THE 2016 TAC Cup finalists were officially decided in a round that could prove to shape the eight.
In arguably the two most important games for determining the eight sides competing in finals, Oakleigh Chargers won and Bendigo Pioneers lost, meaning anything short of a disaster/miracle would turn the teams’ retrospective seasons around.
Oakleigh had the first crack at locking away a top eight spot and it certainly did not come easy.
Despite playing the lowly Northern Knights, the Chargers were pushed the whole way and trailed by seven points at the final break.
Luckily, with the carrot of finals dangling in front of them, the Chargers steadied and booted five goals to three to run out 16.8 (104) to 15.8 (98) winners.
Bottom-ager Jack Higgins again starred with 34 disposals, seven marks, three tackles and three goals, while for the Knights, Luke Bunker was crucial in the midfield battle with 34 disposals, four marks, nine tackles and three goals.
— AFL Draft Central (@afldraftcentral) July 31, 2016
Meanwhile the Bendigo Pioneers were unable to overcome a powerful North Ballarat Rebels side.
The Rebels had a few players missing who competed for St Patrick’s in the Herald Sun Shield grand final at the MCG on Saturday, but it mattered little as they fought over a dogged Bendigo Pioneers with a superb third quarter burst.
After trailing by six points at quarter time and seven points at half-time, the Rebels flicked a switch, slamming on 10 goals to two in a dominant quarter to lead by 45 points at the final break.
They continued their good form with three last quarter goals, to make it a 58-point win, and a 65-point turnaround since half-time.
There are very few superlatives left to describe potential number one draft pick Hugh McCluggage, who brought his own ball with him, amassing 37 disposals, five marks, three tackles and two goals in a dominant performance.
Over-ager James Gow finished with 27 disposals and seven marks, while for the Pioneers, bottom-ager Darby Henderson topped the disposal count with 30 disposals, three marks, two tackles and a goal.
GAME OVER. Pioneers lose by 58 to a strong Rebels side. 11.10.76 to 20.14.134. McCluggage, Berry and How leading the way for the Rebels.
— Matthew Grundy (@grundog49) July 31, 2016
At the other end of the ladder, Geelong Falcons managed to hold on to top spot – or so it thought – with a narrow seven-point victory over Eastern Ranges.
Trailing by 10 points at half-time, the Falcons nutted out a four goals to two third term, which proved to be the difference as they managed to get up 13.14 (92) to 13.7 (85).
Zachary Zdybel impressed from the ruck with 21 disposals, eight marks and a goal to go with his 19 hitouts, while for the Ranges, top 10 bottom-age prospect Jaidyn Stephenson booted five goals in an impressive performance up forward.
— Barrels (@Uncle_Barrels) July 31, 2016
While victory seemed the logical way for Geelong to maintain the top spot, percentage came into play and Dandenong Stingrays stole pole position with a huge 62-point win over the Western Jets.
Not many people gave the Jets a chance after a few down weeks, and Dandenong made sure it did not either with a seven goals to one opening term to race away to a 39-point quarter time advantage.
Western fought its way back to within 26 points at half-time, before the Stingrays reloaded and booted eight goals to three in the second half and run out 62-point victors.
Myles Poholke led all comers with 29 disposals, five marks and a goal, while small forward Sam Fowler had his best game for the season with 28 disposals, six tackles and two goals.
For the Jets, Brodie Romensky racked it up with 38 touches, three marks, seven tackles and five hitouts in a strong all-round game.
In the battle for third spot, Murray Bushrangers got the better of Sandringham Dragons with a 17-point win.
The Dragons blew Murray away in the first term, holding them scoreless as they booted 5.4.
Murray clawed its way back into the contest with a three goals to one second term, but Sandringham managed to hold a 19-point advantage at the final break.
It was not long before Murray cut the deficit, slamming home seven goals to one, running over the top of the Dragons and securing the 11.10 (76) to 8.11 (59) win.
Zach Sproule finished with 25 disposals, while James Cousins and Todd Marshall both booted three goals for the Bushrangers.
For the Dragons, Hamish Brayshaw had a rounded performance with 24 disposals, 10 marks, 10 tackles and a goal, while Corey Lyons collected 32 disposals.
Sixth spot suddenly looks in danger after Calder Cannons dropped their match to Gippsland Power by 23 points.
After trailing by 15 points at quarter time, the Cannons booted five goals to one to head into the main break 13 points in front and many thought that would roll on in the second half.
Instead, Gippsland came out firing, booting 8.9 to 1.0 in a complete domination that resulted in a 38-point last break lead.
While Calder fought back with a four goals to two final quarter, it was a case of too little, too late for the Cannons with the Power recording an impressive 14.16 (100) to 11.11 (77) victory.
Josh Patullo had a day out for the Power with 29 disposals, five marks, 27 hitouts, 12 clearances, two tackles and a goal in a best on ground performance.
For the Cannons, Mitch Lewis finished with 33 disposals, 13 marks, 12 hitouts and four goals in an equally impressive