The Sandringham Dragons have kickstarted their premiership defence with a gutsy 14-point victory over the Eastern Ranges.
Head coach Rob Harding took the chocolates in his first match in charge and was pleased with how his side “fought out the arm wrestle”.
“I was really pleased with how we fought out the arm wrestle, Eastern are a really good team and they have a really good group of players right across the ground, they’re quite strong in every area,” said Harding.
“They certainly beat us in a couple of areas, and we had to fight right until the very end.”
The Ranges seemed to take control early on, recording eight scoring shots to the Dragons three.
Debutant Miles Enders kicked the opening goal of the game, but the Dragons did not hit the scoreboard again until Ryley Sanders superb goal on the run in the second term.
A pair of goals from Haileyburian Charlie Harrop and a beauty from 2022 premiership player Levi Ashcroft (24 disposals, two goals) meant the Dragons held a four-point lead at the main break.
A key aspect of Harding’s half time address was that the side would have to apply themselves right until the final siren if they were to get up over the strong Ranges outfit.
“We said to the players at half time that it might take until the 24th minute of the last quarter to win the arm wrestle and fortunately that’s what we were able to do.”
Vice-captain Harvey Johnston dazzled in the third term booting two important goals whist Justin Krok’s pressure and liveliness also came to the fore.
Sandringham kicked four goals to two in the final term and Harding was pleased with his sides grit and determination to finish the match strongly.
“I was pleased with our running ability and ability to cover the ground late in the game. We have a really fit team this year and I was impressed with our work rate to get from contest to contest in the last quarter, I thought that helped give us the edge in the end.”
Harding hopes that the Dragons can continue to build ahead of their match against the Cannons this weekend and believes that the team’s effort around the contest will stand up.
“We will look to continue to build on what we’ve done over the past two weeks and trained throughout the pre-season.
“Calder will give us a really strong contest around the ball and that’s an area that we’ve really drilled in on as a team during the pre-season. We felt it held up really well against Eastern’s big bodies and I’m sure Calder will give us a good fight in there as well.
The Dragons blooded eight new youngsters in the clash against the Ranges and all played a pivotal role in securing the sides first win of the 2023 season.
“It was really pleasing to give eight guys an opportunity to play their first game, it’s a lot of debutants to have in one match,” said Harding.
Forward Miles Enders booted two goals including a massive set shot to give his side the lead with less than ten minutes remaining, whilst Vic Metro representative Luke Trainor played as a high half-forward and had some “really good moments”.
Taj Hotton (19 disposals), the brother of former Dragon and now St Kilda-listed Olli, created chaos in the forward line, whilst key forward Calsher Dear provided a target ahead of the ball.
“Taj Hotton was excellent up forward, he gives us a contest in the air as a small forward. His pressure and his chase out were really good.
“The Eastern backs were really good at defending and intercepting in the first half, but ‘Calsh’ fought back really well in the second half. His follow up at ground level and his selflessness to give off goals to teammates was a standout.”
Tim Parris’ tap work at stoppages was on show and Ned Maginness (18 disposals) played his role well and was able to push forward from a wing to have a big impact on the game.
Harding also heaped praise on two young midfielders, who were critical in the centre of the ground.
“Cooper Lord (nine tackles) was probably our best player defensively in the midfield. He did a lot of the dirty work, covering for his teammates at times. He defended really well in transition.”
South Melbourne Districts bottom-ager Murphy Reid (23 disposals) was also impressive, showcasing his “first class” composure around the contest and in traffic.
“He’s really grown throughout the pre-season; he just lets his footy do the talking at the moment.
“As soon as we got into our match play blocks, he started to show more of that. Even in our breakdown drills, his composure really does stand out. It’s translated well into games so far, both against Oakleigh in the practice match and Eastern.
“I just love the way he plays his footy, he’s very easy to coach, is a great young man and has 18 months before his first draft opportunity so he has plenty of time to keep growing and developing as a footballer. He’s on a great path.”
Captain Will Brown and vice-captain Harvey Johnston have slotted into their respective leadership roles nicely this season.
“Both of them really embraced the leadership opportunities that they’ve been given, and the players have entrusted in them. They both led the side really well and they’ll keep growing throughout the year.”
Brown worked his way into the match, with his contest and stoppage work a real strength.
“He’s played a lot as a forward previously, to have 24 touches, seven or eight clearances and ten inside 50s was a really impressive first up effort. He used his big body really well and drove the ball forward for us.
Johnston booted a pair of goals and amassed 19 touches and Harding loves the “creative spark” that the Mordi-Brae product provides.
“His ability to set teammates up and be that connecting player as an attacking mid through the ground is what stands out to everyone, he’s going to go from strength-to-strength this year.
“Harv was really impressive around the contest as well, he had five centre bounce clearances and used his agility to step out and get the ball forward.”
The Dragons will travel to Highgate Recreation Reserve next Saturday for a clash against the Calder Cannons.