By Tyler Lewis
Despite igniting comparisons to the 2005 draft crop, the 2019 Gippsland Power side was unable to follow in the footsteps of Scott Pendlebury and Dale Thomas by bringing silverware home to Morwell.
Valiantly bowing out in the preliminary final to minor premier, the Eastern Ranges on Saturday, the Power went down fighting, 10.8 (68) to 5.8 (38).
After a fortnight off, the Ranges got off to a perfect start, kicking the first two before Harrison Pepper continued his finals form by strolling past the paint of 50 and slamming home the Power’s first on the stroke of the first break.
Trailing by five points, it seemed to be another one of the Power’s slow starts. But the Ranges proved that their surging football was the difference as they kicked another inside a minute of the second term.
Needing a steadier, Caleb Serong hunted down his opponent inside 50, earning a free kick. Loving it as soon as it left the boot, Serong had dragged his side back within a kick yet again.
Prior to that major, the ball had spilled over the boundary line where it appeared that Gippsland’s classy midfielder Ryan Sparkes was struck with an open palm to the face, but it didn’t bother him as he collected the ball numerous times in the following minutes.
At the main break the Ranges had pushed away to a handy buffer but it was well within reach of the Power side, until Eastern came out of the half-time interval with fresh legs.
After not adding a major for 10 minutes, the Ranges added three in five minutes of overall playing time to position themselves squarely in the box seat.
Two late quarter goals to Nick Prowd and Fraser Phillips – winning a 50-metre penalty to go within range and kick his first on the siren of three-quarter-time – gave the Power a sniff.
Although being far from the contest throughout the entire match, the two late majors in the term were threatening for the Power to do what it has done all year and win games it had no right to.
But time began to become a factor before the Ranges surged for quick majors to accelerate them into the grand final.
Caleb Serong kicked the Power’s only major in the final term in the dying seconds of Gippsland’s season.
Ryan Sparkes was one of the Power’s best and seemed to have been bolstered by being struck in the second term, with Gippsland coach Rhett McLennan believing that the reaction from Sparkes to then lift a gear is something he isn’t surprised by.
“Ryan is just a super competitor,” he said.
“He has played a lot of senior football, he likes playing physical football so for someone to dish out a bit of physical punishment towards him didn’t faze him and probably made him concentrate a bit more.
“His game was really good, he never stopped trying.”
Big man Josh Smith was among several Power players who had a frustrating day, and when tensions started to boil over, Smith was reported, but McLennan said it was a frustrating day for all and it is just a waiting game for Smith now.
“Josh had a frustrating day,” he said.
“There hasn’t been any case to answer for Josh at this stage that we are aware of.
“It showed late in the game, it was disappointing for Josh and we spoke to him after the game and he will learn from it.”
The important period for this year’s draftees has begun as all Gippsland players are to have an exit meeting during the week and the 11 players selected for the combine will be put to the test by the Power to prepare them for the upcoming combine tests in October.