Rays roar into prelim

The Dandenong Stingrays are just one win away from the TAC Cup grand final. 181553 Picture: STEWART CHAMBERS

By Hayley Wildes

There’s such a thing as sending a message to the competition, and then there’s quite simply blowing away the competition. The Dandenong Stingrays did both in their elimination final against the Greater Western Victoria Rebels on Saturday afternoon at IKON Park.

On a perfect day for football, the Rays – who finished top of the ladder after dropping just one game all season – rose to the occasion of finals football, displaying their staunch defence and ability to launch attacks from the back half.

Another aspect that was just superb was the Rays’ forward 50 entries; pinpoint passes to make life extremely difficult for the Rebels’ defence.

After a couple of misses, the Rays broke through for their first goal of the game at the six-minute mark when Lachlan McDonnell finished off a great link-up passage of play through the middle of the ground with a fine running goal.

Despite dominating play and not allowing the Rebels the ball – it was over 10 minutes until Dandenong kicked their second goal; courtesy of great run and carry play by Zac Foot, followed an Ned Cahill crumb and goal.

It was the start of what was a truly dominant game from Cahill. He was involved in everything up forward and the Rebels just couldn’t contain his impact.

On the stroke of quarter-time, Cahill crumbed another pack and snapped truly to give the Rays a 28-point quarter-time lead.

The Rays’ pressure was smothering the Rebels and when they did get what seemed like a rare disposal, the pressure – either perceived or real – rushed them into poor decisions and execution.

Jai Taylor and Sam Fletcher’s running ability across the ground was paying dividends as the pair launched many attacking forays.

The second quarter was owned by Cahill. The classy forward assisted on the first two goals of the quarter before heading to the bench for a well-earned break. After a couple of minutes of rest, he headed forwarded and immediately kicked his third goal of the game – this time a mid-air soccer kick amongst a large scrum in the goal square.

Goals to Finlay Bayne, Campbell Hustwaite and Bailey Williams before half-time saw Dandenong hold a dominant 11.11 (77) to 2.2 (14) lead at the main break.

To the Rebels’ credit, they came out much improved in the third quarter and finally were able to get their hands on the ball, but the Rays’ defence held up well when challenged and Jake Frawley made the Rebels pay with a goal after 10 minutes of play.

The work of co-captain Campbell Hustwaite around the stoppages was again a highlight of the game and his tackling ferocity set the tone for his team.

The amount of intercept marks – both in defence and in the forward half – saw the likes of Matthew Gahan, Matthew Cumming, Matthew Cottrell and Will Hamill have a field day.

An 82-point three quarter time lead had the Rays in complete control, but they weren’t content.

A five-goal to one final quarter saw Dandenong run out massive 110-point winners, 19.20 (134) to 3.6 (24), in a complete masterclass.

What really stood out throughout the entirety of the game was Dandenong’s unselfish play – many players passed up good shots on goal for great ones. It’s this mindset that has powered the Rays all season and will continue to power them as they look to book a place in the grand final this weekend.

Ned Cahill typified this unselfish play with an incredible game that included four goals and six goal assists. Sam Fletcher, Toby Bedford and Campbell Hustwaite were impressive in the middle, while Matthew Cottrell, Matthew Gahan and Daniel Frampton powered the Rays forward from defence.

The Stingrays are now just one win away from a TAC Cup grand final berth.