point lead by half time.
Vic Country squad member Ben Worme (game-high 26 disposals and nine rebound-50s) and Will Wallace (17 and 10) provided plenty of drive from the back line for the Pioneers, with bottom-age tall Josh Treacy bagging four majors from 10 touches and five marks.
The Calder Cannons (8th, 5-5) had the bye in Round 11, with Eastern, Northern and Tasmania to sit out Round 12 action this weekend.