The Oakleigh Chargers rebounded from their 2018 Grand Final loss and claimed the club’s fifth NAB League Boys premiership with a 53-point victory over the Eastern Ranges in Saturday’s 2019 decider.
A devastating burst of seven Oakleigh goals in nine minutes late in the third quarter broke open an arm-wrestle of a contest at Ikon Park, with Chargers midfielder Matthew Rowell pivotal in that run and later earning an unprecedented second straight Grand Final best-on-ground medal.
The highly-rated 2019 NAB AFL Draft prospect recorded a game-high 44 disposals, eight marks, eight tackles and two goals, backing up his standout performance as a bottom-ager in a six-point loss to the Dandenong Stingrays in last year’s big dance.
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Oakleigh’s 12.17 (89) to 5.6 (36) triumph adds to flags in 2006, 2012, 2014 and 2015 – the latter win also coming against the Ranges – with head coach Leigh Clarke receiving big performances from a host of talented players.
Alongside Rowell, Chargers co-captain Trent Bianco (30 disposals and 11 marks), Noah Anderson (26 disposals) and ruck Nick Bryan (20 and 26 hitouts) were other strong 2019 AFL Draft prospects to shine on the day.
Meanwhile, Kaden Schreiber (26 disposals and 11 marks), Jeromy Lucas (23 and three goals), Bailey Laurie (16 and two goals) and Will Phillips (16 and two goals) also starred in their team’s eighth consecutive success to end the 2019 campaign.
The Ranges simply couldn’t match them all when Oakleigh stamped its authority on the match prior to the last change, falling to their fifth loss from seven grand finals in club history.
Eastern won the 2019 minor premiership under Coach of the Year Darren Bewick but wasn’t able to defeat the Chargers – who finished third following the home-and-away rounds – in three clashes this season.
Bottom-agers Wil Parker (team-high 27 disposals and 11 rebound-50s) and Josh Clarke (23 and seven rebound-50s) regularly provided drive out of an under-siege Ranges back line, while Lachlan Stapleton (19) and Mitch Mellis (18) tried hard in the midfield and Joel Nathan performed admirably in defence opposed to potential Oakleigh match-winner Jamarra Ugle-Hagan.
With rain clearing about an hour before the start of play, dry but windy conditions greeted the teams. The Chargers overcame the tricky conditions with early stoppage dominance though, as Rowell, Anderson and Phillips took no time in winning their fair share of clearances and putting Eastern’s defenders under the pump.
Phillips kicked the game’s first goal on the run after four minutes and when Cooper Sharman added Oakleigh’s second 10 minutes later, the Ranges were still scoreless and the trajectory of the contest looked ominous. However, goalkicking inaccuracy from the Chargers and a late first-term major to Harrison Keeling against the flow of play sparked Eastern into action.
After easily losing the territory battle in the opening quarter, the Ranges found some run from the back half to start the second stanza through the likes of Parker and Clarke. They began to create chances moving forward where previously Oakleigh’s intense pressure had suffocated them, and goals to Mellis and then Clarke remarkably tied up the scoreboard 14 minutes into the term.
The Chargers kept pressing though, with Rowell seemingly everywhere and Bianco generating plenty of run through the middle of the ground. A clever snap goal to Laurie in response sent the wasteful Chargers into half-time with a nine-point lead from nine more scoring shots.
A dour contest ensued for much of the third quarter before Oakleigh’s stars lifted to the occasion, tearing the game open with exhilarating play from congestion and turning a two-point lead into a 44-point advantage in short time with their run of majors.
The final term was effectively a celebratory procession for a club that is now only one premiership behind the tally of the competition’s all-time leaders the Calder Cannons (six).
EASTERN RANGES 1.0 3.3 4.5 5.6 (36)
OAKLEIGH CHARGERS 2.7 3.12 10.13 12.17 (89)
Eastern Ranges: H. Keeling, M. Mellis, J. Clarke, J. Duffy, B. Hickleton
Oakleigh Chargers: J. Lucas 3, B. Laurie 2, M. Rowell 2, W. Phillips 2, C. Sharman, T. Graham, N. Stathopoulos