After 16 rounds of enthralling football it has all come down to the last week with finals berths up for grabs for two teams and a double chance at stake for four others. The Geelong Falcons and Eastern Ranges are assured of a double chance while Oakleigh, Bendigo and North Ballarat are unable to make the finals this year.
Gippsland Power v Bendigo Pioneers
Gippsland have been in free fall in the past few weeks, sliding from third to seventh after a brutal fixture pitted them against Geelong, Northern, Eastern Ranges and Dandenong in the last four weeks. This leaves them without a double chance and in dangerous territory going into finals with a loss and Murray and Sandringham wins leaving them out of the finals. Bendigo have nothing but pride to play for this week, with Rebels assuring themselves of the wooden spoon, so even with a loss they can’t finish any lower than eleventh. The likes of Jordan Mangan and Sam Heavyside will want to have big games to leave one final impression in recruiter’s minds.
Key matchup: Sam Heavyside v Alex Carr
Heavyside has been arguably the best player for the Pioneers this year and for the Pioneers to have any chance of victory he needs to have a big game. Carr has had a super season which has seen him in contention for the BFGN Rising Stars Medal leading into the last game. He is the man who the Power trust with the ball in hand and is the one who will be feeding the dangerous Gippsland forwards.
Prediction: Gippsland by 80 points.
Murray Bushrangers v Northern Knights
The resurgent Northern Knights have come from the clouds in recent weeks and are now sitting just outside the top four going into the last week of the season. On the other hand, the Bushrangers have been sliding down the table and their finals campaign which looked so certain when they were sitting in the top four a few weeks ago is now in jeopardy. The additions of Ben Lennon and Marcus Bontempelli have breathed life into the Knights season and Murray must stop them if they are to win. This match has huge finals implications with a Knights win giving them a chance of a top four spot and a Bushrangers win will assure them of a finals spot.
Key matchup: Jake Sharp v Ben Lennon
Lennon is the dangerman for the Knights and it is no coincidence that their recent form has come after he returned to the team. He is likely to start at half forward and may move into the midfield but he is dangerous wherever he plays. Sharp is the best match up for Lennon and needs to keep him quiet but still provide all of the run and carry which has seen him have such a good season. It is an unenviable task but if Sharp can do it, the Bushrangers should win.
Prediction: Northern by 22 points.
Dandenong Stingrays v Geelong Falcons
This match pits the top placed Falcons against fellow premiership contenders Dandenong. Geelong have been the dominant team in the competition all year and possess a number of draft chances, particularly the dangerous Lewis Taylor who leads the BFGN Rising Stars Medal. The Falcons also have a lot of depth with under-agers Hugh Goddard, Jackson Nelson and Pat McCartin being among the more important players in the team. The Stingrays are a well drilled team and will provide stiff competition for the Falcons. The performances of Billy Hartung and Zac Jones will be key factors in this match and if they fire then the Stingrays are a big chance of pulling off an upset.
Key matchup: Bily Hartung v Lewis Taylor
Taylor has been the premier player in the competition this year and he is one that the Stingrays must stop. Hartung is perhaps Dandenong’s most important player and his run and carry is crucial to their chances. Whoever provides the most drive out of this match up will win this battle and their team should win.
Prediction: Geelong by 18.
Oakleigh Chargers v North Ballarat Rebels
This match is the only dead rubber in an exciting last week of TAC Cup as both sides are unable to make the finals. The Chargers will be extremely disappointed to be missing from September action, with their squad looking like one of the best in the competition on paper. But ultimately they have been hurt by the absence of many of their stars, like Jack Billings, due to school football. The Rebels have sown up the wooden spoon and will be looking to next year. Matt Crouch has been a shining light for the Rebels in a poor season and he will be hoping to have one last big game before moving to an AFL club next year.
Key matchup: Louis Herbert v Jay Kennedy-Harris
Kennedy-Harris has been one of Oakleigh’s best this year, rotating between the midfield and the half forward flank. Herbert has been excellent in a utility role and has played off a back flank, forward flank and on a wing so he shapes as the likely matchup for Kennedy-Harris. If Herbert can keep him quiet but still rack up possessions himself then the Rebels will go a long way towards winning the game.
Prediction: Oakleigh by 20.
Calder Cannons v Eastern Ranges
Calder have jumped into the top eight off a string of good performances in the last few weeks, with none more important than their thrilling after the siren victory over Geelong last weekend which assured them of a finals berth which looked unlikely midseason. A win for Calder in this match could see them finish in fourth spot with a double chance if both Northern and Western lose. Eastern Ranges are guaranteed a double chance and will finish second regardless of the result in this match so they have little to play for. Expect a the Cannons to come out firing and the Eastern Ranges to go blow for blow with them as neither team will want to head into finals coming off a loss.
Key matchup: Dan McStay v Peter Wright
Wright has been super for Calder this year and has been flying in recent weeks. Last week he was the match winner, kicking a goal with the last kick of the game to win the game. McStay has been one of Eastern’s best players and his rebound is crucial to their game plan. If Wright gets on top early it will force McStay to play closer to Wright and worry less about his offensive game, while if he can keep him quiet early it will give him confidence and freedom to chase kicks.
Prediction: Calder by 4 points.
Western Jets v Sandringham Dragons
Sandringham face a difficult task of defeating the Western Jets to give themselves a chance of playing finals. The Dragons go into this match knowing that a loss will end their season and even a win may not be enough if the Bushrangers and Power both win. The addition of Christian Salem, Josh Kelly and Nathan Freeman gives the Dragons much needed firepower in the midfield and the Jets will have to work hard to stop the best midfield in the completion from dominating. Western need a win to hang on to their double chance as Calder and Northern are circling at their feet. Liam Duggan, James Sicily and David Iaccarino all need to have big games for the Jets if they are to win this game against the star studded Dragons. If the Dragons manage to make the finals they will be a big threat to anyone, and could go all the way from eighth spot with the talent they have at their disposal.
Key matchup: James Sicily v Josh Kelly
The best players from the respective teams are likely to match up on each other and their influence on the game will go a long way to deciding the winner. Both are predominantly outside ball winners and are good users of the footy so the amount of ball they get and their delivery to their forwards will be crucial to their team’s chances. If the dangerous Sicily is able to drag Kelly forward and make an impact it will certainly help the Jets.
Prediction: Sandringham by 38 points.