The Dragons power into the 2022 NAB League Boys Grand Final
By Nathan Sepe
It was all about Dragons football on Saturday afternoon, as the Dragons knocked off the minor premiers, Gippsland Power, in the Preliminary Final.
The contest was close at quarter time until the Dragons broke away in the second and put their foot down in the third.
The 34-point win sends the Dragons into their first Grand Final since 2017, facing the Dandenong Stingrays in what is set to be a cracking encounter.
The first bounce is set for 5:10 PM at Carlton’s IKON Park, this Friday twilight.
The entry is free and the game will be broadcast via the NAB League App, AFL App, and AFL website.
The Power got off to an early lead, kicking the first of the game off some strong forward pressure.
Pressure intensity from both sides was high, with the Dragons’ lifting minutes after to rebound off Gippsland’s turnover.
Hempel was able to reel around on the wing and hit up Sheezel, who converted the set shot for the Dragons first of the afternoon.
It was goal-for-goal early, with Will Ashcroft answering to Gippsland’s second goal.
Some smart play from a downfield free kick led to Hope streaming into goal for his first, extending the lead to eight points.
Gippsland answered late in the quarter, but a goal on the siren for Will Brown gave the Dragons a one-goal lead at the first break.
The second quarter broke the game open for the Dragons, kicking four goals to one.
The first goal of the quarter came within a minute, with Rousakis bending a pearler from the pocket.
Great aerial work from Cam Mackenzie allowed him to compose and chain with Clarke and Hope, allowing Sheezel to run out the back of the contest and dribble through his second.
Gippsland fired back with a goal of their own, but this didn’t shift the momentum for too long, as Charlie Clarke produced another speciality from the boundary, topped off with another iconic celebration.
The phrase ‘you have to want it more’ was exemplified by Brown, who dug in for a second effort, smothering the exiting kick, evading the tackle, and running into an open goal to extend the lead to 25 points.
The Dragons went into half-time with a 25-point lead, with the Power hitting the post on the half-time siren.
The third quarter was all about execution and ruthlessness, with another five goal quarter sealing the deal for the Dragons.
Great transitional work from Archie Roberts enabled Clarke to hit up Hope, a frequent connection on the afternoon, which helped Hope to his second of the game.
Clarke decided that one beauty from the pocket wasn’t enough and decided that another would be necessary.
Benton’s eyesight was on point on 50 metres, bulleting a kick to Hope in the goal square for his third.
Rousakis and Sheezel also added more goals to their tally, kicking four unanswered goals to bury the game with a game-high 49-point lead.
The last quarter was all about Gippsland who threw everything at the Dragons to mount a miracle comeback.
The Power reduced the margin back to 32 points with 19 minutes remaining, looking likely to start a comeback, but the Dragons remained composed.
A lone goal to Benton in the last five minutes helped cruise the Dragons into next week’s Grand Final.
Will to Win
Will Ashcroft has been no stranger to an impressive stat line throughout the season, however, it’s passion on the field that lifts his teammates.
Throughout the finals series, he has been the ultimate teammate, sticking up for his side when the flow is against us, or when the opposition wants to make it a scrap fight.
You only get limited opportunities to win a premiership at NAB League level and Will is determined to help his teammates to premiership success in 2022.
The Levi and Will connection continues to grow week by week and Will certainly let Gippsland know about it when they roughed up Levi.
32 disposals and a goal for Will on the afternoon earned him yet another best-on-ground appearance.
You never know what’s next with Charlie. Although you can predict a spectacular goal or two somewhere in the course of four quarters.
In this case, it was two of them, capped off with celebrations to spark a crowd, let alone his whole team.
Clarke produced two specialties on the afternoon, snapping one from deep in the pocket under extreme contested pressure in the second quarter and dribbling one from 25 metres out on the other end of the ground in the third quarter.
We should’ve known when he kicked seven in Round 4, it was only the start of what was to come.
Two goals for Charlie and 19 disposals around the ground was another team-orientated performance from Clarke, who gets to showcase his name on the big stage this week.
Your best attack is your defence
It’s easy to talk about your key midfielders and forwards often, but undoubtedly the best performances in the finals thus far have been from the defensive unit.
Gilbert, Scollo, McLennan, Clarkson, Roberts, Ryan, and Hempel this week, have been the backbone of what Dragons footy is about.
The unit combined for 28 rebound 50s on the afternoon and kept key forward Zane Duursma to one goal.
Whether it’s a strong intercept mark, clearance, or fist out of danger, the defensive unit has done it all these finals series.
Gilbert and McLennan’s efforts this week found themselves in the best on ground.