Gippsland had been on the wrong side of three defeats within a goal throughout 2017, but the introduction of three 16 year old debutants created the spark required to win a thriller against Dandenong at Frankston. Caleb Serong, Sam Flanders and Brock Smith were key cogs in the recent Vic Country U16s Championships campaign and were all influential in their first TAC Cup outings. With a howling wind favouring the Young St end of the ground, Serong and Flanders turned the game on its head with the advantage, kicking five goals between them in a defining third quarter. Although a 10 point advantage at three quarter time still didn’t look enough for Gippsland as the Stingrays kicked with the breeze in the final term. Early goals eased the Power’s pressure to score, but a brilliant individual performance by Hunter Clark almost singlehandedly got Dandenong back in the game. It was a frantic final few minutes in Dandenong’s offensive half, before a big contested mark on the wing by Serong with seconds to spare saw Gippsland avoid another single figure heartbreaker.
Here are the most notable players for the day:
CALEB SERONG | GIPPSLAND POWER | FWD/MID | 09/02/2001 | 176CM | 69KG
It’s not very often that an under 16 player is able to debut and have an immediate impact for their side at TAC Cup level. Serong was able to do that on Saturday, with the aerial prowess for his size, clean hands and x-factor definitive features in the windy conditions. Playing mostly inside 50, it took a quarter or so for the Warragul junior to adapt to the speed, before taking a huge pack mark that provided the belief that he belonged. In the blink of an eye he had three goals, including a brilliant left foot snap in traffic that bounced through. Leaving his best highlight until last, he took a soaring contested mark on the wing that ended Dandenong’s challenge and sealed a memorable Gippsland victory. It was a performance that made many take note.
SAM FLANDERS | GIPPSLAND POWER | FWD/MID | 24/07/2001 | 182CM | 73KG
It took Flanders a little longer than Serong to get going, but when he did, you could argue that the Moe product looked as dangerous as any other forward on the ground. He exploded in the third quarter in partnership with his U16 teammate, kicking three brilliant goals for the term. Two were opportunistic snaps, while the third came from an outstanding overhead mark in the square. While his offensive traits were on show for all to see, his defensive efforts inside 50 were just as important. After an outstanding U16 Carnival for Vic Country recently, Flanders is another highly rated Gippsland talent to monitor over the next couple of years.
NICK HOGAN | GIPPSLAND POWER | MID | 02/07/1999 | 175CM | 78KG
Saturday was the most comfortable Hogan had looked since coming back from injury earlier in the month as his impact at the stoppages continued to rise. You could tell that he wanted to have an influence on the result and he did so with clearances that gained significant territory. He just found ways to get through traffic, create space from the contest and kick long. He produced two vital moments in the tense final quarter, firstly by snapping an important goal into the wind, before winning the final rebound 50 in the dying seconds to escape danger. I doubt Gippsland would have won without him.
SEAN MASTERSON | GIPPSLAND POWER | DEF | 23/09/1998 | 192CM | 78KG
You just know what you are going to get with Masterson and his efforts in the first half helped the Power keep touch with a confident looking Stingrays outfit at the time. Despite giving plenty of centimetres to the imposing duo of Tom De Koning and Bailey Williams, Masterson used clever body positioning and the effective implementation of psychological verbal communication to his advantage. He took the game on too, often leaving his immediate opponent to impact contests that he would have been forgiven to leave. He was really unlucky not to get a call up for Vic Country after making the squad of 40.
AUSTIN HODGE | GIPPSLAND POWER | FWD/MID | 02/04/1999| 188CM | 77KG
It was a different role to what I was hoping to see from Hodge when I arrived at Frankston Oval, but impressive all the same. He basically played as a traditional centre half forward, presenting up to the ball and creating a target for the midfielders. He is very capable overhead, so it was no surprise to see him competing so gallantly in the air. He still managed to win a fair share of ground ball despite the selflessness of his output. The scoreboard rewards came in the final quarter as he kicked two important goals to finish with three for the day. Hopefully we get a chance to see him play long midfield minutes to finish the season and tear a game apart.
HUNTER CLARK | DANDENONG STINGRAYS | MID | 26/03/1999 | 186CM | 79KG
Coming off an underwhelming Championships campaign for Vic Country, there were some who had Hunter Clark sliding out of first round contention. Everyone knows the talent he possesses, but he still gave a staunch reminder of what he has to offer on Saturday. In arguably his best performance of the year, Clark put the cape on to try and resurrect a flat Stingrays outfit. He finished with 34 disposals, seven clearances and ten inside 50s to be the most influential player on the ground and have daylight between he and the next best Dandenong player. Clark hit the scoreboard too with two goals, most importantly the last goal that got his side within a two points. He couldn’t provide the win for his club, but it was an inspiring effort.
CAMPBELL HUSTWAITE | DANDENONG STINGRAYS | FWD/MID | 28/09/2000 | 181CM | 70KG
He wasn’t one I had on my watch list at the start of the day, but Hustwaite was certainly featuring in my notes by the final siren. Another 16 year old who had an impact on the scoreboard, kicking three goals to match Serong and Flanders. He got in smart scoring positions inside 50 and was good enough to convert whenever an opportunity presented. He also produced some impressive moments through the midfield, collecting four clearances and winning plenty of contested footy. I’m looking forward to seeing what he has to offer as a top age prospect next year.
WILL HAMILL | DANDENONG STINGRAYS | MID/DEF | 17/11/2000 | 183CM | 67KG
You guessed it, another 16 year old. Although Hamill played a much different role to the other three I have discussed. The thinly framed Hamill found himself mostly around half back, but pushed higher up the ground to be involved in some offensive link ups. He used the ball well in the blowy conditions and had calm, clean hands when required. I was a bit surprised to read that he only won 11 disposals, but had a greater impact than the stats sheet suggested. He is building a very solid bottom age season.
JESSE DAVIES | DANDENONG STINGRAYS | DEF | 07/06/1999 | 193CM | 83KG
Davies is a quality key position defender that slides under the radar with the likes of Clavarino and Paterson on the list. You could argue he has been Dandenong’s best performed defender, having been named in the best for six of his ten games. He makes consistently good defensive decisions in the air and will attack the ball offensively when required. He has a booming left foot and while he had some messy moments in the wind on Saturday, he generally hits a target. He is a roughie who is gaining a greater reputation as the year goes on.
Other Notable Performances:
Will Leslie (GP), Callum Porter (GP), Brock Smith (GP), Cody Henness (GP), Xavier Duursma (GP), Mason De Wit (DS), Mitch Cotter (DS), Jai Nanscawen (DS), Riley D’Arcy (DS).