NEAFL Championship match preview

by Peter Blucher


Saturday 22 September 2012

Brisbane Lions Reserves v Queanbeyan, Manuka, 11.30am

AFL draft hopeful Jackson Starcevich will get one last chance to push his claims to the national football community on Saturday a week after thinking his 2012 season was over.

The 19-year-old son of ex-Collingwood premiership team ace and three-time premiership-winning Brisbane Lions conditioning chief Craig Starcevich was named today in the Brisbane Lions Reserves side for the NEAFL Championship match against the Queanbeyan Tigers at Manuka Oval in Canberra.

The 197cm key position utility, who has kicked 11 goals in six games as a Lions top-up player this year and 10 goals in 11 games with local club Morningside, is one of a host of Lions inclusions.

Indeed, the side that will meet the Eastern Conference premiers for the overall NEAFL crown is barely recognisable from that which beat the NT Thunder by 10 goals to claim the Northern Conference premiership last Sunday.

After fielding 18 listed players against the Thunder the Lions have named 11 listees to take on the Tigers. And Aaron Cornelius, their leading goal-kicker at NEAFL level this year, remains under a fitness cloud.

Claye Beams, winner of the Joe Grant Medal as best afield last Sunday, heads an absentee list which includes Jack Crisp, Sam Docherty, Josh Dyson, Billy Longer, Patrick Wearden and Elliot Yeo.

This is part of the club’s ongoing campaign to manage workloads at the end of a long and taxing season, especially for younger players.

Cheynee Stiller, captain of the premiership side last Sunday, will again take the Lions to Canberra, where at least Lions coach Nathan Clarke will have some local knowledge, having coached Eastlake for five years prior to returning home to the Lions.

Named to play alongside the AFL 100-gamer will be retiring Sydney Swans AFL premiership player Amon Buchanan plus fellow Lions teammates Callum Bartlett, Cornelius (subject to fitness), James Hawksley, Patrick Karnezis, Jordan Lisle and Niall McKeever and rookies Justin Clarke, Sam Michael and Steve Wrigley.

Buchanan, Hawksley, Lisle and Yeo finished the AFL season in the Lions’ top side and will be key weapons for the Northern Conference champions as they look to replicate the 2011 premiership double of the Thunder.

Backing up tomorrow will be the five top-up players who served the Lions so well last week – the Western Magpies trio of Dave Cummins, Scott Clarke and Jack Fox, plus Aspley’s Isaac Conway, a six-game Lions top-up this year, and Morningside’s Jesse Wallin, who wore Lions colours for the first time last weekend in a debut he’ll never forget.

For Cummins the trip to Canberra will be something of a homecoming – he is a former Eastlake player who headed north this year in the hope of furthering his AFL aspirations.

The Morningside trio of Starcevich, Josh Smith and Rhys Power, who were emergencies last week, will get a start in a top-up group than will number 12 and possibly 13.

Smith, nominated for the NEAFL Rising Star Award this season, and Power had each played twice for the Lions late in the season after showing good form with the Panthers’ senior line-up late in the season.

Also getting a recall is Aspley’s Josh Stiller, who might have considered himself a little unlucky to miss the first grand final side after playing eight games for the AFL club, including the first two finals. Only Cummins, Scott Clarke and Fox had played more. 

At the other end of the scale, Sandgate key defender Aden Rutledge, who has never played with the Lions, will make an extraordinary senior debut in a grand final.

Born and bred on the Redcliffe Peninsula, the 190cm Sandgate High Year 12 student is the brother of ex-Gold Coast Suns development squad member Liam Rutledge and is a former national junior champion in out-rigging.

Rutledge is one of seven members of the 2012 Queensland U18 side that will play for the Lions against Queanbeyan tomorrow.

The others are Conway (17), Smith (18), Power (18) and Wallin (19), plus Sandgate 17-year-old Sam Gribble and Morningside 18-year-old Michael Wyld.

Gribble has played twice previously for the Lions, while Wyld played seven senior games this season for the Panthers and was a well-performed regular late in the year after an outstanding effort at the Australian U18 championships.

Completing the top-up players named in the Lions side are Luke Rogerson, who played once for the AFL club and four times for Redland, including the Bombers; two finals, and Blake Gambale, who played twice at senior level for Aspley and three times for the Lions.

Named as the emergency and seemingly the shadow player for Cornelius if he’s ruled out is Ben Fuller, a 17-year-old national level 50m/100m freestyle swimmer from Noosa.

He impressed with two goals in his only previous appearance for the Lions in Round 19 against Redland.

Cornelius, who kicked two goals against the Thunder last week for a 13-game NEAFL season total of 55, will go into the grand final as the Lions’ No.1 goal-kicker fitness permitting.

 Lisle is next best, having kicked a team-high five goals in the Northern Conference grand final last week to take his NEAFL tally in 17 games to an even 50 goals.

Other primary goal-kickers for the Lions have been Karnezis, with 22 goals in 14 NEAFL games, Hawksley (17 in 15), Callum Bartlett (17 in 19) and Buchanan (14 in 12). 

The 11 listed players named in the Lions side have played a total of 40 AFL games between them this year.

Niall McKeever (9), Cornelius (8) and Karnezis (7) head the list from Lisle (5), Hawksley (4), AFL 100-gamer Cheynee Stiller (3), Steve Wrigley (3) and Buchanan (1). This leaves Bartlett, Justin Clarke and Michael yet to play at AFL level.

In what shapes as a battle of will as much as one of football prowess, given the inevitable let down after such an emotional high of last Saturday, the Lions will face a Queanbeyan side that topped the Eastern Conference home-and-away ladder with a 15-3 win/loss record.

They finished a game ahead of the Sydney Swans Reserves in what was a phenomenal effort under 21-year-old first-year coach Kade Klemke after they’d won only four games and finished sixth in 2011.

It’s been a remarkable success story for one of the youngest senior coaches in football in both parts of Australia.

Klemke captained the Murray Bushrangers to a TAC Cup U18 premiership in 2008 and was rookie listed by Essendon in 2009.

He moved to South Adelaide in the SANFL for a short period in 2010 before returning to the Albury region due to family health issues.

 In just 10 games with North Albury in the Ovens and Murray League in 2010 he finished a creditable third in the club’s best and fairest.

In 2011 he coached Culcairn in the Hume League in 2011, taking the club to the minor premiership after a home-and-away season in which they lost only one game before missing the grand final.

Queanbeyan had an overall percentage of 153.14, and in two games against Northern Conference sides this year they lost by 55 points to Southport in Canberra in Round 12, and beat Broadbeach by 21 points at H&A Oval in Round 18.

Full forward James Kavanagh kicked 76 goals in 18 games to finish runner-up by a solitary goal to the Swans’ Mitch Morton for the conference goal-kicking trophy.

 But after a week off to start the finals the Tigers suffered a 55-point hiding from the Swans in the qualifying final.

 Ben Klemke, brother of the captain-coach, kicked four goals to be judged his side’s best player from Kaine Stevens, Ryan Quade, Neil Irwin, Jeremy Kirkwood and Toby Conroy. Kavanagh was held to just one goal.

The Eastern Conference minor premiers regrouped nicely to beat Eastlake, who had finished fourth in the home-and-away season, by 28 points in a preliminary final.

 Kikwood was best afield from Alex Overs, Jarrod Atkinson and Mitchell Heaslip, while the imposing Kavanagh was again well held, managing just two goals.

 So, Queanbeyan was drawn to play the Swans in the Eastern Conference grand final.

 In grand final week, Queanbeyan midfielder Will Griggs finished equal fourth in the Mulrooney Medal, the Eastern Conference equivalent to the Grogan Medal, with full forward Kavanagh finishing sixth.

Captain-coach Klemke, reappointed in August for next season, was named Coach of the Year, and seven Queanbeyan players were named in the Eastern Conference Team of the Year in which Queenslander Jesse White, in his sixth season on the Swans list, was named first ruck.

The Tigers Team of the Year representatives were Roy Jaques (fullback), Kade Klemke (back pocket), Josh Bruce (centre half back), Tony Conroy (wing), Kaine Stevens (half forward), Kavanagh (full forward) and Griggs (ruck-rover).

In the grand final at Manuka last Sunday Queanbeyan survived a last quarter surge from the Swans to win by 30 points and break a 12 year premiership drought.

The Swans led by three goals early but at halftime they benched gun pair Tony Armstrong and Tommy Walsh, emergencies for the AFL preliminary final against Collingwood tonight, to maximise their readiness if needed at AFL level.

Still they got to within nine points in the final term before the Tigers rallied to win 18.13 (121) to 13.13 (91).

Kavanagh and Daniel Campbell kicked five goals apeice, while silky-skilled midfielder Stevens won the Alex Jesaulenko Medal as best afield from Campbell, Griggs, Heaslip, Kavanagh and Sam Jensen.

But in a serious blow to Queanbeyan’s NEAFL championship hopes, Griggs was ruled out midweek when he received a one-game suspension for striking Sydney Swans onballer Jed Lamb in the second quarter last Sunday.

It was an incident which left Lamb curled up on the ground for several minutes before he was helped from the ground, but he was able to play out the game.

The incident led to a melee, for which both clubs accepted undisclosed fines.

Also, Tigers ruckman Neil Irwin was referred to the video review panel, also for striking, but an early plea allowed him to accept a reprimand and 67.5 points towards any future incident. Griggs also earned 12.5 carry-over points.

Paul Franchi was also ruled out of the Queanbeyan side for the championship game as the Tigers named midfielder Matt Liddle in the starting line-up and four new faces on an extended interchange bench – Nathan Kerlin, Beau Watts, Kieran Shea and James Manie.

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