BLK AFL Sydney Premier Division Grand Final Preview
By Michael Shillito
One day in September, in there and fight
Cause we’ve made it to the final, show ‘em your might
It’s Sydney footy’s showpiece game, the Premier Division. East Coast Eagles v St George Dragons at Blacktown International Sportspark on Saturday afternoon.
The Eagles and Dragons have been the two standout teams in Premier Division this year; and it’s fitting that they’ll be playing off in the Grand Final. It’s a game that promises much.
The Eagles were a NEAFL club just two years ago, and they’ve retained plenty of the players from that team. They’ve only lost four games in the last two seasons, but significantly one of them was last year’s Grand Final. And the sense of unfinished business from last year’s upset has driven the Eagles this year.
This has been a golden era for the Eagles, who will be appearing in their seventh Grand Final in 11 years. They won three premierships in a row, from 2009 to 2011; and this year’s decider is back at Blacktown, the scene of that three-peat.
There’s no shortage of top players in the Eagles side. Jack Dimery this season has been a standout; his appearance on The Recruit being backed up with a win in the Phelan Medal. But while it took three takes on camera to walk away from televised reality TV, he’ll be hoping it takes just one walk to the stage to accept a premiership medal.
The Eagles’ engine room in the midfield will be in the thick of the action all day. Aaron Savage and Andrew Drinkwater will run all day, and you can expect to see them feature prominently in the stats. And in the ruck contests, Andrew Browning will give the Eagles’ first use of the footy plenty of times.
There’s plenty to like on the forward line. Andrew McConnell has been the Eagles’ leading goalkicker this year and will again feature prominently, while Jamie Vlatko knows how to put his hand up when it matters.
Look for the experienced hands in the Eagles’ backline. They’ve tasted premiership success before, and they’ll be keen to do it again. Damian Charleston, Rohan Bilkey, Trent Baker and Eugene Kruger can be expected to get plenty of the ball; and will need to for the Eagles to restrict the Dragons’ scoring.
The Eagles have only lost two games this year, and will probably have breathed a sigh of relief that North Shore, the only team to have beaten them, failed to make it to the Grand Final. Including the Semi-Final result, the Eagles have defeated the Dragons three times this year, so they know what it takes to do it again.
For St George, it’s their first Grand Final since 2007. The Dragons haven’t drunk from a premiership cup since 1994; but here is their golden opportunity to break that drought.
They’ve been up in the top reaches of the ladder for years; going out in the Prelim Final for three years before breaking through in style last week with a ten-goal final quarter; which gives them plenty of confidence and momentum for this week’s decider.
The Dragons have some impressive tall timber, and their rucking and marking strength will be on display. Earl Shaw has been a strong injection into the team this season, while the likes of Jordan West, Paul Sain and Nick Ryan will also be called on to use their height and their hands.
In the midfield, Blake Guthrie has been a standout contributor for the Dragons; while Karl Merson and the experienced Declan Donohue will also be looking to add to their possession count at every opportunity.
There’s an abundance of goal-scoring options in the Dragons’ team. Keep an eye out for Alex Wynn and Xavier Stevenson, who certainly know how to find the big sticks; while the resting ruckmen all have good marking power.
And the backline have the runs on the board and can be expected to make life tough for the Eagle forwards. Daniel Napper, the Addison brothers and David Lycakis will clear the ball out of the danger zone plenty of times.
The Dragons are yet to defeat the Eagles this year, with three of their four losses being to the East Coast side. But they’ll be working hard on finding an ace up their sleeve that they can play in the game that matters.
In the Eagles’ four losses in the last two seasons, three of them have been when they’ve been run down in the last quarter.
The Eagles will want to get out to a big lead. If the Dragons are within striking distance at the last change, you can be sure they’ll come charging home in the last, and it will take some desperate defence to hold them out.
But the Eagles have shown they have what it takes to get on top of the Dragons. They’ve done it three times already this year. If they can keep doing what they’ve done, they can get the job done.
Will it be the Eagles or the Dragons who taste premiership success? All will be revealed at Blacktown on Saturday afternoon; as a champion is crowned and 22 players and a coach claim a place in the immortality of history.