NAB League Player Focus: Charlie Clarke (Sandringham Dragons)

THE FINALS stage calls for big performances, and Sandringham Dragons forward Charlie Clarke is capable of producing just that. With nine goals in his last three games, the 18-year-old has helped his side survive repeat knockout bouts, advancing to this year’s NAB League grand final.

Clarke snared two majors and assisted a few more in the Dragons’ preliminary final win over Gippsland Power, helping boost his status as a big game player who loves the limelight. His smarts, speed, and goal sense made for good watching as this week’s Player Focus.

Sandringham Dragons-logoSandringham Dragons, Vic Metro-logoVic MetroMidfielder, Forward

Charlie Clarke

Height: 182cm

Weight: 75kg

DOB: 04-01-2004

Strengths:
Competitiveness
Contested work
Goal sense
Speed
Tackling

SEASON SO FAR

NAB League averages: 14 games | 19.4 disposals | 11.4 kicks | 8.0 handballs | 3.7 marks | 3.6 tackles | 4.4 inside 50s | 2.0 goals (28 total)

Clarke has been a prolific goalkicker at NAB League level this year, booting 28 in 14 games and going goalless just twice. His last three weeks have been among his best, but the top-ager’s breakout performance came against Tasmania in Round 4, where the goalsneak snagged seven majors from 23 disposals. Though certainly capable as a specialist forward, Clarke proved himself as a midfielder with three hauls of over 25 touches, including 33 against Western in Round 10. His speed, instinctual play, and willingness to take the game on have been eye-catching traits to say the least.

2022 NAB League Preliminary Finals
Sandringham Dragons 14.12 (96) def. Gippsland Power 9.8 (62)

#2 Charlie Clarke (Sandringham Dragons)
Stats: 19 disposals (16 kicks, 3 handballs), 3 marks, 2 tackles, 6 inside 50s, 2 goals

FIRST QUARTER

Much like Sandringham as a whole, it took a good 10 minutes for Clarke to properly work into the game, playing exclusively up forward. His first possession came after 12 minutes, controlling a Ryley Sanders floater on the lead and launching a 55m set shot for his one and only minor score of the day.

He added another mark about five minutes later, working up through the corridor and taking off immediately with a long kick inside 50. The entry got over the back for Harry Sheezel to mark, leading to Jamie Hope‘s joe the goose goal.

Clarke’s final touch came after repeat forward 50 stoppage gathers, but his hack kick towards the big sticks was marked by a Gippsland defender on the behind line. In addition to his possession-based output, Clarke broke into dangerous positions over the back, harassed his opponents with defensive pressure, and copped front-on contact in the lead up to Will Brown’s goal before quarter time.

SECOND QUARTER

Again stationed in a permanent forward fixture, Clarke added only another couple of touches but produced one of his best moments for the match. He showed good early intent by breaking hard off the line to lay a tackle, and continued to position cleverly at the fall of the ball.

In an unselfish act, he lowered his eyes with his first kick of the quarter, weighting a pass to the pocket which was not quite snapped up. Still within the first 10 minutes, Clarke’s goal came from a shrewd snatch off the Gippsland defender, before turning on a dime and snapping the ball home in a flash.

With pure instincts, he made his moments count in the first half.

THIRD QUARTER

The third was arguably Clarke’s most productive term, as he got busy with nearly double-digit disposals – including a goal and two assists. His own major was one of the day’s great highlights, as Clarke read the ball well over the back and recovered quickly from dropping the mark to middle the big sticks.

He waxed well with his teammates, getting on the end of handball receives and thumping the ball into danger zones. Though he looked a little rushed at times, his quick thinking and actions didn’t allow time for the Gippsland defence to settle.

Clarke could well have had a second major in the quarter, but his awkward left-foot snap from the pocket pitched in the goalsquare and bounced at right-angles away from goal. In general play, he could certainly look to use that non-preferred side more often.

FOURTH QUARTER

After attending his first centre bounce for the day late in term three, Clarke was again thrust onball after 20 minutes in the fourth quarter. Earlier, he was forced to search up the ground to get involved, but constantly looked to catch his opponent unawares when peeling off and jetting out the back.

A tendency which showed in Clarke’s game at times was the way he rushed a few of his disposals, either throwing the ball on his boot or flicking away a handball with little composure. That quick, instinctual play suits his style inside 50, but risks throwing possession away further afield.

Overall, he rounded out his day solidly with a handful more touches and plenty of forward run, looking for where his next score could come from. He seems like such a natural forward with his nose for goal and troublesome turn of speed, but has some polish to add should he operate outside attacking 50.

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