Preview: North Ballarat Rebels vs Sandringham Dragons
NORTH Ballarat went through the 2006 home and away season undefeated, but this year presents the Rebels with its best chance to win a premiership since its sole flag in 1997.
Admittedly, this year’s Rebels have some gigantic shoes to fill as the ’97 team included dual Brownlow Medallist Adam Goodes, Shane O’Bree, Shannon Watt and James Walker.
But, while North Ballarat dropped three games during the home and away season – two against Dandenong Stingrays – they have been dominant all year.
The Rebels have occupied top spot every round except one since Round 9 as they have defied the challenge from Gippsland Power to usurp them.
North Ballarat chases a Preliminary Final berth when it goes head-to-head with reigning premiers Sandringham, which sealed the coveted double chance with its win against Oakleigh Chargers in the final home and away match.
Sandringham moved from fifth to fourth while Oakleigh tumbled from third to sixth.
While the Dragons endured two three game losing streaks during the season they were able to regroup and win pressure games at the end of the season.
Significantly, Sandringham defeated Gippsland at Warrawee Park in Round 16 then returned to Oakleigh’s home ground to inflict on the Chargers what could be a season defining win.
North Ballarat defeated Sandringham by 17-points in their only meeting during the season, but the win has to be put in perspective as it happened during the NAB AFL Under 18 Championships.
What could be an issue for Sandringham is their ability to apply scoreboard pressure. The Dragons have only one score line over eight goals in the past five games and that was its 12 goal haul against Oakleigh.
Conversely, the Dragon’s defensive pressure has been one of its main characteristics this season. After coughing up 20-goals against Calder back in Round 9, Sandringham has not allowed a century score line kicked against them and in eight of those games they’ve shackled the opposition to single digit goals.
Sandringham’s defensive pressure when North Ballarat has possession will be critical. North Ballarat has kicked 14-goals or more in nine of its games.
And, while the Rebels keep the scoreboard ticking its ability to tighten the screws on rivals has seen it emerge as the best defensive club in the competition.
Apart from Dandenong, only two other clubs – Geelong and Murray - have kicked 10 goals or more against the Rebels in a match and both managed 11 goals.
In fact, so Scrooge-like have North Ballarat been that seven times they’ve restricted the opposition to five goals or less.
It’s against that daunting backdrop that Sandringham somehow has to find an avenue to kick a winning score.
Certainly, that’s going to be tough against North Ballarat team brimming with talent, including Vic Country representatives Matt Crouch, Nick Rippon, Michael Close, Tony Lockyer, Tanner Smith and Tyler Blake as well as well as Jake Lloyd.
Sandringham will need its stars Tom Temay, Tom Tyquin, James Stewart, Kenny Ong and Michael Barnes to reproduce their very best to stop the rampaging Rebels.