It wasn’t to be for the Dragons, going down fiercely, defeated by the Dandenong Stingrays under the Friday Night Lights.
The Friday night stage was a first for the Dragons this season, with the girls travelling down to Seaford after a late change of venue from Trevor Barker Oval.
With a gloomy forecast on its way, it certainly didn’t dampen spirits within the change rooms!
The Dragons came into the game off the back of a 99 point win against the Gippsland Power, however, the task ahead was the polar opposite of the week before, facing a Dandenong side who were still undefeated six weeks in.
The Dragons took the game on early, bursting out the centre clearances to create offensive pressure through the likes of Coyne, Hurley, Zielinski, and Farrell.
After one minute the Dragons capitalised on the offensive dominance, scoring their first off the fast feet of Farrell (8 kicks, 1 goal) who slotted a calm and collected on-the-run shot from 20 metres out.
The pressure was maintained from the Dragons, with Zielinski nearly rewarded deep inside forward 50, snapping and hitting the post on a tight angle.
The momentum continued with the Dragons applying heavy pressure on the Stingrays trying to exit defensive 50.
This was rewarded with our second goal, through Gough’s terrific groundwork to find crafty forward Pia Staltari who snapped her first and the Dragons second in a row.
The Dragons went up 13-0 within the first 10 minutes and created some tactical pressure for the Stingrays.
The Rays were able to switch things tactically and started to tilt the momentum, creating more offensive entries and switches, applying the pressure late in the first quarter.
Poor defensive exposure from the Dragons gave the Rays the ability to capitalise and find a gap in the forward pocket, scoring their first in the game with five minutes left, cutting down the margin to five points going into the first break.
The second quarter was dominated by the Rays, who had come out of the quarter time break with a revitalised game plan moving the ball forward.
The ball was moving down both ends for the first few minutes, with Hipwell (14 disposals, 6 tackles) kicking wide for a point after five minutes.
However, the ten-minute mark exposed the Dragons defensively as the Rays were able to find a target in space to level the scores halfway through the second quarter.
The tension lifted on the field, with both teams becoming physically aggressive in order to strangle the momentum.
The Rays were able to catch the Dragons on the break, creating offensive transition on the wings to kick their third and fourth goal of the quarter.
The tension favoured the Dragons late in the second, with the Rays giving away a 50-metre penalty to Emma Stuber (2 goals, 9 kicks) who slotted her first of the night.
The Dragons went into the major breakdown by a goal and found themselves well within the contest despite the poor quarter.
The third quarter became a sluggish affair with both teams unwilling to concede and lose grasp of a winning result.
After 12 minutes of contested and physical football, the Rays were able to snatch a moment of opportunity, capitalising off a holding the ball call 20 metres out from goal.
The Dragons were able to create offensive transition but were ineffective in creating an efficient forward presence to enable more scoring opportunities.
This hurt the Dragons late on, with the Rays exploiting the middle of the ground, working the ball down in transition to find their second of the quarter to bridge the gap to 17 points at three-quarter time.
The rain came down heavier going into the last, making the prospect of a fourth-quarter comeback a mountainous climb for the Dragons.
The Rays looked to put the game to bed early in the fourth and scored within the first five minutes, bursting in transition on the outsides to slot one from the pocket.
Three minutes later the rays capitalised again off poor defensive marking, putting the game out of reach for the Dragons, who went five goals down with 12 minutes to play.
The perseverance of the emerging Dragons group cannot be understated, turning the game on its head to wrestle the momentum back in their favour, kicking the final two goals of the game.
The first came off great offensive transition, where Zoe Barbakos (1 goal, 5 marks) was able to run into goal and slot it from 25 metres out.
The second came from great offensive movement by Staltari who found Stuber 10 metres out for her second.
Individual brilliance was exemplified by the likes of Charlie Anderson (12 disposals, 4 tackles, 4 marks) and Kitty Smyth (8 disposals, 2 tackles) both of which displayed solid defensive ability to repel the consistent forward entries from the Rays.
Anderson was a threat aerially and on ground level, with every 50/50 that came her way ending in her favour, a confidence booster across the squad who were recognising her effort.
Smyth had one of the hardest jobs in the NAB League, defending star prospect Amber Clarke. Smyth was able to stop Clarke’s impact deep inside 50 and pushed her up the ground where her impact was not so profound, only conceding one goal for the whole game, a testament to her effort on the night.
It was a valiant effort from the Dragons, but it wasn’t to be, defeated by 20 points, 9.3.57 to 5.7.37 at Linen House, Seaford.
Post-game Dragons Media spoke to midfield coach Cheyne Webster and midfielder Ella Sciberras on the performance.
The start was a priority for Webster who commended the efficiency of the girls in the first quarter.
“We got our hands on the footy, especially through the midfield and then played our way with structures and setups and were able to create chances”
After the first quarter, it was a struggle for the Dragons to maintain momentum and capitalise on their chances, Sciberras highlighting the significance of those points in the game.
“I think it’s a matter of keeping consistent, 100%, and learning how to implement that intent across all games”
The Rays have been a dominant midfield team throughout the season and challenged the Dragons tactically.
Webster outlined the feeling across the midfield group and the experience of playing against an inform team.
“I thought we competed in the middle really well, but there were some times where our volume probably wasn’t as composed as we wanted and what we would have liked.”
Forward entry and defensive transition was a reoccurring issue for the Dragons, however, it was an optimistic overview from Webster who was pleased with the finish of the game.
“We had the same amount of scoring shots as them in the end. When we played in front we competed really well and got representation.”
“Defensively we played nice, tight, and engaged and when we stayed connected with our opponent we were great. When we gave them space they took advantage of it.”
Whilst Sciberras was disappointed with the outcome, she was reflective of the improvements the team has overcome and is still looking to develop.
“I think those quick changeovers (in the middle of the ground) are something that we’ve needed to work on since the very beginning and look, we’re a developing program that with not make it straight away, but we’ll get there”
The Dragons look to bounce back on Labour Day, facing the Northern Knights in Bundoora.