Oakleigh Charge as Dragons struggle to find their groove
By Nathan Sepe
After 245 days, the boys returned to RSEA Park, looking to defend the COVID-affected minor premiership set by the talented Dragons squad of 2021, a squad that had 10 players find a new home in an AFL club’s colours.
The traditional Sandringham v Oakleigh rivalry has always been a staple Round 1 fixture in the NAB League, however, the dreary weather at RSEA Park certainly didn’t suit the occasion.
The Dragons faced a major task ahead of them, taking on a Chargers outfit that had been talked about as serious premiership contenders going into the 2022 season.
With some familiar faces sticking around from the 2021 season, the Dragons also introduced twelve new faces to represent the Dragons in Round 1.
Round 1 was the first for many things, with coach Wayne Cripps taking charge for his first game under the boy's program and the new Dragons leadership team for 2022, led by Will Ashcroft and vice-captains Harry Sheezel and Luca Macnab, leading the boys out for the first time this season.
The first centre clearance was won cleanly by Charlie Clarke (13 disposals, five inside ’50s) who hit up Cam Mackenzie (18 disposals, one goal) for his first shot on goal within 30 seconds, which unfortunately hit the post.
Three minutes later and the Dragons were still able to create numbers on the outside and create forward 50 entries, evident through Josh Hope’s forward 50 entry, which led to a missed snap for Macnab.
Whilst the early signs of stoppage domination seemed optimistic for the Dragons, the Chargers tactically imposed themselves on the game and started to create space around the ground.
The Chargers kicked two goals in quick succession and found themselves with a small lead halfway through the first quarter.
The Dragons maintained a high press through adversity, giving themselves opportunities inside forward 50.
Hall-Kahan (11 disposals, eight kicks) won himself a high tackle free-kick, however, his kick fell just short and was touched on the line.
The Chargers increased the intensity late in the first quarter and created space on the outside, exposing the Dragons' midfield.
Two late goals in the first quarter gave the Chargers a strong lead going into quarter-time up 28-3.
A calm and collected Coach Cripps steadied the Dragons at the quarter time break, with a change in intensity and collective energy rising straight away in the second quarter.
Will Ashcroft (18 disposals, five tackles) established his presence in the centre stoppage from the first bounce, winning the clearance out the middle and hitting up Hall-Kahan who was lively early.
The set shot from Hall-Kahan fell short again, however, Lachie Lawrence was physical on the goal line to mark and check side through the Dragons' first and his only goal of the day.
Hall-Kahan was lively yet again along the boundary line, tapping the ball past his opponent to open up a kick on the 90-degree angle, finding Elliot Perkins (18 disposals, one goal) unmanned 15 metres out, who converted the set shot to kick our second goal in four minutes.
Oakleigh continued to refresh their first quarter tactics and press hard in transition, ultimately squandering their chances in the middle of the second quarter.
The Dragons continued to showcase their effectiveness creating leads inside forward 50 and capitalised once again by Cam Mackenzie who slotted his set shot from 50 metres out.
The Chargers fired right back out of the next centre stoppage and burst out the packs to kick one from outside 50 on the run, extending the lead back out to 16 points.
The next ten minutes of the second quarter saw a tight and contested affair with both teams unable to strangle dominance on the offensive end.
Some strong defensive work from the likes of Archie Roberts (22 disposals, eight-rebound 50’s) kept the Dragons in the contest with repetitive inside 50 entries.
The Dragons were efficient late in the second quarter with some terrific roving from Lachie Benton (three goals, 17 disposals) giving him his second goal of the game and the Dragons' fifth, reducing the margin to ten points going into the major break, 34-44.
The third quarter was the turning point in the game, with the Chargers asserting dominance for the entirety of the third, imposing themselves in all assets of the game.
The consistent forward 50 entries pressure the Dragons' backline, forcing some clumsy plays, helping extend Oakleigh’s lead to 21 points, ten minutes into the third.
Nothing seemed to work for the Dragons throughout Oakleigh’s dominant period, despite an effort to take the game on and transition down the middle.
The Chargers were able to read the ball much more effectively and found themselves creating repetitive chances in a flurry of open plays.
The game was quickly getting away from the Dragons, finding themselves down by 41 points with only one minute left in the third quarter.
The only goal for the Dragons came on the three-quarter-time siren, an Olli Hotton (one goal, four inside ’50s) set shot from 30 metres out giving the Dragons a glimmer of hope heading into the last quarter down 42-77.
The start was critical for the Dragons in the fourth if they were any chance at mounting a comeback, however, the wet and rainy conditions slowed the ball down immensely in the early stages, giving neither side a genuine chance in offensive transition.
Both sides kicked a few points each, however, it wasn’t until the 17th-minute mark of the fourth quarter that the Dragons were able to peg one back off the boot of Lachie Benton who kicked his third and final goal for the day.
Some smart leading from Harry Sheezel gave him the opportunity to kick his only goal of the day from a set shot and with one minute left, James Hope also led well inside 50 to kick his first of the game.
Ultimately, it wasn’t enough for the Dragons who were outdone by a dominant Chargers outfit, going down 63-81 at RSEA Park on a gloomy afternoon.
The Dragons will look to bounce back and hunt down their first win of season 2022 when they take on the Calder Cannons in Craigieburn next Saturday afternoon.
SAN: 0.3 5.4 6.6 9.7
OAK: 4.4 6.8 11.11 11.15
Best: Lachlan Benton, Luca Macnab, Harry Sheezel, Max Ramsden, Archie Roberts, Cameron Mackenzie