Inexperienced Dragons almost secure come-from-behind win
By Dylan Bolch
The Sandringham Dragons have fallen heartbreakingly short of knocking off the undefeated Gippsland Power, going down by five points.
It was a tale of two halves in Morwell, with the Power dominating proceedings in the first half before the Dragons wrangled momentum back after the main break.
The Power had won seven matches on the trot heading into the game and started the better of the two sides, booting five goals to one in the first term.
Aydin Rielly snagged Sandringham’s first goal and did some nice things on debut, applying an abundance of pressure to help retain the ball in the attacking half.
After conceding eight of the first nine goals of the contest, Jamie Hope kicked truly on the stroke of half time to keep the Dragons within touching distance at the main break.
And then, stand-in coach Paul Griffiths’ half-time address worked wonders.
Two goals in as many minutes from Lachie McCluskey and Ben Andrews got the Dragons off to a perfect start in the second half and the energy amongst the group had lifted significantly.
The Dragons were unable to add any majors after that in the third term due to some inaccuracies in front of goal however, but they were creating opportunities and were playing a far better brand of football.
A series of goal scoring chances went begging at the start of the first term and it wasn’t until the 14th minute mark when Chris Rousakis broke through from close range.
Rousakis’ aerial capabilities were strong once again and he could have had a bag of goals, if not for some inaccuracies in front of the big sticks.
The Dragons looked like they could nab victory from the Power, becoming the first team in the NAB League Boys competition to do so this season, but a goal from Gippsland with less than five minutes to go steadied the ship and ultimately, time wasn’t on Sandringham’s side.
Youngster Ted Clayton booted two consolation goals late in the piece and his effort and endeavour throughout the match pleased the coaching staff.
Summarising it as a “game of two halves”, Griffiths was proud of the side’s effort and the ability for inexperienced players to stand up during the second half.
“We asked the guys post-game, who has played less than two games and I think half the group put their hand up,” said Griffiths.
“You can forgive them for not connecting until the second half. I think attitude wise, first half, eight goals to two down and then second half, 17 scoring shots to five. We made some adjustments around the contest, but by and large their attitude changed and their willingness to defend turned everything around.
“We tidied a few things up around the contest and the attitude to defend around the contest got our game going.”
Despite the lack of experience in the side, Sandringham’s more experienced heads set the tone and helped to energise the side.
“Lochie Benton played well. He was exceptional, he was awesome.
“Benny Andrews was great; Gus McLennan was as well. Jamie Hope gave us some good energy around the footy. Nathan Scollo was good; he’s been good for a few weeks, but he got his hands on the ball a bit more today.”
Benton’s move into the midfield was a key reason that the Dragons fought their way back into the contest, whilst the key defensive pairing of McLennan and Scollo repelled numerous Gippsland attacks.
Andrews continues to evolve as a ruckman and played arguably one of his best games this year, whilst Matt Clarkson and McCluskey were also strong contributors.
The Dragons’ next match is against the GWV Rebels at Mars Stadium, Ballarat on the 10th of July.
In the absence of other star talent due to the Under 18 National Championships, James Creighton stepped up to the plate in a big way, captaining the side for the first time.
After plying his trade in defence in the early parts of the season, Creighton has made the move to the midfield in recent weeks.
He finished with 17 disposals and five tackles, but it was his leadership around the group, which was the most impressive aspect of his game.
Creighton regularly put his body on the line and set the standard for those around him.
Post-match, Griffiths could not have been more glowing about Creighton’s leadership.
“He’s a natural leader, he rose to the occasion.
“He played his best footy in parts specifically because he was the captain and felt that weight of responsibility.
“Some players cripple under the weight of responsibility, some lift, he lifts.”
BENTO BOX UNLOCKED
Having been a part of the GWS Giants VFL set up in recent weeks, Lochie Benton returned to the NAB League arena in fine fashion.
After starting in defence, Benton made the move into the midfield to great effect, playing a large part in changing the momentum of the match.
He finished with 33 disposals, six marks and six tackles and is starting to build some serious momentum as the season progresses.
‘Bento’ has had three consecutive games where he has amassed over 30 disposals now and is quickly becoming a Mr Fix It for the Dragons, deploying the 19-year-old wherever the side is struggling.
GRIFFITHS TAKES THE REIGNS
With head coach Wayne Cripps a part of the Vic Metro coaching staff for the U18 National Championships, senior assistant Paul Griffiths took over the senior coaching duties against the Power.
With a focus on remaining calm with the ball, players playing their roles and playing to their strengths, Griffiths almost masterminded a come-from-behind victory against the only remaining undefeated side in the competition.
Griffiths’ resume is mightily impressive, having been a part of AFL and VFL set ups in both men’s and women’s programs.
POWER 5.1 8.2 9.3 10.5 65
DRAGONS 1.3 2.6 4.11 7.18 60
BEST: Andrews, Benton, Creighton, A. McLennan, Hope, Scollo