In the first semi final on Sunday, the Murray Bushrangers take on the Oakleigh Chargers for the right to take on the North Ballarat Rebels in the preliminary final.
In the opening round of the finals, Oakleigh Chargers breezed past Gippsland Power in a 78-point belting, while the Murray Bushrangers hit the front late, but fell short by a goal against the Dandenong Stingrays.
Bound For Glory News will now look at the big question marks surrounding this game and how both sides can win.
1. The Schache factor
Lets face it, the majority of people who attend the TAC Cup finals without having seen a game before are fans of lower AFL clubs who have missed the finals and could pick up a star teenager.
Josh Schache appears Brisbane or Carlton-bound and will be a key factor in the Murray Bushrangers push to the next round.
He was beaten by Kieran Collins on the weekend, one of the few men who he has lowered his colours to over the course of the season, so Schache will be keen to have a big game this weekend.
Oakleigh defenders, Sam McLarty and Jack Firns will have their work cut out for them, with Harry Thompson also having the flexibility to go into defence if required.
Oakleigh might use Tom Phillips or Daniel Beddison in the same way Dandenong used Daniel Capiron – as a loose man dropping into the hole in front of Schache.
This will go a long way to nullifying him, but at the same time, Murray’s other forwards such as Max Canfield, Murray Waite and Zac Sproule have the ability to punish opponents if too much attention is paid to Schache.
2. Oakleigh’s frantic ball movement
Both elimination final winners won with fantastic ball movement from start to finish, moving the ball quickly in transition to stop the opposition setting up in defence.
The game against Gippsland was quite open, whereas Murray’s match against Dandenong was tight and contested.
This could mean that Murray players are likely to be a bit sorer coming off their match, but it also means that Oakleigh players did not have as much pressure applied to them as what they’ll receive this weekend.
It will be a great test to see if they can continue to move the ball with the same ease and hitting targets.
Murray defenders rarely panic and are well set up, with midfielders dropping back to help out when required.
If the Chargers can continue their ball movement, it will go a long way to winning the contest, but they have to make the most of their chances.
3. Beware the smalls
Both sides have very talented medium and small midfielder-forwards who can hurt oppositions once the ball hits the ground.
Murray’s Jy Simpkin and Will Brodie are two names that will feature high in next year’s draft, with goal sense and ability to be at the drop of the ball a feature to their game.
For Oakleigh, Ben Crocker’s ability to take marks on the lead or crumb is a feature of his game.
Patrick Phillips and Patrick Kerr, who albeit is that undersized tall, also know how to find the goals from a loose ball.
While much is talked about the big key forwards, the winner of this match could well be the one whose smalls have the most impact.
What do Murray need to do to win?
1. Pressure the ball carrier
Absolute must for the Bushrangers if they are to win. Oakleigh did as they pleased for much of the game against Gippsland, particularly late and Murray cannot afford to give them the same luxury.
Pressure the ball carrier and run defensively as well as offensively, and the battle is halfway won. They are good at it, they would pride themselves on it and Oakleigh love to run. Stop them at having the game on their own terms.
2. Don’t be too Schache conscious
Yes, Josh Schache is the best forward in the league.
But no, you don’t need to kick it to him every time, because Max Canfield, Zac Sproule and Murray Waite are no slouches either.
The Oakleigh defenders will be watching Schache and while there’s a good chance they might not be able to stop him anyway, making them question whether he’s the option the midfielders are looking for, will cause all sorts of headaches.
3. Don’t be afraid to bomb it long to contests
Murray forwards are good overhead and the small forwards are some of the league’s best crumbers.
Murray midfielders should not be afraid to boot long to a contest, because if the numbers are right, Murray will win it more often than not.
There’s a reason they finished third on the ladder and if they can particularly use the run of David Mennen, the ball movement can unsettle the defence and lead to good one-on-one contests.
What do Oakleigh need to do to win?
1. Back themselves in
Oakleigh will go into this contest as underdogs, but they must have the belief they can topple Murray.
While the Bushrangers have the more consistent team on the park, Oakleigh have a number of players that can have “out-of-the-box” games, where guys like Ben Crocker can kick a bag, or Harry Thompson or even Patrick Phillips.
Oakleigh must go forward at every opportunity, not haphazardly, but going laterally or backwards is only going to give Murray more time to set up.
Look forward and kick it there, even if it is a short kick, move the ball down the ground and use the faster forwards to find space.
2. Use the extra day to advantage
Usually the qualifying finals are both played on the Saturday in the first week of finals, with the elimination finals played on the Sunday, to give the top four teams an extra day’s rest ahead of the week two finals.
This year, Oakleigh had the advantage of playing on the Saturday, and early Saturday at that, while Murray played the late game on Sunday.
While it is only an extra day, the young bodies are not that of experienced AFL players, so every day could count.
If Oakleigh can wither an early storm, which would be expected to come from Murray, then they could run them off their feet
The Chargers need to be within a sniff at three quarter time and they would back themselves in to finish stronger.
3. Get Ben Crocker one-on-one
If the Chargers are to win, Ben Crocker needs to have a big game.
He starred against Gippsland and he needs much of the same against Murray.
Not too dissimilar to past Oakleigh mid/forward Jack Billings in style, Crocker is strong overhead and equally adept on the lead or at ground level.
He is so hard to match up on, because he is too quick for key defenders and too strong for small defenders.
If Oakleigh can get Crocker one-on-one in the goalsquare, clear out the forward 50 and kick it either into the space, if on a key defender, or to the goalsquare if on a smaller defender, he will win the contest more often than not.
Murray had a tough game last week and they should be looking to jump out of the blocks and put on a match-winning lead to sit back and rest up in the last quarter for the preliminary final.
Oakleigh cannot afford to get jumped because simply, Murray are very capable of piling on goals in a short space of time.
If Oakleigh are within range at three quarter time, they might well steal the match, but Murray have been the better team all year and while last week’s scores might look like Oakleigh were more impressive, this game will be much more of a test, because there will be more defensive pressure and it won’t be so easy to score.
Murray Bushrangers by 15 points.