Dragons not taking Ranges lightly in flag defence
SANDRINGHAM Dragons will play off for back-to-back Coates Talent League premierships when they face Eastern in today’s Grand Final at IKON Park. Having taken out last year’s title in similar circumstances, the dominant Metro region has a tough task ahead of it to claim another.
Regional talent lead Mark Wheeler has been there before, and while he says his side is “potent” across each line, the Dragons are by no means taking a well-drilled Eastern outfit lightly.
“They’re very strong and we know that, they’re unchanged for four weeks,” he said. “We know that like us, they’ve got a couple of young men that didn’t get their name read out for a combine invite and didn’t play nationals so they’ve got a point to prove.
“They’ve got some good balance in their back half… They’ve got some very potent forwards and wingers which they use really well and they’ve got a match-winner in Nick Watson, who’s hard to handle. We’re not taking them very lightly at all, we’re in for a very hard game.”
While the Ranges have a couple of starting 23 players unavailable through injury, Sandringham comes in essentially with a clean slate. It’s a rare quirk, and it means a good number of Dragons will be unlucky to miss out on Grand Final selection.
“We’ve got no injuries which is unbelievable at this time of the year,” Wheeler said. “We’ve got a couple of long-term injuries which we would love to have (available) which would have put even more pressure on us.
“But we’re picking from a full book which means there’s five or six young men that definitely would be playing in any other team, without being disrespectful to them. We think we bat really deep this year and have a pretty strong group, but at the end of the day we’re only allowed to pick 22 plus the 23rd player.”
A unique region in the way of squad rotation throughout the year, Sandringham cut its squad down to 35-40 players for its finals tilt. Last year, the region used 71 prospects and 66 were given opportunities in 2023.
The Dragons’ individual brilliance needs no introduction. In terms of how it looks like a team, Wheeler says the side’s running strength should hold up well, while there may be an opportunity to exploit Eastern in the ruck after Clay Tucker was drafted mid-season.
“It’ll come down to the last quarter, I think it’ll be close all the way through,” he said. “Our running capacity we’re hoping we can exploit that, the depth of our runners. We’re a very fit team, we train on a very big ground and we definitely like to use the space.
“We’ve probably got four blokes down there who have the capacity to kick five goals. We think we’ve got a bit of an advantage with our height in the ruck, we’ve got a couple of really tall and aggressive rucks in there which might exploit Eastern’s opportunity there.”
While last year’s success will bode well for a bunch of Dragons looking to go back-to-back, others have a point to prove that they stack up against the talented 2022 team. A “game of moments” is what the defending champs expect, winning more moments will get them the cup.