TAC Cup finals preview: Murray Bushrangers

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If you think the Murray Bushrangers are here just to make up the numbers, be warned. They won’t be exiting this finals series quietly.

The Bushrangers enter the finals series with some strong form to go on, winning four out of their past five games, with a six-goal loss to Calder in round 16 the only blemish to speak of.

Nonetheless, the Bushrangers have been bolstered this year, with a number of over-age players including Nathan Drummond and Daniel Howe who’ve enjoyed stints for Vic Country throughout he National Championships, whilst several players also played at the National Carnival, albeit for NSW/ACT Rams.

The Bushrangers have had an even year, and will look forward to their young squad tasting finals pressure. They started the year off with a win against Bendigo Pioneers in a close finish at Deakin Reserve, but fell to the Gippsland Power in round two. It was somewhat of a patter for weeks after, with the Bushrangers notching a win against current top-four side North Ballarat, before dropping games to the Eastern Ranges and Calder Cannons in succession. Murray found a steadier against NSW/ACT Rams and Sandringham Dragons, beating the latter by just two points at home which will give the Bushie’s confidence heading into the elimination final against their metro counterparts.

Four games during the season however were lost by under 10 points, which gives an indication that had it not been for a little more fortune, the Bushrangers could be much further up the ladder than where they have ultimately ended up. One of those in particular, one came against eventual second-placed Oakleigh, of which Murray fell an agonising three-points short of a picking off the predicted Grand Finalists. On the contrary, Murray showed their steel against Sandringham and Western Jet’s in close encounters, whilst come-from-behind victory against Bendigo in the final round despite being undermanned, and a terrific win against Eastern Ranges to sew-up a finals spot displayed their desire to make the most of their late-August, and hopefully September action.

MURRAY BUSHRANGERS

Coach: Darren Ogier 
Talent manager: Lee Fraser
Captain: Nick Mellington
Leading Goal kicker:  Josh Schache (26 Goals)
Final place: Eighth
Win/Loss: 9/8
Best win:  20-point win against Eastern Ranges to secure a finals spot
Poorest loss:  50-point loss to Calder Cannons in Round 6
Finals threat: Calder – The Bushrangers have lost to the Cannons for a combined 86 points this season.

The Gun: Nathan Drummond

Overlooked in last year’s National Draft due to injuries that destroyed his 2014 season, Nathan Drummond has returned with a vengeance that has seen consistent form and further development into a gun utility for the Bushies. Drummond comes into the Finals Series as arguably the competitions most in-form player, finishing with two best afield honours in Murray’s last two games in nail-bitting wins, reflecting Drummond’s impact in close games. Drummond enjoyed 36 possessions and 13 clearances last week against Bendigo, and has average 26 disposals for the year in 2014. He’s tasted senior VFL action with Richmond in the VFL on three occasions, but importantly he’s bagged 10 goals from 13 TAC Cup games. As one of the major beneficiaries of the 19-year old system which allows three 19 year-olds the opportunity to play as an above-ager, Drummond has blossomed into a unique utility, with speed and boasts an impressive overhead mark, averaging 5.4 marks for the year. With an invite to the National Combine locked away, a move from a key post into a more varied role has bought out one of Drummond’s most devastating traits; his tackling which he averages 4.8 per game.

The Smokey: Brydan Hodgson

Averaging 20 disposals and big clearance numbers since the mid-way point of the year, Brydan Hodgson has set himself up to be one of the bigger Smokey’s going into this weekend’s cut-throat final. The GWS Giants Academy member had a quieter than usual campaign for the NSW/ACT Rams, but still managed to average four tackles, one goal and three marks per game off his 13 disposals over all three games. Nonetheless, his return to the Bushrangers since the National Carnival has seen him soar to new heights; dominating clearance numbers and hardball gets, whilst becoming an important part of Murray’s scoring chains.

Mr Consistent:  Isaac Muller

The towering yet well filled-out ruckman, Isaac Muller continued to make a big statement in his role the last few weeks. There isn’t anything flashy about Muller,  but he plays his role in the team to tee and is absolutely unbeatable in the air and at the stoppages. Of his 13 games this year, he leads the Bushrangers for times in best, featuring in that statistic on nine occasions. But more importantly, he has averaged a whopping 33 hitouts to advantage per game, to lead the way as the TAC Cup’s number one ruckman in that statistic. Muller has also yet to register below 25 hitouts in a game this year, giving an indication of not only his impact, but his consistency. Unlike most developing ruckman, Muller is physical, aggressive, he doesn’t mind body contact and given his pure strength and size he’s hard to displace in a grapple or in a marking contest.

The X Factor: Dan Howe

Like Drummond, Dan Howe is relishing another opportunity to re-join the Bushrangers in 2014 as an over-age prospect. Howe, who made a serious statement in his rebounding half back role for Vic Country and the National Championships announced him as a reliable type, with plenty to offer in that particular role. Given Howe’s size, athleticism and versatility Howe can play at either of the ground but his role in defence has shown up attributes such as a polished kick, a terrific mark and his elite ability to read the play. The one time forward has adjusted to life as a defender, and has shown he’s not afraid to back himself in to take a defensive grab – just the like the hanger he took against WA during the National Championships. With teammate Caleb Marchbank missing after a minor knee hiccup, Howe has the X-factor and the strings in his bow to make a statement this weekend.

Under The Radar: Mitchell Mahady

Mitch Mahady showed in patches in 2013 what he was capable of, representing the NSW/ACT Rams as a bottom age prospect. Again in 2014, Mahady – a GWS Giants Academy Member – is one of few players who go to another level post National Championships, which has been the case with Mahady’s second half of the year. In 2014 Mahady presented as a terrific forward flanker-cum-midfielder, kicking five goals from his six games last year, and started off with more of the same in the opening round of the season with four against Bendigo. Although he’s shifted to a defensive role this year, Mahady is best described as lively around the contest, he’s got a smooth side step, good vision and know’s exactly how to find a teammate with coolness under pressure. Mahady has a strong overhead mark and makes good decisions by foot. He should bob up and make onlookers take notice this weekend.

The Match Winner: Joshua Schache

If the surname sounds familiar, it’s because it is. Josh Schache is the son of the late and former Brisbane Bear, Laurence Schache who famously bagged 64 goals from 29 games over two seasons, winning the clubs leading goal kicker award in 1991. Josh is a top prospect for the 2015 draft but for now, he’s been Murray’s star anchor up forward and leads all comers at the Bushie’s with 26 goals this season as a 16-17 year old. Schache, who has terrific hands and a thumping left foot will back himself when pitted against the stronger bodies of the competitions top-age players, but he’s shown on numerous occasions that he’s up for the fight, already with innate physicality and aggression on his side. The 197 cm forward is still somewhat slender, but he quick and incredibly mobile and will mostly certainly need to be kept a close eye on given his match-winning capabilities.

Finals Specialist: Nick Mellington

Looking for a man to stand up when the heat is on? The Burshrangers skipper, Nick Mellington played a terrific game shutting down reigning Morrish Medallist Jacob Chisari last week, however the versatile big-bodied midfielder who verges on 90 kilograms loves nothing more than inspiring his teammates with selfless acts. Mellington, who is the younger brother of former Fremantle player Josh, has played a varying amount of roles this year, in particular up forward, across half back, through the midfield and even run-with roles. Like Drummond, Mellington has tasted senior VFL action for the Richmond Football Club and made a strong impression in his two games, to average 14 disposals, four marks and three tackles. Importantly for the Bushrangers, Mellington relishes playing the top sides of the competition; enjoying 32 disposals and nine tackles against Geelong and 32 disposals and five marks against Western Jets. Mellington’s tackling pressure with certainly come to the fore throughout the Bushrangers’ campaign, averaging near-one five per match.

FINALS PREDICTION: Elimination Finalist

With injuries hitting the Bushrangers of late, especially to star defender Caleb Marchbank, it’ll be tough seeing the Bushrangers beat Sandrigham despite a clean sheet against the Dragons. I’d be expecting them to give the Dragons a red-hot crack on Sunday with nothing to lose, but there isn’t enough top-end talent really poise a premiership threat to the likes of Oakleigh or Calder.

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