It was billed as a heavyweight bout to determine who avoids the unknown of wildcard round.
And after both sides threw what seemed like knockout blows in different stages of the fight, it was the Chargers who were triumphant when the final bell sounded.
The 3 v 4 matchup at Werribee’s Avalon Aiport Oval ended in heartbreak for the Dragons, who coughed up a five-goal lead early in the last quarter to succumb 13.6 (84) to 14.7 (91) to a fast-finishing Oakleigh.
Having seemingly taken full control of the game after midfielder Finn Maginness’s third goal four minutes into the final term, Oakleigh responded with deadly force, led by star duo Noah Anderson (3 goals) and Matt Rowell (34 disposals) who flipped the game on its head.
The first three quarters were as tight as many expected between two of the strongest clubs in the NAB League, but no one could forecast such a wild finale.
Oakleigh’s victory secured third position and the week off, while Sandringham will now face Geelong in wildcard round after finishing the season in fourth position.
Sandringham assistant coach Jackson Kornberg said the experience of competing with elite young players will hold the Dragons in good stead long-term.
“We love playing against Oakleigh every year because it gives us an opportunity to play against some of the best talent around Australia – particularly for our midfielders to be able to play against kids of the calibre of Noah Anderson and Matt Rowell who were really significant throughout the game,” he said.
“I think it’s a really good lesson for our boys to show how they go against players of that calibre.
“Overall it was a really up and down sort of game. We’re obviously quite disappointed with the result, particularly the last quarter is what we’re most disappointed with.
“I don’t want to take anything away from Oakleigh because their ability late to really wrestle the game back and to be honest dominate us with six unanswered goals was phenomenal for them.”
The result could’ve easily drifted in Oakleigh’s favour in the first half if not for the remarkable defensive efforts of the Dragons’ backline, most notably Corey Watts, who was named as Sandringham’s best.
Watts’ intercept marking and leadership from full-back shone throughout the game and kept his side in the contest despite Oakleigh’s early dominance in general play.
Vic Country midfielder Darcy Chirgwin (30 disposals, seven tackles) and Vic Metro gun Finn Maginness (17 disposals, three goals) also starred.
“From our point of view Corey Watts really stood up in defence and took five or six intercept marks and nine or 10 spoils as well. He was pretty solid down back. Not much really got past him,” Kornberg said.
“In the midfield Darcy Chirgwin accumulated a lot of the ball and was probably our best midfielder on the day to be able to balance his possessions, ending up with 14 or 15 contested possessions out of his 30 touches - plus several tackles, clearances and getting back to help our defenders with his rebound. We were really pleased with his game.”
16-year-old Campbell Chesser made his NAB League debut for the Dragons and became the first 16-year-old to represent Sandringham since 2015.
“It’s a credit to Campbell and his form out at Melbourne Grammar. He captained Vic Country in the U16’s as well so it’s terrific for him to get a real taste.”
Sandringham’s wildcard round fixture against Geelong will be held at Preston City Oval on Saturday.