Confidence is a wonderful thing and it’s something that has hit the gold rush country at TAC Cup level in the past month. North Ballarat Rebels’ season has begun, albeit a month too late, winning its past four games to level its win-loss ratio at 4-4. After a tumultuous start that threatened to derail another season for David Loader’s boys, they have won the last four including the previously undefeated Oakleigh Chargers.
It would be easy to point out that two of the wins – the Northern Knights and Gippsland Power – have come against sides that have been in equally as bad form, with some class, but an profound drop off after the few top-liners. Nonetheless, it is the Rebels’ latest win that has many fans buoyant about their chances this season.
North Ballarat Rebels hosted the Sandringham Dragons at Eureka Stadium last week with a number of players missing from the away side. While names such as Angus Brayshaw and Brayden Maynard were missing, the Dragons still contained an outfit with grunt and class, illustrated by Taylor Grace and Michael Manteit.
While admittedly, the Rebels only have a few big names that earned Vic Country selection, the side itself is playing incredibly well. Against the Dragons, they had no less than 11 individual goal scorers, with six of them kicking multiple goals.
They might not have an accumulator like Taylor Grace, or indeed Matthew Crouch last year, but they have a side that has experienced the highs and lows of the past two seasons. In 2012, the Rebels earned the minor premiership before being bundled out in the finals. Last year, they finished bottom of the TAC Cup sides, struggling to kick 10 goals a game.
Despite the margin being 89 points by the final siren, the highest possession getters for the Rebels were Nicholas Weightman and Josh Webster with 23 disposals. They shared it around with Tom Templeton (22 disposals), Sam Bennett (21 disposals) and Oscar McDonald (20 disposals). Contrast this with the Dragons who had Taylor Grace a whopping 40 disposals. The next highest? Michael Manteit and Sam Kelly with just 15 disposals. This indicates that while the Rebels might not have that huge ball winner, their midfield is beginning to click and work as a team.
While critics might argue that depleted Oakleigh and Sandringham sides as well as the equally disappointing Northern Knights and Gippsland Power might not be huge scalps, the fact of the matter is that they are now sitting eighth after being rock bottom a month ago. The huge win over the Dragons also moved their percentage into the positive, with a solid 100.52 per cent.
Without a doubt, the biggest question is, how far can they go? In all honesty, they don’t have the cattle to compete with the classier full-strength sides. But they could notch up enough wins to play finals and give their under-age players a taste of finals football. History tells us that of the past five seasons, eight to nine wins will book a finals spot. If the Rebels continue their current form, they make a reservation at Visy Park in the first week of September.
Next week they travel to face the Murray Bushrangers, another very winnable game. It is those so called “eight-point” games because the Bushrangers sit in ninth, just percentage behind the Rebels and a win will give them breathing space. Following the Bushies, they face the Stingrays and Jets. Both incredibly tough games, but with players potentially rested due to Victorian representative duties, weakened sides could work in the Rebels’ favour. A week later, even a weakened Geelong Falcons is a top-four side in its own right, so the Rebels would be keen to look to the next three matches against the Eastern Ranges, Queensland and Tasmania which could see three fruitful wins occur. They then finish off the season with tough encounters against top two full-strength sides in Calder and Oakleigh.
Put simply, the ball is in the Rebels’ court. There are four very winnable games from their remaining matches: Murray Bushrangers, Eastern Ranges, Queensland and Tasmania. In that time they’ll play weakened sides in the Dandenong Stingrays and Western Jets too. This isn’t to say they’ll win all six, but they need at least four to give themselves a shot at playing in September.
I think deep down both internally and externally, most TAC Cup sides know there are arguably four sides that can win the flag. But as the saying goes, you have to be in it to win it and if the Rebels continue their sensational form, then they will certainly be in it. Can they win it? Well that’s something we’ll find out in the next two months.