A 32-disposal haul from Hunter Clark and a four-goal bag from Max King has almost steered Sandringham to a narrow victory over Essendon.
Both reaffirmed their high draft rankings at Trevor Barker Beach Oval, despite Sandringham ultimately going down to the Bombers by 13 points in the 13.9 (87) to 15.10 (100) result.
Clark’s sleek ball use and strength when bursting free from the stoppages was a highlight all afternoon, with his breakout second quarter (14 disposals, one goal) almost turning the tide in the Zebras’ favour.
The 20-year-old wasn’t alone, with Ben Long’s (15 disposals) strong inside work complementing Billy Longer’s supremacy in the ruck contests (57 hit-outs), while Nick Coffield was well measured across half-back with 22 touches.
King’s run and launch at the footy, meanwhile, only confirmed his aerial capabilities as the prospective forward clunked six marks; five of which resulted in shots on goal.
But despite King’s four majors and Bailey Rice’s pair, it wasn’t enough to will Sandringham to its fourth consecutive win of the season.
Aided by the favourable breeze, the Bombers booted seven goals to two in the opening term to establish what would ultimately be a match-winning buffer.
Max King's impressive four-goal haul led the way for the Zebras.
The Zebras had their turn in the second quarter with five straight goals of their own, and despite coming within a point midway through the third term, were unable to snatch the lead in the last.
Sandringham coach Aaron Hamill nonetheless praised his side’s resolve throughout the afternoon, despite the result not going in their favour.
“The pleasing part was there was no towel thrown in,” Hamill told saints.com.au.
We kept punching right until the end and a few of the boys were spent, but I thought we fought on pretty bravely.”
“In the critical moments we didn’t take opportunities like [Essendon] did and they were able to withstand a fair bit of our heat and execute under pressure a little bit more than what we were.”
Essendon’s ability to pounce upon turnovers and forward 50 efficiency (54% from 48 entries) was telling against that of Sandringham, who won the inside 50 count by six for three less scoring shots.
And while it’s an area Hamill noted would need to be tidied up, he was on the whole pleased by his side’s defensive efforts.
Although the Zebras didn’t defend as strongly one-on-one compared to previous weeks, the labours of the half-back line were once again present across the afternoon.
Billy Longer dominated in the ruck, winning 57 hit-outs.
Ex-Bomber Nicholas Hind utilised his dash to finish with 20 disposals, Brandon White enjoyed another consistent performance with his 21 touches and Oscar Clavarino built upon his return from injury with five marks.
Darragh Joyce meanwhile stood tall with a team-high seven marks, and even booted an unlikely major from outside 50 as part of the Zebras’ five-goal streak in the second quarter.
David Armitage was ruled out of the match with concussion in the third term, but threaded through an impressive major in the pocket before bowing out of the contest.
His absence was counteracted by the arrival of Doulton Langlands, who pieced together a 15-disposal performance after missing the past month with concussion symptoms sustained against Williamstown.
Ex-Bomber Nicholas Hind was once again influential across half-back.
New recruit Sam Rowe was impacted after receiving a heavy knock to his AC joint in the second half but played out the rest of the game across half-forward.
Yet despite King’s display up forward and Long’s aggression through the middle, it was Clark who made the most pressing case for a recall.
Joining White, Hind and several others vying for a senior berth, the pick No. 7 took another step towards spending more time in St Kilda colours as he builds confidence and refines particular aspects of his game.
Sandringham will do battle against the Northern Blues next Sunday at Marvel Stadium as a curtain-raiser to St Kilda’s match with Carlton.
SANDRINGHAM 2.1 7.5 10.5 13.9 (87)
ESSENDON 7.4 8.5 12.9 15.10 (100)
Sandringham: King 4, Rice 2, Seaton 2, Armitage, Carroll, Clark, Fox, Joyce
Essendon: Younan 4, Myers 3, Clarke, Ham, Hocking, Landt, Laverde, Ridley, Sibbald, Smith
Sandringham: Clark, King, Longer, Coffield, Long, White, Hind, Joyce
Essendon: Myers, Younan, Clarke, McKenna, Laverde