In the second match of preliminary final weekend, North Ballarat Rebels take on Oakleigh Chargers at Ikon Park.
The North Ballarat Rebels earned a week off after defeating the Geelong Falcons by two goals in the qualifying final a fortnight ago, while the Oakleigh Chargers won through in a narrow six-point upset win over the Murray Bushrangers.
This week, Bound For Glory News Rising Stars takes a look at the key issues ahead of the match and what both teams need to do to win.
Beware the smalls
Both sides are unusually structured for two preliminary finals teams. This is because neither have dominating talls, instead relying on a host of smalls to get the job done.
North Ballarat Rebels livewire Daniel Rioli effectively singlehandedly got the Rebels over the line against the Falcons, booting four second half goals, including three in the third quarter, to turn the momentum.
Like another Rioli we know, while he rarely plays a four-quarter game, he doesn’t need four quarters to do maximum damage.
For Oakleigh, their medium talls such as Ben Crocker, Patrick Kerr and Patrick Phillips all know how to kick a bag, while Tom Phillips showed he can drift forward and snag a few when required.
Winning contested footy and clearances will be an important aspect of this game, with some big bodies in at the stoppages.
North Ballarat in particular have some big inside and outside bodies in Jacob Hopper and Tom Templeton, while Oakleigh’s David Cuningham, Kade Answerth and Fraser Pearce can all win the big contests.
Whichever side can win the majority of the contested ball and clearances will go a long way to winning.
Both sides are usually reliable by foot too, which means getting the ball forward creates opportunities for a forward who might get a couple of metres on his opponent, or a winger who has run forward once his side has won the contest.
Darcy Tucker didn’t have the best under 18 championships this year, and while his first final was underwhelming, Tucker holds the key to a Rebels victory.
While he is far from the only one who could control the game, his ability to pick the ball off half-back, then go into the middle to win it, is vitally important.
Jacob Hopper is one of those players that no matter what you do, he’s going to win the footy. He might not make it look pretty, but he’ll collect his dose of disposals and clearances, regardless of the tactics put on him.
Darcy Tucker is one of those players that is more susceptible to a defensive, dare we say it, ‘tag’. While tagging is not usually permitted in TAC Cup because of recruiters needing to see the free flowing contest, every team will usually adopt a defensive mindset on a player if they are likely to impact the outcome of the game.
Tucker is too good a player to let him win the ball on his own terms and while he’ll move from wing to half-back and perhaps even half-forward, Oakleigh must have someone standing beside him at all times.
Lock down Tucker and a fair chuck of the Rebels’ rebound is lost, meaning less reliable kicks will need to rebound it out.
What do North Ballarat Rebels need to do to win?
1. Much of the same
It seems pretty straight forward, but the Rebels are the best side in the league and they finished on top of the ladder for a reason. With a week off to relax after a hard-fought victory, North Ballarat should be fit and raring to go.
They are a well-balanced side of offence and defence, with fast ball movement, but good defensive set-up that enables them to react well to counter attacks.
While some of their speedsters can use the ball haphazardly at times, they have big ball winners, game breakers and dangerous forwards in the air and on the ground.
When you look at North Ballarat’s side, you cannot point out a particular line that stands out, but instead, solid players across the field, that get the job done, week-in, week-out.
The Rebels do not need to do anything special, they just need to keep doing what they have been doing and they should win.
They cannot afford to rest on their laurels however, because Oakleigh will not give in without a fight.
2. Wake up
North Ballarat Rebels surrendered a six-goal deficit in the first half against the Geelong Falcons, but the Rebels worked back into the contest in a stunning comeback to win by a couple of goals.
They cannot afford to do that again and the fact they were able to do that against a top four side shows the capability and resilience of this side. Oakleigh will be aware of their slow starts and will want to capitalise early.
North Ballarat will have the fresher legs and if they can hold them out in the first half, they should run away with it in the second half.
Winning the clearances early is necessary and defending fiercely is a non-negotiable.
Oakleigh have been known to score quickly on occasions with plenty of smalls bobbing up and hurting oppositions on the rebound or from stoppages, the Rebels must nullify their ball winners and cause headaches of their own.
3. Play four quarters
This expectation goes hand-in-hand with the last one, but the biggest thing about the Rebels is that they often do not play four quarters.
The fact they finished minor premiers without four quarter performances is indicative of what they are capable of in this competition. If they put in a four quarter performance, they could really flex their muscles and send a message to the other preliminary final winner.
In saying that, it is hard to play 120 minutes of good football, especially against the quality sides. However, the Rebels cannot afford to go to sleep during the match and allow Oakleigh to have a sniff, otherwise it could end in defeat.
Playing four quarters will see the Rebels win this match because they are the better side.
What do Oakleigh need to do to win?
1. Have strong hands
Of all the aspects Oakleigh need to have down pat on the weekend, marking and in particular, contested marking, is of high importance.
While Oakleigh have some speedsters, North Ballarat Rebels are incredibly quick, particularly off the half-back flank. Dropped marks could result in fast counter attacks as the Rebels players drop back in numbers to assist their defenders.
Players like Ben Simpson and Yestin Eades move it well, while Darcy Tucker uses it so efficiently. If they give them a metre, they will turn it into a mile.
Up the other end, the defenders need to be clean and go for marks wherever possible. Whenever Daniel Rioli is lurking around a pack, magical things happen and while he can be inconsistent at times, if you let him off the leash, he can kick multiple goals in a short space of time.
Defenders need to be aware of the numbers around a contest and wherever possible go for the mark, however spoil if required, but keep it away from dangerous positions and get back in numbers.
2. Hit up forward targets
Oakleigh have some slick ball users, but also those who might rush the kick forward and miss targets.
The Chargers cannot afford to miss many targets when going forward, because the Rebels are so smart at cleaning up a mess in defence.
Oakleigh should look to make it one-on-one in every contest, particularly with Ben Crocker and Patrick Kerr, who are strong contested marks. Harry Thompson also presents a rare tall forward option and he could be used as someone who can step up when required.
Oakleigh’s transition of players from defence to offence could leave them with numbers streaming down the field, but too many running one way could leave the Chargers exposed in defence, so hitting targets is important, while running defensively is also crucial in this game.
3. Nullify North Ballarat’s ball winners
As mentioned earlier in the piece, Darcy Tucker is one player that simply must be shut down if Oakleigh is to win this match. He’s a clever user by foot and reads the play well, but does not handle a defensive stopper as well as other midfielders.
Jacob Hopper will win his contested ball, but Kade Answerth needs to stand next to him at every stoppage and makes sure he earns every possession. Answerth was another player who was unlucky to be drafted last season and if he can stand up here against a top 10 pick in Hopper, he can do his draft credentials the world of good.
While he wins that, Patrick Phillips up forward or Tom Phillips when he heads down there, must make Yestin Eades and co. accountable.
The Rebels speedsters love to run off the half-back flank, but if the Phillips’s get a goal or two early, they will need to be watched carefully, so getting on the board early is important.
Daniel Rioli is another one that just must be shut down anytime a ball is within the vicinity or he will cause headaches for the Chargers coaching staff.
North Ballarat Rebels have been the best team all year, and winning the minor premiership exemplified that. They were less than impressive in their opening final, played about a half of footy and still got the job done. They cannot afford to go to sleep early or Oakleigh will take advantage of it.
If North Ballarat get on top early, they will have the fresh legs and a big game from Darcy Tucker will point it in the Rebels’ favour. While Oakleigh will give a contest, North Ballarat will have a point to prove.
North Ballarat Rebels by 27 points