SANDHURST has powered into the second half of the 2022 BFNL season in much the same way it launched into the first half, with a convincing win over rival powerhouse Gisborne.
The battle between first and third on the ladder at the QEO on Saturday ended in a 16-goal victory to the Dragons, who won for the 10th straight time this season and 17th straight overall.
While not as heavy as their 33-goal win over the Bulldogs in round one at Gisborne, it was a compelling enough performance to reinforce the fact the Dragons will be hard to stop in their bid for four straight premierships.
While last season finished prematurely and there was no play at all in 2020 due to COVID, the Dragons claimed a three-peat of flag wins in 2017-19.
They are aiming to become the first team in BFNL A-grade history to claim four straight flags, albeit over a six-year period.
A loss for the Bulldogs, only their third this season, was compounded by an ankle injury to star goal attack Claudia Mawson.
Selected in the Victorian Fury squad during the week, Mawson did not reappear after quarter time, her absence unsettling the Bulldogs, who were forced to make several positional changes throughout the match in a bid to curb the Dragons' dominance.
Bulldogs star Maddy Stewart spent time at goal attack early in the second quarter and late in the game and also at centre, while youngster Olivia Floreani also attempted to cover for Mawson.
It would have been intriguing to see how close Gisborne might have come had Mawson not gone down with an injury.
The Bulldogs led by five goals early in the contest and by one at quarter time, before the Dragons kicked into top gear to have the match on their terms with a 20-6 second quarter.
Sandhurst was able to increase the margin by three goals in an even second half, but the damage had long been done.
Despite another big win over a certain finalist and a wonderful 10-0 record, skipper Meg Williams believes there is still some improvement in the Dragons.
"Obviously our start wasn't the start we wanted, but we didn't panic at all; we knew we would we'd fight and find our groove and we did," she said.
"We spoke about the lulls we have been having, there's been a lull in nearly every quarter for us, so that's something we will work on.
"But other than that it was a really great team performance."
The Dragons were superbly led at both ends of the court by three-time premiership stars Imogen Sexton and goal shooter Bec Smith, who led all players on court with 38 goals, while Williams and former Castlemaine youngster Shae Clifford controlled the midcourt.
A key contributor in defence and the Dragons' reigning best and fairest Sophie Shoebridge believes another strong win over the Bulldogs is a reflection of the team's overall season to date.
"We didn't panic when we were down; we kept chipping away and kept to our structures and that's what we've brought week-in, week-out," she said.
"No matter what happens, we always compose ourselves, keep digging in and back each other up.
"We're happy with where we sit at the moment."
Gisborne coach Tarryn Rymer paid credit to Sandhurst for a clinical performance and her own players for battling the game out.
"I thought we started really well, which is something we generally do, but it was unfortunate we lost Claudia so early, which forced us into changes," she said.
"I was really proud of the way the girls eventually adapted.
"Obviously Bec (Smith) was very hard to stop, but Meg and Shae feed the ball beautifully to her.
"Injecting Charlee (Kemp) into the game was really good, her height matched up well with Bec Smith's and I thought Kirby (Elliott) gave Meg a good run for her money.
"Our girls worked hard. While the loss and the score were not great, I feel really proud of the girls' effort and how they adapted and battled out the game.
"And having Maddy (Stewart) step out into goals and centre, it was a real good chance for us to try some new things."
The Bulldogs will look to rebound next week against Kyneton, which lost to Castlemaine on Saturday.
Rymer said the club's thoughts were with Mawson, who has plenty of important netball coming up with the Fury and her VNL club Melbourne University Lightning, as well as Gisborne.
"We're hoping it's not too bad, she seems pretty positive about it," she said.
"It couldn't be in a worse position; we're already short of goalers at the moment at Gisborne.
"But we'll get on with it; we still have time to get better."
In other games, Eaglehawk moved up one spot on the ladder from ninth to eighth with a stirring 58-33 win over Strathfieldsaye at Canterbury Park.
The Hawks led by four goals at quarter time, but really pressed home their advantage in the second and third quarters when they outscored the Storm 12-5 and 17-7.
A brilliant full-teal effort was led by goal attack Gracie Berryman and defenders Rani Madden and Morgan Keating.
It was the Hawks' third win of the season.
Castlemaine widened the gap between itself and Kyneton in fifth and sixth to 10 points with a 49-31 win on the Tigers' home court.
Second-placed Kangaroo Flat defeated Maryborough 75-39 and fourth-placed South Bendigo rebounded from a loss to beat Golden Square 78-29.
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