Dragons take the sting out of ‘Rays in epic Grand Final performance
SANDRINGHAM Dragons have won the 2022 NAB League premiership, claiming the competition’s first flag since 2019. The Metro side was far too strong for local rival, Dandenong Stingrays, running out 43-point victors atop a greasy Ikon Park deck on Friday evening.
The Dragons’ engine room wreaked havoc from the opening bounce, dominating the contest against a seemingly underdone Dandenong on-ball group. Winning skipper Will Ashcroft lead the charge with 39 disposals in a best afield performance, with partner-in-crime Cameron Mackenzie racking up 26 touches, and Olli Hotton snaring 25. The latter pair also hit the scoreboard.
It was a similar story inside the Dragons’ attacking 50, as star prospect Harry Sheezel booted four majors and set up plenty more. He was one of 10 individual goalkickers for the Dragons, who benefitted from speedy and slick ball movement which firmly planted Dandenong on the back foot.
Sandringham shot out of the blocks with five unanswered goals in the first quarter and never looked back. Though an opportunistic Hugo Nosiara goal marked the perfect start to term two for Dandenong, the Stingrays failed to string together a run of consecutive goals to trim the deficit when it mattered.
With the margin sitting at 45 points come half time, the sting was well and truly out of the contest thereafter. While Dandenong frantically shuffled the magnets in an attempt to lessen the scoreboard blows, Sandringham’s system held up and remained consistent throughout the 14.10 (94) to 7.9 (51) triumph.
Ashcroft, who has just one game left in his illustrious junior career, had full belief that his side’s “best footy would be the best in the comp”. Despite coming into finals ranked eighth, the Dragons proved him right.
“We put a lot of work in and finally got there,” he said. “We had a goal and a dream in mind and as I said, we put so much time into it. Coming from eight, we didn’t have the greatest regular season but with everyone coming back we just gelled and kicked off, and we had a great finals series.”
The expected number one pick was full of praise for his fellow midfielders and Dragons coach, Wayne Cripps, who achieved the rare feat of winning a flag in his first year as coach.
“I love playing alongside those guys and it sucks it’s probably the last year I’ll play with them as we move on to bigger and better things,” he said. “Hopefully (brother, Levi Ashcroft) follows after me, he’s got his own journey but hopefully he follows after me and comes to Brisbane as well and we can have long careers together. I couldn’t think of anything better.
“(Cripps) is probably the best coach I’ve ever had I reckon, I’m not just saying that because I’m on a high and we’ve won. He’s been instrumental for us, we would not be here without him that’s for sure… once everyone bought in to his style and philosophy we gelled. Credit to him, he’s done incredible amounts for us to get to this stage.”
Not far behind Ashcroft as best afield on the night was Sheezel. The mercurial forward and fellow top five draft fancy was prolific inside forward 50, and grateful for the work of his side’s on-ball brigade.
“They’re stars and they all rose to the occasion tonight,” Sheezel said. “Not just them, but I’d say our backline is the best backline I’ve ever seen play junior footy. All of them just play their role unbelievably and we wouldn’t be where we are without them.
“It probably didn’t look like it was likely for us to win the flag but we just bought into what ‘Crippa’ and everyone was saying and it paid off.”
Friday night marked Sandringham’s fourth premiership since being founded in 1992, and their first in the NAB League era. A bunch of the Dragons will now turn their attention to next Thursday’s National Championships decider at Marvel Stadium, before the draft combine in October.
“It’ll be awesome,” Ashcroft said. “That game will be another step up from this and another opportunity for the Metro boys to seal the National Championship and finish our junior careers on a high.”
DANDENONG STINGRAYS 0.0 | 2.3 | 3.6 | 7.9 (51)
SANDRINGHAM DRAGONS 5.2 | 9.6 | 13.8 | 14.10 (94)
Dandenong: H. Nosiara, S. Frangalas, C. Simpson, L. Robinson, H. Jones, T. Campbell-Farrell, J. McManus
Sandringham: H. Sheezel 4, C. Mackenzie 2, J. Creighton, C. Clarke, L Ashcroft, J. Hope, T. McMullin, O. Hotton, M. Rowe, W. Brown
Dandenong: J. Binns, C. Simpson, N. Moodie, S. Frangalas, H. Jones, F. Emile-Brennan
Sandringham: W. Ashcroft, C. Mackenzie, O. Hotton, H. Sheezel, W. Brown, L. Ashcroft
Best afield: Will Ashcroft (Sandringham Dragons)