It was a chilly and blustery Preston City Oval that hosted the Round 15 clash between the Northern Knights and the Calder Cannons; and while the scoring wasn’t heavy, they still produced a thrilling encounter. With the breeze favouring the team attacking the City end, the Cannons looked to be in the box seat when they started the final term trailing by just one point – but an early Jamison Shea goal extended the Knights lead to seven. Noah Balta responded immediately to bring the Cannons right back into it with a stunning 70+ metre bomb and then the arm wrestle began. The Cannons continued to bombard the Knights, but could only draw level through a Jesse Firebrace behind. When a draw looked a certainty, a contentious free was given for a high challenge in the defensive 50 and Firebrace coolly slotted the resulting set shot on the siren. After a slow start to the year, Calder now find themselves out of the eight on percentage only, after Gippsland’s loss to Geelong.
Here are the notes on who stood out:
Nick Coffield | Def/Mid | 23/10/1999 | 190cm | 83kg
The Knights are a completely different side with Coffield in it, and he again demonstrated why he has been moving up the draft ranks. On Balta for the most part, he kept the Calder star quiet, whilst offering a calm head and strong direction out of the back line. As well as his defensive marking, his poise with the ball in hand is exceptional, preferring to calmly take his man on before hitting up his target. When Balta was switched to a more defensive role, it allowed Coffield to drift further up the ground and into the game, attacking with his run and carry. Aside from his kicking being a little errant compared to his usual high standards – likely due to the conditions – he was pure class.
Ethan Penrith | Def/Fwd | 24/10/1999 | 179cm | 76kg
In a break from his usual defensive role, Penrith was utilised as a defensive forward and it was probably the best I’ve seen him play this year. His pressure in the forward line was superb – he was like a heat seeking missile when anyone had the ball in his vicinity – laying a number of crunching tackles in the forward half. His ball handling was also much improved. He has the habit of juggling the footy when collecting at speed, but he was largely very clean on Saturday and demonstrated elite speed and agility. A sprayed set shot was a letdown, but with more experience, he definitely has considerable scope in the role. He was moved back in the last quarter to go head to head with the livewire Jesse Firebrace in an entertaining match up, and largely had the better of him. He’ll no doubt be filthy it was him that won the game.
Kareem Nasser | Def | 05/03/2000 | 182cm | 75kg
Bottom ager Nasser had a great game in the back half for the Knights, spending time looking after fellow bottom ager, and top prospect, Rhylee West. Nasser tackled strongly and used his body well to to shepherd and screen for teammates, allowing the Knights time in the defensive 50. He showed plenty of dash too, as he swept across the backline to offer teammates an outlet on the overlap. He demonstrated good hands under pressure, and distributed well when transitioning out of the back half, and looks like he could develop well as a rebounding defender.
Mark Baker | Def | 22/02/1999 | 195cm | 79kg
Baker continues to fly under the radar, but the key defender continues to show some nice traits. He consistently demonstrates the ability to read the flight well and is very strong overhead, but it was his willingness to attack that really impressed on Saturday. After almost causing a costly turnover early on when showing some indecision after marking in defence, Baker started to take on his man, demonstrating a nice turn of foot on a number of occasions as the game wore on. He’s still very lightly framed and will need developing, but there is definitely plenty of scope there.
Patrick Howe | Def | 12/03/1999 | 187cm | 85kg
If the Knights had got anything out of this game then it would have been in large down to the defensive efforts of Howe. The big-bodied defender never stopped working all game, and prevented a certain goal in the third quarter when putting his body on the line in the goal square, before shepherding well to allow his teammates to clear up. His late tackle on Jesse Firebrace, when the Knights had their backs to the wall also looked to have earned them a draw, but it wasn’t to be. He moved well up the ground to offer an option on the wing, and aside from a couple of wayward efforts used it fairly well.
Jesse Firebrace | Fwd | 08/06/1999 | 164cm | 61kg
The diminutive Firebrace proved the match winner with a coolly taken set shot on the siren, but his game was much more than that. Blessed with elite speed, Firebrace was a constant thorn in the Knights’ side, whether it was his movement and evasiveness when attacking with the ball in hand, or whether it was his defensive pressure and tenacious tackling. This was particularly in evidence when he chased down Knights speedster Ethan Penrith when he was surging inside 50. He demonstrated quick hands when thrown into the contest and his kicking was neat. His size is his obvious downside at just 164cm, but he certainly proved that he can be a matchwinner.
Jack Bytel | Mid/Fwd | 14/03/2000 | 188cm | 79kg
Bytel was consistently good for the Cannons, and certainly marked himself as top prospect for next year’s draft. Splitting his time between the midfield and forward line, he impacted strongly in both roles, attacking the contest through the middle and hitting the scoreboard in attack. While his contested play in the centre showed that he will no doubt develop into a prototype tall midfielder, it was his work in attack that really caught the eye. In one instance, he demonstrated superb use of his body to work the difficult to beat Oli Wilson of the ball to take a strong mark inside 50. Later he showed great awareness and vision to tap the ball perfectly to a teammate’s advantage to set up another scoring opportunity. Finished with two goals, including a great snapped effort in the second quarter. A lot to like.
Noah Balta | Def/Fwd | 23/10/1999 | 194cm | 92kg
While certainly not his best game, Balta still showed some of the traits that will see him get plenty of attention come November. Kept relatively quiet under the watch of Nick Coffield when forward, it was actually when rucking that Balta did some of his best work – often getting the better of the Knights’ Joel Grace, despite giving away 5cm. He showed superb timing and soft hands and often gave his teammates first use, and in the final quarter turned the game when roving his own ruck work to launch a 70m+ goal that spurred the Cannons on to victory. Quick, strong, and good in the air and at ground level.
Jake Riccardi | Fwd | 07/11/1999 | 193cm | 88kg
Whilst only getting his name on the scoresheet once, with a well roved snap, it was Riccardi’s work rate in attack that gave the Cannons room to work. He consistently presented at half forward, stretching the defense, and acted well as a link up player. He demonstrated some evasiveness too with a couple of nice side-steps and showed clean use when disposing by hand. He was moved through the defense late on, and it will be interesting to see if he can develop his game there – at 193cm he is that difficult size that isn’t quite a modern key position.
Lucas Cavallero | Def | 05/10/2000 | 185cm | 86kg
Lucas Cavallero is having a great bottom age year and continued to show plenty in the back-line for Calder. He’s a good size, already having a mature build, and he provided great rebound out of the Cannons’ defensive 50. He’s a nice kick and makes smart decisions when transitioning from defence. He demonstrated some solid defensive work, including a great diving touch on the line to prevent a Knights goal. Definitely one to watch with interest as he develops over the next 18 months.