The Dragons secured their place in the 2022 NAB League Boys Finals series with a narrow 10-point victory over the Murray Bushrangers.
The first half was an arm-wrestle between the two sides who finished eighth and ninth on the ladder, but ultimately a dominant third term saw the Dragons secure victory.
The Dragons booted four goals to one in the third quarter, establishing a 31-point buffer at the three-quarter-time break, which proved too much for the Bushrangers to reel back in.
Sandringham’s fluid, free-flowing ball movement gave the forwards the best possible chance to beat the Bushrangers defenders, who were unable to contain the Dragons in the third term.
The Bushrangers threatened to pinch victory in the fourth quarter, but the Dragons were able to hold their nerve in defence to hold off the fast-finishing Murray outfit.
The Dragons were the only higher ranked side to win over Wildcard weekend, which means they become the fourth seed in the finals race.
The Dragons will face the Calder Cannons on Sunday the 4th of September at MARS Stadium in Ballarat with the winner of that set to play either the Gippsland Power or Northern Knights in a Preliminary Final the following weekend.
Will Ashcroft has dominated headlines throughout the season, but his younger brother Levi was just as crucial to the Dragons victory against the Bushrangers.
Levi’s miraculous goal from the boundary line in the third term was one for the highlights reel, whilst he also managed to calmly convert a shot on goal to steady the Dragons in the fourth term when Murray was threatening to challenge.
Not only was Ashcroft offensively important, but his defensive pressure around the contest was equally impressive.
He finished the day with 17 disposals, two goals and four tackles.
At just 15 years of age, Levi showed composure beyond his years as a key catalyst for the Dragons in breaking the game open in the second half.
DEFENCE SOLID AS A ROCK
There’s a saying that defence wins premierships and Sandringham’s backline was all-important in securing the win against the Bushrangers.
Jakob Anderson played one of his best games for the season in his return to defence, showcasing his abilities to defend his opponent one-on-one and play his part in driving Sandringham forward in transition.
Nathan Scollo was at his intercepting best racking up 17 possessions and nine marks whilst Gus McLennan and Darcy Gilbert were also pivotal in the back half.
Olli Hotton’s start to the season was disrupted due to injury and illness, but he is coming home like a bullet train in the latter stages of the season.
Hotton’s form for Haileybury in the Associated Private Schools Football competition and for Victoria Metro has been fantastic and he has since translated that form into multiple key NAB League performances for the Dragons.
On the weekend he finished with 25 disposals and five marks, backing up last week’s efforts against Oakleigh where he had 26 touches and kicked two majors as one of the Dragons’ best.
Hotton’s ability to impact the scoreboard is one of his greatest assets as a midfielder and his dynamism alongside Will Ashcroft (31 disposals, nine inside 50s, one goal) and Cam Mackenzie (24 disposals, six inside 50s) makes Sandringham’s midfield one of the most dangerous in the competition when everything clicks.
CLARKE DYNAMITE AGAIN
Charlie Clarke’s mixture of pace and brilliance makes him one of the most watchable and exciting players in the NAB League.
The Sandringham forward kicked four goals and had 14 disposals and five tackles as the most dynamic forward for the Dragons.
The coaching staff threw him into the midfield mix in the fourth quarter as well, which helped the Dragons to break Murray’s momentum surge.
Clarke wanted to clean up his accuracy in front of goal and in the past three rounds he has booted eight goals straight.
He looms as a critical piece in the puzzle for the Dragons throughout September given his versatility and x-factor.
DRAGONS 2.3 6.4 10.8 11.11 77
BUSHRANGERS 2.2 4.7 5.7 10.7 67
BEST: Anderson, A. McLennan, Scollo, Gilbert, Clarke, Mackenzie
GOALS: Clarke 4, L. Ashcroft 2, Creighton 2, Sheezel, Benton, W. Ashcroft