Stingrays striving to “showcase talent” on the big stage

FRIDAY night’s NAB League Girls Grand Final is the last hurdle Dandenong Stingrays will have to clear en route to completing an undefeated season. As the clear competition benchmark throughout 2022, the closest any side has come to usurping the ‘Rays is two points. That close encounter came against a team which was the best Metro outfit at the time.

Now, the Stingrays face a fresh proposition – the Western Jets. It means the competition’s top two sides fittingly meet at the summit, looking to take home the NAB League’s ultimate prize. While little stock has been taken into the undefeated run among Dandenong’s four walls, Stingrays coach Nick Cox says he hopes the game will allow his troops to showcase their talent.

“Hopefully it’s going to be a great spectacle for what’s been a really great NAB League campaign for us and the Western Jets,” Cox said. “We get to see the girls showcase their talent in a really high standard game.

“It’s not often in any type of footy you get to this game being undefeated. In saying that, we’ve had a lot of challenges along the way which the girls have come through, learned from, developed from. Hopefully it’ll put them in good stead tonight. They won’t get it their own way for the whole game but we’ll wait and see.”

Having beating every other team put in front of them, the Stingrays have displayed great examples of adaptation and strength under pressure. In several outings, they have been challenged by hungry opposition looking to make a name agains the best, but always seem to find a way to win.

A large part of the region’s success thus far has been its undeniable wealth of talent. Dandenong supplied a high of nine players to this year’s Vic Country Under 19 squad, creating elite standards within both teams. Running a scope over the players to watch, there are many who will likely suit the finals occasion.

“There’s the usual suspects like Amber Clarke, Mackenzie Eardley, and these types of players,” Cox said. “Felicity Crank is one who’s been a real barometer for us in the midfield with her ability to put pressure on and get it outside to our players who can run and carry. She’s in for a really big game.

Sarah Hosking has had a tremendous year and her improvement from the start to now is really evident. She’ll thrive in the physical contest. Jaide Anthony is probably another one who’s looking to showcase what she can do, so players like that are going to help us with the usual talent we’ve got in the side.”

As is often the case at this time of year, there has been a few hard luck stories at the selection and injury tables. At least two starting Stingrays are set to miss the Grand Final through injury, and while their absence will be felt, Cox says there are others willing to step up.

Charley Ryan and Meg Robertson would have played if they were fit and available,” he said. “A few girls have jumped in front of others form wise. Charley’s probably the big one and she’s going to be sorely missed tonight, she’ll no doubt be having mixed emotions either way.”

Cox’s assessment of Friday night’s opposition was one of high praise, stating the Jets are “probably the in-form team at the moment”. With both sides clear on their respective identities and capable of playing fast footy, good luck to the immovable objects in the way of these irresistible forces.

“I think that they play a similar way to us,” Cox said. “They like to play fast, showcase talent and take the game on. They’ve obviously got the talent to do that, they’re quite damaging and can hurt opposition really easily. I spoke to Rob (Chancellor) yesterday and we’re really all about continuing to showcase that talent.

“The way that they’ve been beating teams quite convincingly is something that we’ve looked on as a team and hopefully can execute our way and control the ball a little bit more than them.”

There is nothing left to do but to play out the final game of the season. Cox’s mighty Stingrays will face Western at Avalon Airport Oval (Werribee) at 7:10pm on Friday night, in hope of creating the club’s own slice of history with a maiden girl’s premiership – no less, undefeated.

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