The Sandringham Dragons have rocketed to the top of the Coates Talent League table after a 38-point victory over local rivals the Oakleigh Chargers.
“There was a big preparation leading into the Oakleigh game, I think everyone looks forward to it and circles it on the calendar,” said head coach Rob Harding.
“They’re a big rival of ours and there’s a lot of players who go to school together across the two clubs. It’s always exciting when we play Oakleigh and to play on Good Friday was also great for the boys. I really wanted the players to embrace it as an opportunity, whether it’s a special occasion like this or a final.”
Harding has been fortunate enough to spend time within the four walls of AFL clubs, featuring in some of the biggest matches on the footballing calendar such as the Showdown and ANZAC Day.
“You just need to embrace the day and embrace what it is, everyone circles Sandy Oakleigh on the calendar and it’s fantastic for our guys to experience it, a great crowd came down to RSEA Park and both teams were really well supported.”
The heat was on early in a tight first quarter, but the Dragons were able to grind away and start to control the match in the second term.
“I was really pleased with how we moved the ball in the second half and started to open up the game a little bit more and got some good reward at the end of that.
“Defensively we were strong. We had two quarters where we were able to hold Oakleigh goalless. They generated some good opportunities against us, but I thought our backs scrambled really well to defend.
“They were led by Ollie Murphy who was one of our best players on the day. He took some fantastic intercept marks and he’s growing really quickly into this key defender role at 199cm. Our back six worked together really well throughout the game to repel the Chargers and then springboard some attacks for us.”
Captain Will Brown continues to go from strength to strength booting three goals to go with 22 touches, whilst Levi Ashcroft (20 disposals, nine tackles) and Tarkyn O’Leary (22 disposals, one goal) are putting together really solid months of football as well.
BIG VIGS STANDS UP
Harding says Vic Metro representative Vigo Visentini (11 disposals, 14 hitouts), whose brother is currently listed at Port Adelaide, is “building really well” after an interrupted football preparation due to volleyball commitments.
“He’s a fantastic athlete and his teammates love the way he follows up at ground level. He’s quite aggressive in his hunt for the ball after the ruck contest and he’s been building well over the last few weeks.
Visentini has paired with Tim Parris (21 hitouts, one goal) who is coming back from a serious shoulder injury in 2022 but is improving in every game he plays.
ACADEMY BOYS JET OFF
It was the last time that AFL Academy pair Ryley Sanders (33 disposals) and Archie Roberts will feature in the Dragons colours for a while, with the duo set to take part in an exhibition match as a curtain closer to Brisbane v North Melbourne in Gather Round.
“They’ve both grown enormously over these three games, Sanders has found plenty of the ball in every game and in the last two games in particular, he’s been really damaging and aggressive going forward. It’s a really good part of his game, he’s a beautiful kick and his contest work stands out. To average over 30 touches a week has been fantastic for him.”
Sanders has always been a prolific ball-winner, but it’s his ability to also hit the scoreboard that has pleased Harding.
“It’s absolutely massive to have a secondary position. It’s something the Coates Talent League clubs are really strong on. In Sanders’ case there’s the option to go forward. He’s a big body, a good mark and kick and has hit the scoreboard in the last couple of weeks. To have that side of his game and be able to show that to the AFL world is only going to help his game. Even if you like at the AFL now, we are seeing just about everyone play multiple positions, you need to have multiple strings to your bow.”
Roberts has also found a fair bit of the footy in the past fortnight, racking up 30 disposals in consecutive weeks.
“His defensive work has tightened up as well and that’s the area for him to keep growing in, but his ball use and creativity off half back is terrific.”
MAKING AN IMPACT
Josh Docking (25 disposals), who is tied to St Kilda’s NGA program, has been a revelation on the wing after making his debut against the Cannons in round two.
“He held his width really well and played his role superbly, I’ve been really impressed. He’s got great speed and agility and has grown enormously throughout pre-season. His attitude when he missed round one was great and he’s a ripping young man.
Meanwhile, Melbourne Grammar boy Charlie Edwards is flourishing in defence.
“Edwards had an interrupted back end of pre-season due to his school cricket commitments. He’s a Bendigo boy who’s down here boarding at Melbourne Grammar. He’s got great run and carry out of defence and the way he moves is eye-catching.”
Edwards’ versatility is also exciting Harding, who hopes that Edwards can continue to push his name out in lights in the coming future.
“I was really impressed with his defensive work as a third tall defender. He can play deep in that role or can play higher as a running defender. He’s been super impressive and hopefully there’s some opportunities for him to play some representative football going forward.”
Harding says Cooper Lord is a name to keep a close eye on this season.
“He’s a great story - he’s been a bit of a bolter for us. He came into the program in January this year and impressed everyone straight away with his elite running power and contest work. He stands up in tackles and fights tackles like an AFL footballer.”
After recording a game-high nine tackles in round one, Lord has continued to enhance the offensive side of his game over the past two weeks, racking up 21 possessions on Good Friday.
“He’s found himself in some really good spots to get used by teammates. We’ve been delighted with his progress, he’s attracting a lot of attention now and rightly so, he deserves it. He is a great character, and his football is just getting better and better.”
The Scotch College boy is one of the best two-way runners at the club and Harding hailed the balance that Lord gives to the midfield group.
“It’s incredibly important to be a two-way runner. Lord provides a lot of balance to our midfield. He’s the one that often does a lot of the dirty work, he supports his teammates incredibly well. Every week he comes up on our trademark videos, the run-down tackles, all his hard work he does around the contest. His teammates voted him their best player in round one, which I thought was a fantastic reward. It showed his teammates acknowledge and love the contributions he brings to our footy team.”
Another to impress has been Charlie Harrop (15 disposals), who played higher up the ground against the Chargers after kicking four goals last week, showcasing his ability to be a connection player.
“He took some nice marks, used the ball really well, is a great tackler, he’s got some attributes that really stand out. He’s a true leader amongst the group as well.”
DRAGONS 2.2 5.6 7.7 11.9 75
CHARGERS 2.3 2.6 4.9 4.13 37
BEST: Murphy, Sanders, Ashcroft, Brown, Visentini, Lord