PREVIEW | 2023 Talent League Girls Preliminary Finals
JUST four teams remain alive in the 2023 Coates Talent League Girls premiership race. Fittingly, despite being broken into two conferences – metropolitan and country – the top four teams have made it into the preliminary finals with perfectly scripted two from each. Minor premiers Eastern Ranges lock horns with fourth placed Geelong Falcons, while last year’s grand finalists Dandenong Stingrays face Oakleigh Chargers.
Sunday, September 17
Shepley Oval @ 11am
Top Country side Dandenong Stingrays hosts the preliminary finals at Shepley Oval, and kicks off the day with a much-anticipated clash against Oakleigh Chargers. Both sides are no stranger to reaching grand finals in the past, with Oakleigh being a premier, and the Stingrays coming runner-up last season.
Dandenong comes into the match off the back of a red-hot nine-game winning streak. The last time the Stingrays lost? In Round 5 to the Chargers. On that night, the Chargers came from behind to kick the last three goals of the game following some costly Stingrays mistakes to win, 5.8 (38) to 2.8 (20). At the same venue but in the natural light, it is likely to be just as nail-biting.
Why can Dandenong win?
Dandenong’s ruck-forward combination of Elli Symonds and Zoe Besanko is one of the strongest in the league, particularly from an athletic standpoint. The ruck has been an Achilles heel for the Chargers this season, but Oakleigh has been good enough in the midfield to overcome that.
The Stingrays’ depth is also superb, with bottom-agers such as Jemma Reynolds, Kayla Dalgleish and Jemaya Bressan joining top-agers Mikayla Williamson and Meg Robertson as players who provide run in transition. Up the other end, skipper Jemma Ramsdale will likely have another huge job, being in season-best form at the moment.
Why can Oakleigh win?
Oakleigh also has a great balance across the board, but its wingers and half-back line in particular is a real feature of its game. The Chargers use the likes of Lara Hausegger, Lucy Cronin and Sienna Tallariti to springboard forward, while the speedy duo of Jemma Rigoni and Amy Cariss-Brett hold great width on respective wings.
Up forward, bottom-age marking target Emma McDonald looms as a huge threat, getting Ramsdale for company more likely than unlikely. Though important, McDonald has plenty of other teammates who can hit the scoreboard, with players such as Lily Hart, Maiya Stobie and Alessia Dunn all capable. The midfield trio of Maggie Mahony, Abbey Vicino and Sarah Poustie are also in great form.
The game could go either way, with only the homeground advantage pointing towards the Stingrays. There are a few key areas where Dandenong can exploit, and though at times opposition teams can get the jump on them, expect it to be a nail-biter the whole way. Stingrays by a point.
Sunday, September 17
Shepley Oval @ 1:10pm
In the second game of the double-header, minor premiers Eastern go up against another former grand finalist in Geelong Falcons. The Falcons finished fourth on teh ladder so come into the match as underdogs, with a number of bottom-age prospects who have held their own this year. Eastern has players from top-age, bottom-age and double bottom-age who are making their marks.
Eastern has won its past seven matches, including a 20-point victory over Geelong in Round 12. Having note lost for three months now, the Ranges have hit their straps, and realistically their only two defeats for 2023 came against the two sides in the other preliminary final. Prior to beating Tasmania, Geelong went down to Calder and Dandenong back-to-back, so will need to get back to its early season form to take down the Ranges here.
Why Eastern can win?
The Ranges have arguably the most balanced list across the competition. There are no real obvious weaknesses, with ultimately the opposition team needing to play incredibly well to knock them off. They have two top 10 talents in Laura Stone and Alyssia Pisano, backed up by the likes of ruck Jess Vukic, winger Hayley McLaughlin and onballer Georgia Stubs from a top-age perspective.
Add in the intercepting duo of skipper Ava Campbell and Grace Baba, as well as bottom-age marking targets Georgia Knight and Georgie Brisbane, and the Ranges’ spine i incredibly strong. Bottom-age forwards who roll through the midfield in Emma Stilve and Stasia Stevenson are also in great form.
Why Geelong can win?
Geelong’s ace in the hole is its midfield, which has proven to be a dominant force at its best. The one-two punch of bottom-ager Sara Howley and captain Chloe Adams have at times almost single-handedly taken control in there. Their work allows leading goalkickers Chantal Mason and Bella Gilham to go to work and the Falcons benefit off sheer weight of inside 50 numbers.
Bottom-agers Chloe Bryant and Mekah Morrissy have enjoyed impressive years, while Seisia White and Johanna Sunderland are neat users between the arcs and moving the ball forward. Ruck Hayley Peck has been in good form of late, but will have a huge test against Vukic in the match.
Geelong can certainly be competitive and is not out of this despite Eastern’s record, but given the respective formlines of the sides, and especially Eastern’s clinical performance last week, the Ranges should get up. Both sides have top-end talent that can prove matchwinners, but for now, Eastern by 15 points.