GIPPSLAND Power will play the Dandenong Stingrays in a TAC Cup qualifying final on Saturday from 2.30pm at Visy Park in Melbourne.
The Power finished the home and away season in second place, missing out on top spot on percentage, after a final round win over the Northern Knights at Moe last Saturday.
On paper the Power seemingly had little to worry about as the Knights had only won three games during the year, however they proved to be very difficult opposition given the conditions and with the inclusion of several key players.
Josh Cashman, Jack Leslie and Shane Jamieson returned to the Power side, while skilful Bairnsdale youngster Derek Hayes made his TAC Cup debut after being held back by injury earlier in the season.
Despite having more scoring opportunities, the Power only led by two goals at half-time. It appeared as if the Power was content to put the ball anywhere inside the forward 50 rather than use it intelligently and to the side’s advantage.
Coach Nick Stevens read the riot act to the boys during the main break and was particularly disappointed with their accountability and willingness to follow the most basic elements of the team’s game plan.
It appeared as if they hadn’t got the stern message early in the third term as they again wasted several possible scoring opportunities with bad skills and finishing. By the last change they were only nine points up after again dominating the forward 50 entries.
Just to illustrate the Power’s wastefulness, the Knights scored two easy goals after capitalising on more poor manning up by the Power.
Some good work under pressure by Ben Kearns saw a much-needed reply by Matt Northe, before Northe combined with Nick Graham to see Hayes take advantage of a lucky bounce to put the Power back on track.
Anthony Tipungwuti created a chance for a clever snap by Will Hams and it seemed as if the Power were finally upping the ante.
Another defensive mistake by the Power allowed the Knights to get back within a kick and it was game on. Good work by Northe and Leslie gave the ball to Daniel Jackson who goaled and seemingly put the issue finally beyond doubt.
In the final moments the Knights kicked another but the Power held on well to emerge an unconvincing winner by two points, 9.10 (64) to 8.14 (62).
Tough Sale on-baller Shannen Lange was one of the few Power players who could hold his head high after another superb display of hard-nosed and creative work. He tackled with enormous intensity and put his body on the line over and over again to gather 30-plus possessions and played a crucial role in the side’s win.
Fellow on-baller Nick Graham matched Lange’s amazing statistics in yet another fine game.
Josh Cashman was given an important run-with role and did a fine job in minimising the impact of very dangerous opponents. He too worked very hard to restrict their impact as well as winning several important possessions himself.