Rizzo stand-out in Stawell Gift heats

IN CONTROL: Reigning Stawell Gift champion Isaac Dunmall has time to glance across at his rivals on the line in his heat win.

IN CONTROL: Reigning Stawell Gift champion Isaac Dunmall has time to glance across at his rivals on the line in his heat win.

Matthew Rizzo has left no doubt he is the one to beat in the Stawell Gift.

TOP FANCY: Matt Rizzo might have looked puffed has he rocketed to victory in a Stawell Gift heat, but he was far from it. Pictures: Lachlan Bence

TOP FANCY: Matt Rizzo might have looked puffed has he rocketed to victory in a Stawell Gift heat, but he was far from it. Pictures: Lachlan Bence

Rizzo lived up to favouritism with a slashing heat win in the fastest time of the day of 12.10 seconds.

TOP TWO: Ballarat teenager Mason Keast, right, after finishing a close second to Nathan Riali, left, in a heat and qualifying for a semi-final.

TOP TWO: Ballarat teenager Mason Keast, right, after finishing a close second to Nathan Riali, left, in a heat and qualifying for a semi-final.

Running off 7.5m, the Langwarrin 18-year-old gapped his rivals in the 18th of 22 heats.

So convincing was the margin was that the second-placed Jack Newman (7m) was ranked 17 among the 20 fastest non-winners to progress to Monday’s semi-finals.

RELAXED: Nick MacGibbon from Peechelba in north-east Victoria looked to have something in hand as he took out a Gift heat in 12.65 seconds.

RELAXED: Nick MacGibbon from Peechelba in north-east Victoria looked to have something in hand as he took out a Gift heat in 12.65 seconds.

Nathan Riali (4.75m) from Yallambie produced the second fastest win on 12.32, closely followed by Will Roberts (4.5m) from Petersham on 12.33.

Rizzo, who was fifth in last year’s Stawell Gift final, said he was “stoked” with the run.

He said despite the strong support for him in the betting ring he had been unsure of his form going into the event.

Rizzo said he remained confident - "I believe I have more in me” – but was also certain that other semi-finalists would get quicker.

Will Roberts

Will Roberts

“I’m not feeling any pressure.”

Reigning champion Isaac Dunmall (4m) was buoyed by his heat victory.

The 21-year-old Queenslander had time to glance across at his rivals as he saluted in 12.47.

While it was tight –  the first four in the heat advanced to the semi-finals – Dunmall said he had race in his keeping well before the finish and felt good as he hit the line.

Dunmall is well aware he has an opportunity to create history by becoming just the second back-to-back Stawell Gift winner.

“No one expects someone to go back-to-back. It’s only been done once.”

Bill Howard won in 1966-67 to stamp himself as an Australian sporting legend.

"I saw a couple of weeks after I won that Bill Howard won this in 1966 and 1967. It's a possibility, but it's going to be very hard,” Dunmall said.

“The way he did it was pretty incredible, but if I can make a final I will be extremely happy.”

Daniel Sonsini (7.75m), Michael Romanin (4.75m) and Jayden Gilfillan (8.5m) are others to watch.

If enthusiasm counts, Will Roberts is certainly going to difficult to beat over the 120m. The NSW 17-year-old student gave a small fist pump and shared hand slaps with spectators after his 12.33-second win.

Roberts is fresh from taking the Australian under-20 200m title and finishing second in the under-20 100m.

He said he had not been completely happy with the nationals after having an ankle issue, but was totally focused for his first tilt at Stawell.

Roberts said he would be looking to relax as much as possible leading into the semi-finals.