Stingrays set high standards in search of next step

HIGH standards are what the Dandenong Stingrays are hoping will help them go one better in 2023, after last year’s run to the Coates Talent League grand final. Amid the hurt of a loss in the last game of the season, there are plenty of silver linings for the program’s promising top-age crop to take.

Head coach Nick Cox says the opportunity for many of his current squad leaders to strut their stuff on the “big stage” in 2022 has set them up well for even better campaigns this time around, with improvements being made week by week.

“Our 17-year-olds who got an opportunity through a lot of games last year and have come back with really high standards and are driving the way that the preseason has been run thus far,” he said.

“Like every Talent League side we’ve had our ups and downs, but we’re developing and getting better as a group and are getting better as a coaching group.”

“As a region we spoke about giving them an opportunity to showcase their ability not only week by week, but on the big stage as well… in the grand final against Sandy we learned a lot of lessons and we learned where we can get better, so those 17-year-olds have come back firing.”

Three players were drafted out of Dandenong’s program in 2022, and there looks like being a few more this year. Co-captain Cooper Simpson is the region’s lone National Academy member, while five other top-agers – Riak Andrew, Kade De La Rue, Harry De Mattia, Sam Frangalas, and Kobe Shipp – are all part of the Vic Country talent hub.

Speaking on his star man and those who have been pegged for representative honours, Cox said it was great “recognition” for what they had achieved thus far. Still, each of them has a long way to go yet as they strive for individual and team success.

“Coops has been fantastic thus far and he really drives some high standards,” Cox said. “He’ll play mid-forward. He needs to work on his forward craft a little bit so hopefully he can add another string to his bow.

“He’s got some unbelievable traits with his work rate, his ability to get in and out, he kicks the ball really well so he’s got a lot of things going for him. He’s a great kid and he’s going to give himself every opportunity.

“What they all understand is that there’s a fair bit of work to go still, because there are players who are a little bit hungry and want to get to where those boys are, so it sort of keeps them on their toes.

“They realise that now that they’ve got that opportunity that people will watch them even closer, so they’ve got to be good at all their craft and their basic stuff on and off the field.”

Kobe Shipp is one to watch for Dandenong | Image Credit: Rookie Me Central

As always, a few surprise packets have emerged throughout preseason. The Stingrays have had a few 18th-year players enter the program having developed well back at local level, while others who cut their teeth in the squad last year continue to grow.

Billy Wilson is one who I would have thought was really close to making that (Vic Country) hub,” Cox said. “He played a lot of games for us last year and has just gone to the next level with his training.

Matt Nelson is another one who has shown a little bit. We’ve got a 19-year-old who’s new to the program, Joziah Nannup with (great) speed and agility, so I’m looking forward to seeing what he can produce.

Having taken on both the boys and girls squads last year, Cox says reverting back to a full-time job in charge of solely the boys program has given him and his coaching team the greater opportunities to “invest” and “concentrate” on each players’ individual development. Many have flourished as a result.

As far as what that looks like and means in the long-term, the Stingrays simple seek to “become better” by season’s end as people, players and coaches.

“That’s quite simple but that’s probably it in a nutshell,” Cox said. “Our job is not just to develop number one, but also number 50 on our list and I think that’s where the program and pathway has changed a little bit.

“The stock standard stuff is we want to be competitive and we want to showcase their talent. That’s really important to us and just allowing these players to be themselves. If they’ve got a bit of spunk, showcase it on and off the field and just be good people.”

Dandenong begins its latest Coates Talent League campaign on Sunday March 26, with a clash against the Geelong Falcons in Colac. The Stingrays’ first true home game comes in Round 7 as they host the Oakleigh Chargers at Frankston Park.

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