STRATHFIELDSAYE backed up its status as Sportsbet’s Bendigo Football League premiership favourite on Saturday by inflicting Sandhurst’s first loss of the season.
The Storm ($1.66 for the flag) defeated the Dragons ($2.10) by 22 points at the Queen Elizabeth Oval in the keenly-anticipated rematch of the BFL’s two standout teams.
The Dragons kicked the first goal of the game through Ryan Maldenis, but it was the Storm that led at every change in winning 10.16 (76) to 7.12 (54) in front of a big QEO crowd.
Both teams are now 11-1, with the Storm pulling off a 101-point turnaround on their round three encounter, which the Dragons had won by 79 points.
“Our defensive pressure was the best it has been all year and we used the ball well when we had it... and we were able to do it all day,” Storm coach Darryl Wilson said.
“Our midfield group stood up really well and our stoppage work we were really happy with.
“We gave away some silly free-kicks that resulted in goals to them, so that was disappointing, but overall, it was a pleasing day.”
The Storm attacked the contest as you’d expect of a side that had been waiting 11 weeks for another crack at the Dragons after their round three embarrassment.
Sandhurst struggled to combat the relentless pressure of the Storm going forward, with the usual free-scoring and skilful Dragons kicking just one goal from their first 17 inside 50 entries.
In a game played in a tricky cross breeze blowing across the ground to the swimming pool side, goals were going to be at a premium and it was the Storm who put the scoreboard pressure on early.
The Storm led by 12 points at quarter-time, 3.1 to 1.1, but it was the second and third quarters where they broke the game open.
Whereas the Dragons - not for the first time this year - frittered away opportunities in the second quarter, the Storm added four goals, one of which was a brilliant 50m set shot from Ben Lester.
While the Storm kicked 4.3 in the second term, down the other end the Dragons were wasteful, with a return of 2.6 that included four set-shot misses by Lachlan Ross, Lee Coghlan, Ryan Haythorpe and Mitch Dole.
All season the Dragons’ inaccuracy has threatened to bite them, and this was the quarter.
Despite having only one less scoring shot to half-time, the Dragons trailed at the main break by 21 points, 7.4 to 3.7.
The Storm’s half-time score of 46 was only one point shy of what the Dragons had been conceding on average for an entire game this year.
A miss by Ross and then a snap out of a pack from Haythorpe for a goal brought the Dragons back within 14 points 10 minutes into the third quarter.
But they would get no closer and wouldn’t score again for the quarter, as just like the previous week against Eaglehawk, it was the stoppage work of Strathfieldsaye that ensured the Storm maintained the upper-hand.
As well as winning the centre breaks 3-0 for the quarter, the Storm belted the Dragons 10-4 around the stoppages and bombarded the Sandhurst defence with repeat inside 50s to the city end.
However, the Storm couldn’t make it count on the scoreboard, kicking seven consecutive behinds and ending the quarter with 1.9, with the sole goal from their 10 scoring shots kicked by onballer Sam Heavyside.
The Storm led by 29 points at three quarter-time and extended the advantage to a game-high 35 points in the final term when Matt Smith launched a 50m set-shot.
The Dragons fought on against the odds and gave themselves a glimmer of hope when back-to-back goals to Albert Weddell and Matt Thornton cut the margin to 22 points with nine minutes left, but the Storm held firm.
The win was the Storm’s ninth in a row, but came at a cost with Vinnie Flood suffering a fractured cheekbone in a head clash with Sandhurst captain Blair Holmes in the second term, on top of the late withdrawals of Tom Bartholomew (shoulder) and Matthew Ladson (blood poisoning).
In what was an even team effort from the Storm, their best players were led by Nick Smith.
Smith limped off the ground early in the game with a corkie, but returned and was a driving force off half-back.
Michael Pilcher competed superbly in the ruck against Michelsen Medal favourite Tim Martin, while small defender Lachlan Bonney blanketed Sandhurst’s Mitch Dole.
Ash Trollop was also solid in defence against Haythorpe and Shaun Everington, Sean Johns, Heavyside (two goals) and Matt Johnson were all influential through the midfield.
The Storms’s Stephen Milne could have had a day out, but finished with 1.7 from his eight shots, including two posters.
The Dragons named teenager Harry O’Meara, who played on Milne, their best player.
O’Meara was only six years old when Milne played the first of his 275 AFL games in 2001, but he wasn’t overawed by the challenge and the scoresheet says that he’s the only player so far this year to hold Milne to under three goals.
Lachlan Ross worked hard across half-forward, Pat Jennings competed well against Storm full-forward Sam Mildren (two goals), while Jake McLean was also one of the best for the Dragons, whose score of 54 was less than half of what they have been averaging this year.
“You’ve got to give credit where it’s due and Strathfieldsaye’s pressure right across the ground was fantastic all day,” Dragons coach Brett Fitzpatrick said.
“Their delivery going forward showed us up. They were able to hit targets inside 50, whereas our delivery into our forwards was very ordinary.
“I’d like to think we’ll learn a lot from today going forward.”
The Dragons were outscored in three of the four quarters.
Before Saturday, they had only been outscored in three quarters over their first 11 games.
• Match statistics:
Centre clearances: Strathfieldsaye 11; Sandhurst 10.
Inside 50s: Strathfieldsaye 47; Sandhurst 45.
Stoppages: Strathfieldsaye 26; Sandhurst 25.