The Sandringham Zebras defeated Williamstown at Wilson Storage Trevor Barker Beach Oval to win the Les Twentyman Cup – played to raise awareness for at-risk youth – in the final game of the 2023 Smithy’s VFL season.
Photography: Mark Woods
After a strong first quarter in which Sandringham kicked six goals to none, the Zebras continued to pile on the pressure and came out 35-point winners.
Jack Hayes up forward patrolled the skies and demonstrated his elite finishing skills to boot six goals for the match.
Down back, Nick Coffield repelled the Seagulls all Sunday afternoon to finish the game with 20 disposals and four marks.
Other standout performances came from Jack Billings (team-high 22 disposals, three tackles and a goal), Anthony Caminiti (11 disposals, two goals and seven marks) and Noah Gown (15 disposals, two goals and a team-high seven tackles).
The Zebras had a dream start to the game as Jack Bytel’s clearance from the first centre bounce was marked by Caminiti. His shot didn’t register a score but proved to be a sighter for his second set shot moments later as it sailed through from just inside 50.
Desperate defence from Oscar Adams led to a Ryan Byrnes crumb off half-back as Sandringham transitioned the ball forward. Tomo Owens marked the ball down low and he instantaneously handballed to Jack Billings who finished smartly from the pocket.
Billings soon paid it forward as he forced a turnover which allowed Tarkyn O’Leary to break clear and finish at full pace – making it three goals in a row for the Zebras to start the game.
With Sandringham set up well behind the ball and intense pressure not allowing Williamstown to settle, Zagari’s kick was marked by Hayes around 25 metres from goal. Hayes made no mistake with the set shot.
The Zebras continued to share the ball well as Coffield found Bytel who in turn passed to Hayes and his kick inside 50 was marked by O’Leary. O’Leary couldn’t hit Owens on the lead but the Sandringham Dragons' youngster buttered up and, from a tight angle, squeezed the ball through for his second major.
Late in the first quarter Sandringham Vice-Captain Darby Hipwell showed great composure as he ran towards goal and shaped a kick to Owens in the pocket. Owens’ set shot sailed through the middle to make it six straight goals for the term and a 35-point lead at quarter-time.
Sandringham continued to signal their intent early in the second quarter as Coffield denied Williamstown’s first goal by touching the ball over the line. Despite the best efforts of the Sandringham defenders, Williamstown kicked the next two majors of the game.
Adams and Captain Anthony Seaton took multiple intercept marks to try and swing momentum Sandringham’s way. After slowing down the pace with some kick-mark action, the Zebras broke the run of goals through former Seagull Gown.
Matthew Allison’s forward-50 entry was roved by Jack Peris and the ball fell to Hayes for a left-footed finish – his second goal of the match.
Tom Campbell then sent the ball deep inside the Zebras’ attacking 50 and Caminiti extended his arms to take a strong overhead mark. His set shot narrowly missed but moments later Caminiti put himself in a dangerous position yet again. This time he made no mistake and kicked his second goal of the game.
Caminiti turned provider as his inside-50 was controlled by Hayes who finished expertly with a snap over his own head. Hayes’ third goal of the game gave Sandringham a 46-point lead at half-time.
Sandringham won the territory battle to start the second half but Williamstown kicked the first two majors to trim the margin. The Zebras continued to press and yet another Hayes bomb – his fourth of the game – was a necessary reply.
Another three goals in a row for the Seagulls meant a 22-point Zebras lead at three-quarter-time.
With everything on the line in the final term, the Zebras won the opening clearance and locked the ball in the attacking side of the ground for the first five minutes. Hipwell reacted quickest to a loose ball at the top of the goal-square and his snap scraped through for the first major of the final term.
As the match wore on it became increasingly tough and contested. Max Heath and Coffield stuck strong tackles to ensure nothing came easy for the opposition.
Eventually, the Zebras broke clear and a long kick from Hayes was juggled by Gown just inside 50. The Zebras forward turned midfielder soaked up the pressure and slotted the set shot.
Hayes was then presented with a free kick from a ruck contest and calmly slotted his fifth goal of the game. From the resulting centre bounce Tom Campbell’s quick kick found Heath who created some separation from his direct opponent and held onto a low mark. His set shot was true.
Late in the match Hayes latched onto a Caminiti entry to register his sixth goal and seal a 35-point win for the Zebras which also denied Williamstown a spot in the top four.
The result means the Zebras finish the season in 16th place, but with reason for optimism in 2024 having finished this year with two victories in a row.