The Dragons celebrated 30 years of history in the TAC Cup/NAB League in style, defeating the Geelong Falcons by 23 points on a rainy afternoon at RSEA Park.
The return of Vic Metro representatives Will Ashcroft, Charlie Clarke, Harry Sheezel, and Ben Hempel provided a taste of the full-strength team starting to come together.
Two debutants pulled the Dragons jersey on for the first time, Charlie Gaiardo and Owen Bater the newest additions.
Eight unanswered opening goals from the Dragons put the game beyond reach for the Falcons, who fell apart with inaccurate kicking.
The win sees the Dragons move to 7-4, finishing 4th to end Round 13, one win out of an automatic finals spot.
It was an ideal start for the Dragons, with the play of the game coming within the second minute. A great string of handballs from the defensive 50 to forward 50 by Ashcroft (42 disposals, 6 rebound 50s), Creighton (19 disposals, 3 inside 50s), and Clarke (25 disposals, 1 goal) led to Ashcroft finding Birks (2 goals) 25 metres out who slotted back the first goal.
Great inside forward 50 pressure from Rousakis forced a turnover, allowing Sheezel (4 goals, 20 disposals) to centre and find Rielly 15 metres out in front of goal.
Benton (2 goals, 26 disposals) was on early and kicked a lovely checkside in tight space from 35 metres out, kicking the third goal in eight minutes, a quick 18-point lead for the Dragons.
Geelong were inaccurate in the first quarter, unable to convert their first six shots, ultimately a costly factor to the outcome of the match.
A late error for the Falcons gifted the Dragons their fourth goal of the quarter, Charlie Gaiardo (12 disposals) being the right man in the right place to intercept on 50 and spot Clarke alone in the forward 50.
An 18-point margin heading into the second quarter was only improved on by the Dragons, with great clearance work from Clarke and Andrews (15 disposals, 8 hitouts) allowing Benton to put the jets on and run from 70 metres out on the boundary line through to 40 metres on an angle and slot through his second goal.
Terrific defensive pressure by the Dragons trapped the ball inside the forward half, resulting in another two goals from Birks and Sheezel.
O’Leary (12 disposals) roved well from a stoppage, kicking deep to Sheezel, who found space close to goals, snapping from 15 metres out and extending the margin to 44 points, eight unanswered goals to start the match.
After 39 minutes, the Falcons were able to find the big sticks, kicking two goals in the space of five minutes to build some momentum.
That momentum was quickly shut down by a vigilant Dragons outfit, intensifying pressure in the midfield, exemplified by Rousakis, who had a great run-down tackle in the middle of the ground, resulting in a turnover and goal from Sheezel, who kicked his third for the quarter.
The Dragons went into half-time 37 points up, looking to build on their dominance in the second half.
The rain began to fall heavier as the two sides made their way out to the ground for the start of the second half, leading to a heavily contested battle for the first ten minutes.
11 minutes into the third quarter the Falcons capitalised first with a strong contested mark on 50 metres.
Birks kicked his second for the game minutes after, leading up to Sheezel who picked up the loose ball on centre wing.
Four minutes before the three-quarter time siren, Macnab (28 disposals) was crafty on the outer side of the ground, starting a chain of kicks, which eventually found Sheezel who kicked his fourth of the game, extending the three-quarter time lead to 45 points.
The Falcons weren’t willing to raise the white flag just yet, and commendably put up a tough fourth quarter outing, kicking four goals to zero, giving themselves a sniff throughout the quarter.
The big start was the difference in the end, with the Dragons running out 23-point winners, 11.13.79 to 7.14.56.
Lachie Benton has played some fantastic football as an Under 19 this year, featuring in best on ground in most games this year.
Whilst his defensive efforts running the ball out of half-back are consistently noticeable, he found a way to get on the scoreboard. Not once, but twice.
His first goal showcased his terrific special awareness around contested scenarios, kicking an odd checkside from nearly directly in front 35 metres out.
The second quarter goal was all down to his usual get-and-go strengths, running along the boundary line to checkside an even better kick than his first one.
Benton’s 26 disposals, 2 goals, and 6 inside 50s, found him in the best on ground yet again.
Sheeeeeez, that was good.
It was another four goals in the bag for key-forward Harry Sheezel, who once again proved his deadly nature around goals.
Sheezel found himself in tougher contested battles deep inside forward 50, however, was able to adapt even when struggling to take contested marks, winning the ball out the back and snapping some pivotal goals throughout the game.
Sheezel slot right back into the Dragons system after some time away in the National Championships for Vic Metro.
Sheezel found himself in the best on ground with a team-high four goals.
Owen Bater was one of two new Dragons to take the field in the Round 13 clash and proved to be a terrific asset to the Sandringham backline.
Bater’s ability to read the contest and outwork his opponent provided great transitional value for the midfield group, who thrived off strong defensive clearances.
Bater proved he can match it with the best at Under 18, being an Under 16 himself.
It was a great first impression for Bater, who will be an emerging player in the near future for the Dragons.
How do you stop Hempel?
The short answer, you may have strong difficulties.
Hempel had his best game this season off half-back, tallying 32 disposals, 21 kicks, 8 marks, and 8 rebound 50s.
Hempel’s ability to create space and lose his opponent on the break has proven to be a game changer, exposing the opposition with his transition skills.
This season-best performance broke almost every personal record in NAB League games, with the only stats he didn’t beat being inside 50’s and tackles.