The Sandringham Zebras have played out a draw against the Brisbane Lions VFL side in windy conditions at Wilson Storage Trevor Barker Beach Oval on Saturday afternoon.
Photography: Mark Woods
The Zebras led the game by 23 points at three-quarter-time but just couldn’t hold on as the Lions used their final quarter breeze advantage to tie the final scores at 79 apiece.
Jack Bytel was immense for Sandringham and had a well-rounded game collecting a team-high 26 disposals, a game-high 13 tackles to go along with two goals.
Other strong performances came from Jack Billings (24 disposals, seven inside-50s and three goals), Tom Highmore (22 disposals and six marks), Tyson Milne (22 disposals and three intercept marks) and Darby Hipwell (20 disposals, a team-high six clearances and five tackles).
Kicking with the wind in the first term the Zebras put the second-placed Lions on the backfoot early booting the first three goals of the match.
Milne set the tone running back with the flight of the ball to take a strong mark and propel the Zebras into attack as Bytel hit up Isaac Keeler who turned onto his left foot and bulleted a pass for Billings to mark overhead. Billings went back and slotted the first goal of the game from just inside the 50-metre arc.
Sandringham continued to apply pressure as Hipwell won a clearance from a forward-50 stoppage, taking on a tackler before firing the handball to Jake Lohmann. In a single motion, Lohmann shot his handball to Tomoya Owens who found Bytel in the pocket and the midfielder summed up the situation to perfection dribbling the ball through for a goal past two despairing Lions’ defenders.
Late in the first quarter the Zebras transitioned the ball from the back pocket and Leo Connolly capped off a fantastic team goal as he hammered the ball home from just outside 50. Connolly has averaged 20 disposals across his 11 matches for Sandringham this season.
The Lions kicked a goal late in the first term to make the margin 14 points at quarter-time in favour of Sandringham.
At the start of the second quarter, and despite kicking into the breeze, Sandringham kept attacking as Vince Zagari won a holding free kick and converted the set shot to extend the margin.
Jack Peris then won a clearance, sidestepped his direct opponent and curled the ball through to make it two in a row and a 26-point advantage for the Zebras.
As the quarter wore on, transitioning the ball from the defensive end became increasingly difficult. Late in the term Zaine Cordy managed to work off his opponent to intercept and allow Sandringham to push up the ground. Bytel was then taken down in a dangerous tackle and converted the set shot from a slight angle to answer three consecutive goals by the Lions.
Another late burst of goals from Brisbane saw the Zebras facing a two-point deficit at the main break.
Early in the third term Bytel was taken down after he disposed of the ball which caused a scuffle on Sandringham’s half-forward line. Billings kicked a goal from the resulting downfield free kick to give the Zebras the lead.
As the match started to settle down once more, Matthew Harms controlled the ball off a marking contest and snapped brilliantly over his head. Moments later, Tom Blamires pounded a long handball and a quick kick fell to Harms again but this time he couldn’t convert what would have been two goals in as many minutes.
With the ball firmly locked in the Zebras' forward half, Ollie Lowe pushed up to defend and took an intercept mark inside 50. His set shot sailed straight through the middle.
In yet another play-of-the-day type moment for the Zebras, Zak Jones streamed through the middle of the ground, evaded a tackle and handballed to Ollie Hotton who broke the 50-metre arc and fired home his first goal for Sandringham.
Saints-listed players Jones (14 disposals and five tackles) and Daniel McKenzie (11 disposals and three marks) played their first game of the season for Sandringham showing promising signs in their return from injury.
To cap off a strong third term for the Zebras, Captain Anthony Seaton won the ball and kicked it long to Billings who outpointed his opponent and marked on the edge of 50. Billings settled himself and blasted the set shot home to make it five of the last six goals for Sandringham and a 23-point lead at the final break.
Needing to hang on in the last quarter, the Zebras defended resolutely, highlighted by Cordy who took three contested marks and repelled numerous Brisbane attacks.
Despite keeping the Lions goalless until the 20-minute mark of the final term, Brisbane were able to kick three majors late and tie the game at 79.
The result means Sandringham remain 16th on the ladder after 14 rounds of the 2023 Smithy’s VFL season, three wins off the Wildcard Round spots. Next week the Zebras play against Werribee at Avalon Airport Oval on Saturday July 1, with the first bounce at 1:05pm.