OAKLEIGH Chargers’ hat-trick hopes were thrown an opening round curveball when last year’s easy-beats the Western Jets showed they had what it took to topple the two-time reigning premiers. WIth a reinvigorated forward set-up and a rapid-fast, risktaking approach, the Jets entertained the fans who braved overcast conditions to attend the first round match at Ikon Park.
Among the top players were the Jets’ Mickey Nicholls, who with Daniel Venables impressed while for the Chargers, Patrick Kerr put his hand up as one of the top forward prospects in the TAC Cup with a four-goal haul in the loss. Western Jets managed just the two wins last year, finishing about the Bendigo Pioneers by percentage from the bottom of the TAC Cup ladder. On Saturday, the Jets looked far from a side that was unable to compete against the best last year, with a 37-point turn around from three quarter time to secure the four points.
Another side that showed it would be a contender this year was Eastern Ranges, who came from a slow start to smash Calder Cannons by 41 points in an Easter Thursday match. Tristan Tweedie booted a round-high six goals to be the leading goal kicker after round one. One Eastern official said he believed the 11-point deficit had half-time was the worst half he had seen the group play since the start of the pre-season. They capitalised in the second half, running away with the match, booting 14 goals to six.
Up north, another contender in Murray Bushrangers emerged with a strong 68-point victory over perrenial cellar dwellers Bendigo Pioneers in Shepparton. Led by AFL AIS Academy members Jy Simpkin and Will Brodie, the Bushrangers kept the Pioneers at an arms length after quarter time and finished with 38 scoring shots to 15 in a comprehensive performance.
After the crowd was subjected to a thrilling match between the Jets and Chargers, the same crowd had to watch the one-sided Sandringham Dragons and Northern Knights clash at Ikon Park. The Dragons finished 90 points ahead, but the match was far from enjoyable, with plenty of skill errors and appeared like a traning session at times. A few forwards emerged for the Dragons from the match however, with bottom-agers Hayden McLean and Isaac Morrisby looking the goods. It is hard to see the Knights challenging this year based on that performance, while the Dragons will be challenged once APS footy starts back.
The most entertaining football was to be found out in the east, with Dandenong Stingrays and Gippsland Power sharing the lead and the momentum for most of the match. Both sides showed what they are capable of, but it was the Stingrays that finished ahead at the final siren – winning by 12 points. A scare was sent through the Power – and competition – camp, when Ben Ainsworth went down with what looked to be a serious knee injury. Luckily the small midfielder/forward got up and starred for the remainder of the match.
In the final match of the round, traditional rivals the Geelong Falcons and North Ballarat Rebels took to Simonds Stadium in a grudge match. Fans were not disappointed early with some top perforrmances from both sides. In the end, the Falcons ran away with it in the second half, winning by 28 points and securing an all-important win from what is expected to be the first of many for the Geelong side.