GIPPSLAND Power survived its sternest test of its 2012 TAC Cup prospects, defeating the Sandringham Dragon, the previously the only other unbeaten team, at Morwell on Saturday.
The Power was without key senior players Simon Deery and Kaine Allen due to minor injuries, but the Dragons were much worse off because several of their top players had to play school football and would be unavailable for much of the rest of the season.
Captain Tim Membrey returned after touring Europe with the AIS/AFL academy. It didn’t take him long to make a stunning impact on the game as he marked strongly and kicked the side’s opening goal after some strong work by Nate Paredes and Shannen Lange to get the ball out of the centre at the opening bounce.
Lange was at his busy best when he found another tall Power forward, Josh Scott, who kicked another goal for the team. Jayden Steers found his Traralgon teammate Matt Northe, who kicked another to make it look like the Power were ready to take the vital game by the throat.
But the Dragons then capitalised on the Power’s poor defence as they were caught out on the rebound. It took some more hard work by Lachie Channing and Paredes to allow Power forward Tom Muir to kick the side’s fourth goal and seeming take the initiative off the Dragons.
By the end of the first term the Power lead was 17 points.
Some more slack defence by the Power gave the Dragons the opening two goals of the second quarter. It took a long kick into the forward 50 by Tom Fusinato to set up Membrey for another strong mark and goal but this was the Power’s first major in almost thirty minutes of play.
After Ben Kearns’ vital goal from almost nothing, Power won the resulting centre clearance before Will Hams weaved some real magic to give himself the time and room to score another great goal for the Power.
Late in the quarter, Jack Leslie, did some hard work to win the ball and then was rewarded with a free kick and 50 metre penalty which he took full advantage of. By the long break the Power led by 22 points.
It was the Dragons who took the early initiative in the second half as they again served notice that the Power had a lot of work to do. Some excellent pressure by Hams resulted in another Membrey mark and goal for the Power but for the rest of the term the Dragons took control of the game with their willingness to apply pressure on the Power’s decision making skills as the visitor reduced the deficit to six points by the final break.
To begin the final term, the ball was sent long and direct into the forward line by Jack Johnstone and Anthony Tipungwuti and Nick Graham took his ninth mark of the match. He kicked accurately to give his side some important breathing space and then he marked again to kick another vital goal for the team.
The Power had control of play for much of the early part of the term and Daniel Jackson found Scott who kicked his second goal for the game.
Just when it appeared as if the Power were going to dominate the last term, the Dragons scored two late goals to reduce the final margin to 13 points.
Gippsland won 12.5 (77) to 9.10 (64).
Defender Ryley Hall stood tall against a serious set of challenges on a day when the Power were consistently under pressure. His disciplined and skilful play meant that he kept tall opponents out of the game as well as setting up rebound football with the many vital possessions he won for himself.
Fellow defender Jack Johnstone was again a key player in the Power’s win with another hard-working effort. He too shut his opponent out of much of play but also had the confidence and skill to win many important possessions which he then consistently put to the side’s advantage.
Josh Cashman was another defender who responded manfully to the challenges involved in playing against a quality side like the Dragons.
Shannen Lange thrived in the contested issues and won many important possessions as well as putting the opposition under extreme and consistent pressure with his unique intensity and determination.
Ruckman Jack Leslie has made incredible progress in his first year in the TAC Cup and won many vital knock-outs all day but used the ball with great vision and skill.
The Power will face the Western Jets on Saturday in Melbourne. There is some chance Kaine Allen and Simon Deery will be available to play, further enhancing the potency of the side both in defence and attack.
Due to the impressive start to the season by the Power there are 10 players in the initial Victoria Country group and will be missing in coming weeks, while Anthony Tipungwuti is required by the Northern Territory squad.