BY NATHAN DOLE
THE Sandhurst Dragons will turn up the heat when they take on Golden Square in the Bendigo Bank Bendigo FNL senior footy second semi-final on Saturday.
It’s one-all in this season’s meetings between the Dragons and Dogs going into a big clash which starts at Queen Elizabeth Oval at 2.20pm.
A great run by the Ash Connick and Bryce Curnow-coached Sandhurst in the regular season was 16 wins, one loss, and a draw.
Sole defeat was on Golden Square’s turf at Fur Life Oval in round 12 when the blue and gold was victorious by four goals.
When these teams met on the QEO in round three it was Sandhurst which retained the Ron Best Memorial trophy in a 94-59 result.
At selection, Sandhurst made two changes to the team which beat Eaglehawk in the 18th round on the QEO.
Premiership winner Nick Stagg is in, along with young gun Archer Day-Wicks.
There was no change to the Christian Carter-coached Golden Square team which won the qualifying final against Strathfieldsaye by 26 points.
There will be plenty of crucial match-ups in the second semi where the winner advances to the grand final.
A strong on-ball division for Sandhurst is led by ruckman Hamish Hosking and includes James Coghlan and Sam Conforti.
They will be up against Matt Compston, Bulldogs’ captain Jack Geary, and Ryan Hartley.
The Dragons have the marking power of Matt Thornton and Lachlan Wright in attack.
Golden Square will need big games from the likes of Jon Coe, Harrison Burke, Jake Thrum and Zack Shelton in defence.
Two of the competition’s most versatile big men in Bryce Curnow for the Dragons and Jayden Burke for Square will play crucial roles in defence or attack.
Golden Square’s attack is led brilliantly by Joel Brett and includes Braydon Vaz and Jack Stewart.
Big test for Dragons’ defenders Liam Ireland, Tanner Nally and Isaac Ruff.
A great mix for Sandhurst includes the experience of Lee Coghlan, Andy Collins and Alex Wharton teamed with talented youngsters such as Caleb Connick, Cobi Maxted and Noah Walsh.
Highlight of Golden Square’s qualifying final victory was the play of Jack Hickman, Tom Strauch and Jack Threlfall.
There is always plenty of feeling when Sandhurst and Golden Square meet.
A lot of that can be traced back to the early 70s when the Dragons lured Best the legendary goalkicker from Golden Square to be a premiership-winning coach for the maroon and blue.
Later on it was Brian Walsh who had won a Michelsen medal in ’69 with Sandhurst, went on to play VFL with Carlton and Essendon.
On his return to Bendigo, Walsh went on to coach Golden Square to three senior premierships.
It will be Strathfieldsaye and Eaglehawk fighting to stay in the race for the Bendigo Advertiser premiership cup when they meet in Sunday’s first semi-final at 2.20pm.
Although it finished below Storm on the ladder, Eaglehawk won both of this season’s clashes with Strathfieldsaye by 78 and 54 points.
In the 14th round the Travis Matheson-coached Eaglehawk put together one of its best starts to the season as it led 51-6 at quarter-time of the clash with Storm at Canterbury Park.
Strathfieldsaye is on the rebound from a 26-point loss to Golden Square in the qualifying final.
The Darryl Wilson-coached Strathfieldsaye has added Malik Gordon to its squad.
Eaglehawk’s team is bolstered by the return of the hard-running and skilful Kallen Geary, a triple premiership winner with Strathfieldsaye.
Opponents on Sunday include Kallen’s brother Shannon, also a multiple premiership winner with Storm and now a 200-Club member.
The Hawks also brought in Charlie Hillier.
A key to this contest will be the on-ball duels where Storm has Tim Hosking, Michelsen medallist Jake Moorhead and Callum McCarty up against Connor Dalgleish, Billy Evans and Noah Wheeler.
Storm’s attack is led brilliantly by co-captain Lachlan Sharp who has kicked 93 goals and claimed the Ron Best Medal once again.
Other avenues to goal include James Schischka, Caleb Ernst and Baxter Slater.
Hawks’ defenders Dylan Hanley and Oscar Madden were superb in the elimination final win against South Bendigo.
Darcy Richards marked his return from suspension by kicking four goals last Sunday and is part of an attack that includes Lewin Davis and Cam McGlashan.
Storm’s defence is led by Lachlan Ratcliffe, Ben Lester, Mitch Hallinan and has the run of Luke Webb and Hunter Lawrence.
Other players to watch for the Borough are Marcus Angove, Clayton Holmes, Joel Mullen and Ben Thompson.
In the Harmac Homes-backed reserves competition it will be Eaglehawk against Sandhurst in the second semi-final from 12.15pm.
An unbeaten run by the Hawks was ended in the 18th round when the Dragons won 44-24 on the QEO.
Sandhurst’s best in that win included Xavier Walsh, Charlie Robinson, Will Moran, Jake Wilkiinson, Brodie Montague and James Venturini.
In round nine, Eaglehawk won a top contest, 57-50.
The Dragons kicked off their finals campaign by scoring an 81-28 victory against Golden Square in the qualifying final.
Sandhurst’s team for week two of the finals includes Martin Leyden, Harrison Monk, Patrick and Sean O’Farrell, and Connor Sexton.
The Hawks’ squad includes Jack Daley, Sam Dean, Liam Drummond, captain Rhys Foster, Jacob Greenwood, Bailey Ilsley, and Jack Lawton.
On Sunday it will be Golden Square against Strathfieldsaye in the first semi from 12.15pm.
The Bulldogs are on the rebound from a qualifying final defeat, while Storm marked a 46-point victory against Gisborne in the elimination final.
This season’s meetings between the Bulldogs and Storm went Square’s way by eight and 45 points.
The Bulldogs’ squad for Sunday includes Drew Barrett, Macey Eaton, Alex Jenkyn, Will Lee, Dale Lowry, Will Lee and Mitchell Treacy.
Storm has the experience of captain Wade Kinniburgh and Lachlan Bonney.
Other players to watch for Strathfieldsaye include Ethan and Jai Featherby, Brady Hore, Carson James, Luke Rodda and Abe Sheahan.
In the SportsPower-backed under-18s competition it will be Golden Square against Gisborne in Saturday’s second semi-final from 10.15am.
Both teams had a 16-2 run in the home-and-away series as Golden Square finished on top of the ladder.
In round, Golden Square marked a 75-44 win at home against Gisborne.
Next meeting was in the 15th round at Gardiner Reserve where Gisborne won by seven points.
Key players for Golden Square include co-captains Nick Sheffiff and Zackery Tickell, along with Ned Jenkyn, Harrison Kelly, Billy Meade, and Noah Warfe.
Gisborne’s best in the qualifying final win against Sandhurst were Jarrod Ainsworth, Ed Williams, Frankie Ellis and Lachlan Evans.
Captain Kane Minns, Lane Grech and Jack Long were best when Gisborne beat Golden Square in the round 15 clash.
On Sunday it will be Sandhurst against Maryborough in the first semi from 10.15am.
This season’s meetings have gone the Dragons’ way by 14 and 45 points.
Best for Sandhurst in the qualifying final were Jack English, Wil Pinniger, Deakin Andrews and Declan Delaney.
The Dragons’ line-up to face the Magpies includes Dayten Uerata, Alex Carr, Logan Kilcullen, Ed McCarthy, and Jack English.
Maryborough won the elimination final against Strathfieldsaye by 25 points as Taj Bond and Kaian Constable kicked three goals each.
This season Constable has played six senior games for the Magpies, and Bond in four.
Both will play key roles in Sunday’s match, along with Aidan Medlyn, Tom Myers, Damon Nitschke, Diesel Palmer and James Woods as they fight to stay in the premiership race.