NAB League Boys Round 5 preview – Pio’s and Knights do battle under lights
COUNTRY sides and representative guns return to NAB League action this week in the penultimate nine-game round for the year. Bendigo and Northern are set to kick off proceedings in a rare night game on Friday, with academy double-headers in Sandringham and Blacktown headlining what is set to be a super Saturday.
BENDIGO PIONEERS v. NORTHERN KNIGHTS
Friday April 26, 7:00pm
Queen Elizabeth Oval
The winless Northern Knights will be hoping to finally strike gold as they set themselves for a Friday night clash in Bendigo to open the round. The Pioneers come in off a Round 4 bye and subsequent weekend off, looking to bounce back from their first loss of the season against Gippsland. With two impressive wins under their belts though, the hosts looked primed to return fire against what will be a hungry Knights team. Having lost players on the back of representative action over the last two weeks, both sides will face a similar dilemma in rounds to come as school football commitments come into play. A loss to the GWS Academy with a raft of stars out means it looks a more glaring problem for the Knights, and barring their score in a tight Round 1 loss, they have not put a score above 51 on the board – while also conceding the most points of any side. While the surprise packet of Bendigo have proven tricky to beat, Northern can take advantage of the extended break that the country side has had and make the road trip worth it.
SYDNEY SWANS ACADEMY v. MURRAY BUSHRANGERS
Saturday April 27, 10:00am
Blacktown International Sportspark
Sydney Swans Academy will look to keep its perfect NAB League record in tact when it hosts Murray Bushrangers as part of a Blacktown double-header. As one of two undefeated academy sides, the Swans have notched up three impressive wins and look a fairly even unit. Meanwhile, 1-2 Murray has dealt exclusively in results decided by under seven points, finally coming out on the right side of one in Round 3 as they overcame Greater Western Victoria. But with most Murray players coming off consecutive weekends off, Sydney should be raring to go and take full advantage of playing a full month of football together with a largely uninterrupted starting line-up. One Bushranger who remains is Lachlan Ash, who is in great form and should be match-ready after appearing in Vic Country trials and for the AFL Academy side, but he faces a handful in the form of Sydney’s dynamic, goal-scoring midfielders. With a competition-high average of 90 points scored per game, the Swans can look to overwhelm Murray forward of centre, but the Bushrangers never make it easy.
DANDENONG STINGRAYS v. OAKLEIGH CHARGERS
Saturday April 27, 10:30am
Oakleigh Chargers will look to bounce back after rare consecutive losses against the undefeated Dandenong Stingrays on the road. The usually free-scoring Chargers are yet to notch over 100 points this season, and were contained to a total of just 24 points in Round 4 with a wealth of their top-end stars taking up representative duties. While the likes of Matt Rowell and Noah Anderson will remain out as Carey Grammar commences its school footy season, Trent Bianco and Dylan Williams look likely to return and become mainstays until season’s end. Dandenong will surely have some returning strength of its own as Hayden Young will likely be available to them for most of the year, and is in good form of late. Oakleigh seldom slips to losing runs, but it will be an uphill battle to overcome Dandenong and its almost perfect record – only effected by a draw with Geelong last time out. Expect a competitive contest in this one, with one side left with something to prove.
SANDRINGHAM DRAGONS v. BRISBANE LIONS ACADEMY
Saturday April 27, 10:45am
Trevor Barker Beach Oval
Sandringham will hope its second northern academy clash proves more fruitful than the last when it hosts the Brisbane Lions Academy on Saturday. While the Dragons have been arguably the most depleted side of any over the last two weeks, their depth has shone through despite going down last time out against Sydney. The best-placed established NAB League team, the Dragons are also the highest-scoring, with their lowest score of 65 coming in their tight win against Oakleigh. With school football coming into play this week, that depth will be tested, and Brisbane will hope to take advantage of the fact in its search for a second win. Despite going down twice in three games, the Lions have shown good signs and have plenty of forward-running talent to match the Dragons here. Expect plenty of goals either way barring inclement conditions at Trevor Barker Beach Oval, with this the second-last chance to catch the Lions Under 18s together.
GWS GIANTS ACADEMY v. GIPPSLAND POWER
Saturday April 27, 12:25pm
Blacktown International Sportspark
GWS Giants Academy will hope to build on its opening win in Round 4 when it faces Gippsland Power in Blacktown to round out the double-header. The Giants took full advantage of a depleted Knights side last round to secure their first points of the season after falling to fellow academies in the previous two outings. On the other hand, Gippsland comes off its two-week break looking to improve on a 2-1 record, but will have its depth tested in a similar way to Oakleigh and Sandringham in the coming weeks. A breakout win against previously 2-0 Bendigo ensured there are plenty of good signs coming out of the Power, and the travel this week should not necessarily deter the country side like it would for others. GWS will take full confidence in playing on home turf though, and should make a good fist of this chance to play off against one of the better NAB League teams.
EASTERN RANGES v. GOLD COAST SUNS ACADEMY
Saturday April 27, 1:15pm
Trevor Barker Beach Oval
The table-topping Gold Coast Suns will face a strong challenge to their perfect record when they do battle with Eastern Ranges at Trevor Barker Oval. The Suns have been ultra impressive in their three wins, scoring freely on the back of some flair and exuberance. On the other hand, the Ranges have surprised many in powering to three-straight wins and lodging themselves clear in the top four. Despite conceding more than their weekend opponents, the Ranges have plenty of smalls who provide fantastic forward run and smarts around goal, with some good talent also set to return. Eastern have also enjoyed being less depleted than other NAB League sides, but face a side that has played just as consistent football with a relatively even line-up over the last three weeks. With a chance to remain the best-placed academy and overall side, the Suns have plenty to play for, with Eastern hoping to keep their winning run rolling.
CALDER CANNONS v. GEELONG FALCONS
Saturday April 27, 2:00pm
Calder Cannons and Geelong Falcons both have the opportunity to build on points gained in Round 3 in their bottom-four clash at RAMS Arena. While the Cannons claimed their first win over Western on that weekend, Geelong is still searching for a win after Dandenong snatched a draw in their tense battle. While they have a host of promising bottom-agers, the Falcons’ cause will not be helped by injuries to star top-agers Jay Dahlhaus and co-captain Cooper Stephens over the last three weeks. Still, the talent is there, and Calder are yet to really take a game by storm despite showing improvement after a heavy Round 1 loss. Having remained competitive in Rounds 2 and 3, Geelong will also carry a decent percentage advantage coming in – if that is anything to go by. Calder’s over-agers may prove the difference in this clash though, with a consistent run and more experience something that could give them a significant enough edge.
TASMANIA DEVILS v. WESTERN JETS
Sunday April 28, 12:00pm
University of Tasmania Stadium
Both Tasmania Devils and Western Jets will look to further their winning momentum after claiming victories in Round 4 when they do battle in the Apple Isle. The Devils are the best-placed side on two wins, while Western find themselves in ninth as the second-worst placed side with eight points, with both teams gaining sizeable percentage in games against Northern Territory. Similar runs aside, Tasmania has already proven it can take advantage of its home ground advantage and will look to do so for a second round running. The Jets had an enormous win last time out, adding to a Round 1 win against the Knights, and would have gained a good deal of confidence in booting a big score against NT. Their 18.24 scoreline was ominous, but they will have to take every chance they can get against a robust and talented Tasmanian side. This should be a close one, and will be a good leveller for the Devils.
GREATER WESTERN VICTORIA REBELS v. NORTHERN TERRITORY THUNDER ACADEMY
Sunday April 28, 2:00pm
Northern Territory Thunder’s search for its first win comes to Windy Hill in a clash with the Greater Western Victoria Rebels to see out the round. While both sides have been down in their starts to the season, the Rebels managed to pick up a win against Geelong in Round 2, while going down by less than a goal in their other two clashes. In a slightly different story for NT, its narrowest loss was its first – a 44-point margin against Gold Coast in Round 2. While their defence has been leaky, it still is not the worst in the competition, and there is plenty to be said about some of the top-age talent which has stood up thus far. Contributions from over-agers have also been handy, and they will be keen to have Malcolm Rosas Jr out on the park soon. With points on the line in neutral territory, expect a hard scrap.