The North Ballarat Rebels have won their last eight games to leap to third on the TAC Cup ladder. That streak in itself would be impressive for a team in any league, but there’s just something more to account for when it has been earned by this young team from Western Victoria. After a dismal 2013 season in which the Rebels won only two games, they started out this season in similar fashion, losing their first four games. These losses included games against the currently 12th-placed Bendigo Pioneers and the ninth-placed Murray Bushrangers.
By round six, everybody in the league would have written the team off for yet another year, however there was resurgence from within the club. With the Rebels facing off against the ladder leaders and unbeaten Oakleigh Chargers, the then-12th placed Rebels were adamant their side needed to turn things around quickly. Four debutants were brought in for the May 4 clash – James Gow, Sam Dunstan, Joel Cowan and Billy Lloyd. This had brought the total number of first-year players for the season to 13. In a low-scoring affair, much like the games the Rebels were used to in recent times, they eventually sneaked home to knock off the ladder leaders by three points.
Magical? Perhaps so. But as we’ve come to learn from the club, it was definitely not a fluke of any sort. The Rebels have gone on to win every game since while also keeping the blood of young players flowing through the club. It’s a testament to the organisation that they were able to manage and overcome the major difficulties of what appeared to be a road leading to yet another unsuccessful season.
There are plenty of things to celebrate at the moment but for rising star and Rebel Darcy Tucker, there’s one accolade that he will be cherishing the most. The young star from Horsham was named across the back line in the 2014 Under 18 All-Australian team. He is the only player to make the side from the Rebels and he is one of five players from across the nation to make the side as a bottom-aged player. Tucker, born in 1997, has become a revelation for the Rebels this season, averaging 18.6 disposals, 4.9 marks and 3.1 tackles across the eight games he’s played for the side this season.
The Rebels will face the Eastern Ranges this round, who are the reigning premiers, and it is a game where they would be expected to extend their streak further. The Ranges currently sit eighth on the ladder with five wins and seven losses. Looking forward after this game, the Rebels run home consists of a clash with part-time competitors, Queensland, Tasmania and then two very tough matches against the Calder Cannons and Oakleigh Chargers, again. Oakleigh and Calder close out the top two on the TAC Cup ladder, but with the strong momentum that’s sure to cultivate with should-win games, the Rebels are a force to be reckoned with themselves.
The Rebels will welcome co-captain Keegan Mason back into their side, who was a late omission from last week’s performance against the Geelong Falcons down in Warrnambool. The Eastern Ranges hold one of the most exciting young prospects for this year’s AFL Draft in Christian Petracca. He will be a player to watch after his inclusion into the Under 18 All-Australian side and being awarded the Larke Medal for being the best player in division one of the AFL Under-18 Championships.
The North Ballarat vs. Eastern clash takes place tomorrow at Box Hill City Oval at 1pm.