With the Dandenong Stingrays bowing out of the NAB League finals on Sunday 1 September, Tyler Lewis takes a look back at the season that was, including what to expect come AFL Draft time.
From afar, the Dandenong Stingrays’ season looks like a slope from round seven.
But in reality, the year was incredible in terms of the development of every individual and with injuries mounting from the beginning of the National Carnival, the performances in the last few matches were astonishing under circumstances.
The Rays won their first seven matches (barring a draw round three) before dropping their next eight.
Following a heartbreaking loss to ladder leaders Eastern, where the Stingrays converted more goals than the Ranges yet lost the match – Dandenong coach Nick Cox believed his side was playing brilliant footy and were the team no one would want to play in finals.
As warned, the Rays knocked off the Murray Bushrangers in week one of the finals.
Coming into an elimination final against the Calder Cannons – the remaining NAB League sides watched on, hoping and praying the Cannons could knock out the Rays, because the talent that floods this list can achieve anything.
And all but 25 minutes stood in the way of the Rays playing in a semi-final this weekend. A blistering final term by the Cannons edged out Nick Cox’s men.
The National Draft is approaching and there will no doubt be many Stingrays who deservedly make their way onto an AFL list.
Some are expected to make their way into the AFL system, but some are bolting home with impressive performances late in the season.
Young is simply built for the big stage.
The elegant left-footer will slot into any AFL club and will most likely feature in their Round One selected 22.
Coach Nick Cox moved the Rays captain around the ground at times during the year, proving he is a worthy midfielder and half-forward, but has made a name for himself driving the ball out of defence with an unbelievable kick.
Cody WeightmanThe Haileybury captain missed a lot of NAB League footy through school footy for the Bloods, but definitely wasn’t forgotten.
Not many more dangerous around goal in this year’s draft, Weightman is hard to envision on a particular AFL club’s list because he would slot into every one of them with ease. May not rack up huge numbers of the footy but will certainly have team lifting moments and be a regular in goal of the year nominations.
Along with his goal sense, hunger and match winning ability – Cahill is one of the smartest footballers in the draft.
With the ability to go into the midfield, Cahill is crafty around goal and will often find space by outsmarting his opponent.
When the game is in the balance, Cahill will often be swooping around the stoppages on the prowl to change the context of the match.
Sam De KoningAfter growing well over 10 centimetres in the space of 12 months before his draft year, De Koning went from a smooth moving wingman to a key pillar in the blink of an eye.
The younger brother of current Carlton big man Tom De Koning, Sam has the ability to go either ends of the ground.
After a telling national carnival where he floated across and through packs in defence at will, De Koning earned himself All-Australian and Team of the Year honours as a key defender.
De Koning’s determination was on show against Eastern during the year when the big man was being held all day until he was crunched in a contest in the third term.
Williams is willing to take the game on and any opportunity.
The Rolls Royce floats on the grass with ball in hand and kicks long, a classic metres gain player that uses it efficiently. He’s also capable in the air and has caused problems when going forward.
Prior to the Nationals, he was a springy defender before Vic Country coach Leigh Brown found his spot in the open space on the wing.
‘Biggie’ is an electric utility that can be used at any position in the ground.
The St Kilda Academy prospect was thrown into the ruck in the match against Eastern when Bailey Schmidt went down with a shoulder injury and thrived incredibly.
With a strong leap Nyuon provides an option in the ruck but with incredible leg speed becomes a midfielder when the ball hits the turf.
Blake KuipersKuipers is the code jumper that appears in every draft, but make no mistake, he was born to play footy.
After joining the Stingrays following a very successful volleyball career, Kuipers has taken the game by storm.
At 196cm, the big man likes to keep the statisticians busy, often doing a bit of everything on game day.
The Rosebud product has also been invited to State Combine and will no doubt put on a show.
The 19-year-old prospect was unlucky not to get picked up last year.
After being put out of the game through injury in 2019, Nanscawen earned a spot at Box Hill where he performed well.
Upon return to the NAB League, Nanscawen looked a class above, often running rampant on the outside and delivering the ball with style.
Restricting his influence on a match is no easy feat, when he gets the footy it often finds his teammates chest in an instant.
Toner featured in almost every match as the leading disposal winner or in the best players.
A bit of a ‘Mr. Consistency’ who finds the footy at will and had every recruiter flicking through their team sheet in the final match of the year thinking “Who is this kid?”
Matthew Lloyd saw the potential in Toner in his days at Haileybury, spending a lot of one-on-one time with the youngster.
He may not get picked in the National Draft straight away, but is a rookie smokey with some searing form in the end of the season and won’t be stopped if he misses out on the first try.
Luca GoonanGoonan is another absolute bolter after some stirring form in the business end of the finals.
He wins the footy with ease in the engine room, the usually contested Goonan can find the footy in clumps in the beginning of matches to set the tone.
Had a brilliant match against the Cannons in the elimination final loss where he was the only Stingray to reach the 30 disposal milestone in a match this year.
KEEP AN EYE ON FOR 2020
Clayton GayGay is one of the more influential prospects of the 2020 draft.
A booming left-foot that can be used at either end of the ground, Gay will either rack up rebound 50s or have several shots on goal, either way, he is finding the footy.
Had a brilliant year as a bottom ager in 2019, if he is to continue this form he will dive into high draft contention next year.
Many would be terrified of a Doveton versus Pakenham senior debut at age 16, but not MacDonald.
The youngster debuted for Doveton in senior footy and won the best afield medal before debuting again for the Stingrays only a short time after.
MacDonald was quiet at first for the Rays but when he kicked his first goal in Dandenong colours in the first final against Murray, it sparked the whole side as all 22 ran from all corners of the ground to rub his head.
At only 16, the best of MacDonald is still to come and will no doubt feature potently as a bottom ager in 2020.
The big man filled the gap of lean ruck stocks at Dandenong exceptionally well in the final stages of the year.
At 199 centimetres already at only 16, Gerden is a strong competitor and has a bright future.
Another that will have to wait until 2021 for his draft year, but if the improvement continues that was shown during his moments at Dandenong are any indication, the title of best ruckman in the 2021 draft his to lose.
The livewire goal sneak knows exactly where the big sticks are.
Another product from the Outer East is brilliant around goal and isn’t shy of bagging out.
Williamson’s consistency can’t be questioned and will cause many opposition coaches headaches next year when he pulls on the Stingrays jumper more often.
NAB League Team of the Year: Hayden Young (half back), Sam De Koning (full back), Cody Weightman (forward pocket)
U18 All-Australian: Hayden Young (half back), Sam De Koning (full back), Cody Weightman (interchange)
National Combine invitees: Hayden Young, Sam De Koning, Cody Weightman, Ned Cahill, Lachlan Williams
State Combine Invitees: Blake Kuipers, Bigoa Nyuon.
Mid year draft: Mitch Riordan