Several locals excel in Stingrays loss

It was a tight tussle between Dandenong and Gippsland. 398645 Picture: BLACK FOOT PHOTOGRAPHY

By Jonty Ralphsmith

Gippsland Power opened its 2024 Coates Talent League campaign with a win over Dandenong on Good Friday at Belvedere Reserve, winning 16.13 109 to 14.9 93 in a high-tempo, free-flowing day of football.

The visitors had a narrow lead for most of the day in a quick and hot game of footy, but players from both teams showcased their weapons.

In his first game for the season, Stingray Noah Mraz started excellently, winning several important contests in defensive 50 to prevent the visitors getting off to the hot start that they threatened to.

The Narre North Foxes junior and AFL Academy representative got his hands to plenty of aerial contests in defensive 50 and finished with 24 disposals in a strong start to the season.

Fellow defender Ben Hopkins was also strong from the first bounce, with his six first-quarter intercept marks helping limit Gippsland’s lead to only seven points at the first break.

Following a 27-disposal game against Geelong Falcons last week, the teenager, also North Melbourne VFL contracted, played with a blend of competitiveness, nous and dash to again finish with a team-high 26 touches.

The ‘Rays kicked four goals in the seven minutes either side of quarter-time to briefly hit the lead as Vic Country aspirant Harry Doughton showcased his finishing ability in a second consecutive pleasing outing where he was given midfield minutes.

Thereafter, Gippsland was able to wrestle back momentum for the most part, with hard-working midfielder Tom Hanily a pillar through the four quarters for Gippsland.

Hanily enhanced his midseason draft credentials with 32 disposals, seven tackles and a goal.

“I thought Tom was really good – his ability to stay strong over the contest all throughout the game was excellent,” Power coach Rhett McLennan said.

“He linked in well and shared the footy well.”

Gippsland got out to a 12-point halftime lead before Berwick junior and Haileybury College student Tairon Ah-Mu imposed himself on the contest in the second half.

The 2023 under-16s Vic Country representative kicked three goals, including the first of the second half.

At 198cm, Ah-Mu used his size well in ruck contests and took five marks, alongside nine hit-outs.

Star Vic Country duo Xavier Lindsay and Willem Duursma helped Gippsland pulled away from the Stingrays late in the third quarter, the pair finishing with 51 disposals and three goals between them as they each showcased their class.

“(Lindsay’s) last half I thought was fantastic,” McLennan said.

“I thought the way he moved and got from contest to contest and used the footy with the class we know he’s got, was a real contributing factor to us keeping Dandenong at arm’s distance throughout the day.

“Willem’s always doing the work and you can see his ability to run and understand how much space (there is) and when he can get the football is very difficult to teach and he’s got a fantastic knack for turning up in the right place in the right time.”

With the Power leading by 17, there was a premium on the first goal of the last stanza, with Stingray Noah Hibbins-Hargreaves standing up and delivering.

The highly-regarded bottom-aged player took a crunching one-on-one mark and calmly finished a difficult set shot two minutes into the quarter.

He did similarly 12 minutes later as the margin again blew out, with the Vic Country player finishing with three goals from 10 disposals in a promising display.

Dandenong’s defence, which contained local lads Kane Hurst (Berwick) and Tahj De La Rue (Pakenham), held up well for the last 15 minutes to resist several Gippsland forward forays.

The margin, ultimately, proved too big to overcome and the weight of the Power’s entries eventually saw them kick a late sealer.

The Power played 10 debutantes in the season-opener with McLennan buoyed by their signs.

“I thought they all played their roles really well,” McLennan said.

“We had two brand new rucks who worked their way into the game and their ability to compete and help on the ground was excellent and our forwards looked really exciting, particularly the bottom-aged guys who looked to be creative, which was exactly what we want.”

Other locals in action included Fountain Gate junior Coren Giliam, who was flashy and kicked two goals, Devon Meadows’ Toby Sinnema, Beaconsfield’s Jordan Doherty, Officer debutant Brodie Snooks and Warragul Industrials’ Alixzander Tauru.

Having played strong footy across the first fortnight, the Stingrays will be looking to rectify a 0-2 record against GWV, while Gippsland will have winning form behind them when it faces Bendigo.