THE top eight of the TAC Cup is not yet sealed, but the lid is quickly closing.
After Bendigo Pioneers’ upset of Oakleigh Chargers last weekend, the Pioneers and to a lesser extent the Western Jets, still have a chance of making the eight.
But for the Pioneers, their finals hopes lie with the Northern Knights in the hope that the twelfth placed Knights can upset the Chargers this weekend.
If, and it’s a big if, that the Knights can get the job done and Bendigo can upset the North Ballarat Rebels, then all of a sudden, the door is ajar for the competition’s underdog.
Next round, the Pioneers take on the Jets with a real chance to win, while the Chargers meet a full-strength Sandringham Dragons and Murray Bushrangers in the last two rounds.
In other words, if the Pioneers can win the next two matches and Oakleigh lose, the door is ajar.
But they will need a repeat performance like they did against the Chargers to get the job done.
In other matches, Dandenong Stingrays will be highly fancied to potentially steal top spot with victory over the Western Jets.
The Stingrays are seven per cent behind Geelong Falcons, but if last week’s form is anything to go by, the Stingrays will be highly fancied.
For the Jets, much like the Pioneers, they will need to win against the Stingrays and then defeat Bendigo to steal eighth spot.
They could also win their last two matches, but would need to rely on other results up until that point.
In the match of the round, fourth placed Sandringham Dragons takes on Murray Bushrangers.
With the top four seemingly locked away a couple of weeks ago, it is now very much up for grabs.
Both sides will also be hoping the Pioneers can cause an upset against the Rebels, who are coming hard and fast at the top four.
Just six points adrift of both the Bushrangers and Dragons, a win against Bendigo would see them get within two points of one of the sides.
Or maybe even four points of both of the sides should they draw, and while most might think that is a slim possibility, many will remember the tough fought draw between the teams in Wangaratta earlier in the year.
The winner gets a top four spot, the loser will have to win the remaining games to guarantee itself a place in the top four.
Meanwhile we have talked about the consequences for Oakleigh if they lose to the Knights, but for Northern, they have an opportunity to jump to tenth with a win against the Chargers.
If they can do that, then they will be pleased with their second half form and will only finish a couple of wins outside the eight.
In one match that probably has less bearing than the others is the Calder Cannons vs. Gippsland Power clash.
Calder’s loss to North Ballarat has ruled it out of a top five spot, meaning it will likely face Eastern Ranges in the elimination final.
Whether the Cannons are the sixth of seventh placed team is yet to be seen, but unless Oakleigh causes a few upsets or Calder completely falls off the bandwagon, that is the one final which is locked in.
The final match of the round will create some intrigue around the make-up of the top four.
Geelong takes on Eastern Ranges in what is quite simply a must win game.
The Falcons might not be likely to drop out of the top four, but drop this match and North Ballarat might give them a run for their money.
Geelong are a consistent top four side, but have not had as much success in finals as other teams with travelling catching up with them and the metropolitan teams going back to full strength.
The Falcons have good depth, but will want to put themselves in the best possible position heading into finals.
For Eastern, a victory will just assure them of that top seven spot, and the Ranges can book a date with Calder in the elimination final.
With three rounds remaining, the weekend preview will provide a predicted ladder and first week of finals based on what I expect to happen in the remaining rounds.
Peter Williams’ Predicted ladder:
1 – Murray Bushrangers (54)
2 – Dandenong Stingrays (52)
3 – Sandringham Dragons (50)
4 – Geelong Falcons (48)
5 – North Ballarat Rebels (48)
6 – Calder Cannons (36)
7 – Eastern Ranges (32)
8 – Oakleigh Chargers (24)
9 – Bendigo Pioneers (20)
10 – Northern Knights (16)
11 – Western Jets (16)
12 – Gippsland Power (12)
Week 1 predicted finals:
QF1: Murray Bushrangers vs. Geelong Falcons
QF2: Dandenong Stingrays vs. Sandringham Dragons
EF1: North Ballarat Rebels vs. Oakleigh Chargers
EF2: Calder Cannons vs. Eastern Ranges