TAC Cup finals preview: Western Jets

Despite a talented list, it looked as though the Jets were in for frustrating season as they dropped their opening three games to premiership contenders, Calder, Sandringham and Oakleigh. However a thumping 124-point victory against the travelling Northern Territory put the Jets back on the map.

They carried that form into their next four rounds, winning four games on the trot against the Stingrays, Power, Pioneers and Knights before fading away to the Geelong Falcons at Avalon Airport Oval in round nine.

At the midway point of the year, the Jets remained an enigma. They sat 5-5 after round 10, and slipped further down the table after consecutive losses to North Ballarat, Calder and the Bushrangers that saw them sitting outside of the top eight. However, the Jets came home strong with wins kicking 14.14 against NSW/ACT and Sandringham to win by 63 points and 53 points respectively, bumping up their percentage and getting them back on the winners list, before a 17-point win against the Stingrays at full strength.

The Jets would be ruing a missed opportunity to lock in a top-four chance after they failed to defeat Gippsland on the road, falling to the Power by just two points that has seen the Jets drop from third to sixth.

WESTERN JETS

Coach: Torin Barker
Talent manager: Shane Sexton
Captain: Liam McMahon
Leading goalkicker: Jayden Laverde (15 goals)
Final place: Sixth
Win/Loss: 9/8
Best win: Round 16 win against Sandringham Dragons at Burbank Oval
Poorest loss: Round 18 loss against Gippsland Power – cost them a top four spot
Finals threat: Calder Cannons – haven’t managed to beat them in 2014

The gun: Liam Duggan

Is there a more polished and eloquent player than Liam Duggan? The gun midfielder has had a brilliant season that seen him take home the Ben Mitchell medal in the AFL-AIS squad, enjoy Vic Metro caps as well as leading his school side St Patrick’s to the Herald Sun Shield title. However for the Jets, he has been a picture of consistency, and has shown just how influential he can be. The great thing about him is he can play any role well, proving to be the match-winner against the Northern Knights in a come-from-behind victory that netted three final-quarter goals off four disposals. He comes into the finals series with an average of 23 disposals under his belt from his previous two games. Look for Duggan to use his polished disposal and goal-kicking ability for a cut-throat elimination final against Dandenong.

The smokey: Jackson Volpato

A creative and elusive small forward, Jackson Volpato might be small in stature but he is certainly big on impact. He has bagged 10 goals this season, and although that may not be a big figure off his 14 games this year, his tackling capacity and defensive pressure has paved an important part of the Jets’ ability to lock the ball deep in their forward line so often in 2014. Averaging 6.7 tackles this year, Volpato is more than just a role player, he is an important avenue to goal and his pressure acts in the Jets’ attacking forward half have often created scoring opportunities for his side. Featuring in the Jets’ best on six occasions this year, he will demand close monitoring throughout the finals series, and given his capacity to play off a forward flank and offer cameo appearances through the midfield, he’ll quickly cause headaches if given enough leash.

Mr Consistent: Corey Ellis

The hard working, blue collar midfielder rarely has a bad game. Corey Ellis has been in sensational form this year, both at TAC Cup and National Championships level for Vic Metro. The widely tipped first-round draft prospect does everything with minimal fuss and is a fan favourite among TAC Cup fans with a stunning left foot and a crafty sidestep in which he sucks opposition players in with. Ellis’ big tank means he gets to plenty of contests, and he racks up large disposal numbers with ease, averaging 22 disposals from his eight games this season. He is a marking threat, and more importantly has shown on many occasions this year he can push forward to goal with a thumping left foot that appears effortless for Ellis. He is the type of player who just makes things happen, a productive and busy midfielder who can really have a say in the outcome of a game.

The x-factor: Jayden Laverde

The debate of the finals series so far has been about who is going to be able to go toe-to-toe with Jayden Laverde. The powerful utility is blessed with a rare combination of speed, athleticism and incredible hurt factor which could make him the deal breaker for the Jets during the finals. Laverde is a sublime mover; he glides through the wings with poise and speed, and loves to cut through congestion with long strides where he can burst out from a contested situation and run the ball, propelling his team into attack. With terrific composure and a knack to always bob up, he showed through the Championships just how dangerous he could be when he was shifted forward, kicking 15 goals this year for the Jets. Given his attributes, he is able to play an array of positions but looks at his most dangerous when played forward of centre. He averages 28 disposals, one goal and 5.5 marks from his two outings against Dandenong this season, and he’s expected to deliver more of the same against the Stingrays this weekend.

Under the radar: Brayden Monk

Monk would arguably be leading the odds to take home Western’s best and fairest this year. He has been a revelation this year and has floated heavily under the radar among his more star-studded cohorts. Averaging a respectable 18.8 disposals this year, along with 3.6 marks and 2.6 tackles, to be leading the way at the Jets for times named in the best, Monk plies his trade predominately off a wing, where his ability to run the ball and break lines with his speed and attacking mentality see his influence through the roof. For that, he is highly regarded internally.

The match winner: Connor Menadue

A match winner if you’ve ever seen one, Connor Menadue is an explosive yet nimble midfielder who cracks in hard and does some serious damage whenever he’s in possession. Menadue’s ability to cut open a game with his speed and penetrating kick makes him an exciting prospect during finals, but more importantly he has bagged 14 goals this year to be second on the Jets’ goal-kicking tally. More often than not, teams don’t have a match up for Menadue which gives the Jets a real point of difference and as such he forms the cornerstone of Western’s arsenal. A real play maker, Menadue has shown his link-up work from the back half can be devastating, so too his tendency to run and carry the ball, breaking lines and setting up play further afield with a rapid style of play. Jets players will be looking to get the ball into the hands of Menadue against Dandenong this weekend, and for as long as the Jets can push this finals series.

The finals specialist: Dillon Viojo-Rainbow

Western’s super-boot is tipped to do some serious damage throughout the finals, and given his Shannon Hurn-like thumping left kick, Dillon Viojo-Rainbow’s ability to repel attack from defence will go a long way to ensuring that the Jets come up with a first-week win. He hits the ball hard, flat and over long distances, while his intercept marking is also a strength of his. On top of that, he has a deft touch at ground level and makes good decisions with the ball. He can be relied upon to take kick ins, and is often the Western Jets’ link-up player in defence, getting involved heavily in scoring chains. It wouldn’t be beyond the Stingrays to look at playing a defensive forward on ‘DVR’, but given he likes to work up the ground, he’ll be breaking the hearts of the opposition if he’s allowed to win the ball on a wing and send a thumping long ball inside 50.

FINALS PREDICTION: Preliminary finalists

This list cannot be taken for granted, especially considering the amount of top-line talent that’ll be drafted later in the year. The Jets could really cause a stir and should push all the way through to a preliminary final appearance. It wouldn’t be beyond the Jets to take a big scalp, and if there was a dark horse to feature in this year’s Grand Final it’d certainly be them.

FINALS FACT:

The Jets have kicked 122 goals combined for the year from Brayden Monk (10), Braedon Colletta (11), Brenton Payne (13), Connor Menadue (14), Jackson Volpato (10), Jayden Laverde (15), Liam Duggan (14), Mark Orr (10), Mitch Norton (14) and Tylar Vujanic (11) to average 7.1 goals per game, which is more than half the score required to win a TAC Cup game on average.

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