Final hurdle for finals-bound clubs

DS - Sam Fowler
Dandenong Stingrays small Sam Fowler against NSW/ACT in the 2016 TAC Cup.

FIVE of the six TAC Cup games remaining in the home and away season will have bearing on the finals order.

As it stands the four country teams will earn the double chance and the four metropolitan teams will face off in the elimination rounds.

But, that can change with a couple of results, as could the actual fixtures.

The top five teams are locked into those top five positions, while the sixth to eighth teams will definitely play an elimination final in the first week.

The first game on Saturday takes place at RAMS Arena with the finals-bound Cannons looking to capitalise against the Western Jets.

The Cannons’ percentage is well below that of the Ranges or Chargers, so victory is needed to have any chance of leapfrogging those teams into sixth.

However should one or both of those teams cause upsets, then the Cannons would remain in eighth and a match-up against the Rebels or Dragons would loom.

For the Cannons, they rely on their group as a collective with less top-end talent than other sides, they have a hard working midfield that digs deep defensively and tries to undo the opposition with their ball movement.

With Hayden Blythe, Jackson McDonald and Zach Guthrie among the names to watch, the Cannons might not be a premiership contender, but they have the capability to cause an upset on their day.

For Western Jets, they have had a shaky end to the season, but almost all was forgotten with a sterling win over the Bendigo Pioneers last weekend.

The Jets are missing their star Daniel Venables, while Brodie Romensky and Oscar Junker are a couple of players that would be on recruiters lists.

 

The Saturday game likely to shape the eight the most will be the North Ballarat Rebels versus Eastern Ranges.

If the Rebels win, then the top four is sealed regardless of Sundays results, however if the Ranges get up, then the door is left ajar for the Sandringham Dragons who are hot favourites to knock off the Bendigo Pioneers.

North Ballarat has a host of talented players, led by Hugh McCluggage, Cedric Cox, Jarrod Berry and Willem Drew in the midfield.

North Ballarat Rebels midfielder Hugh McCluggage in action against Calder Cannons in the 2016 TAC Cup.
North Ballarat Rebels midfielder Hugh McCluggage in action against Calder Cannons in the 2016 TAC Cup.

Throw in capable key position players and crafty smaller players, the Rebels should go in favourites, especially at home.

But at full strength, Eastern will certainly consider themselves a chance given their long list of All-Australians, including Dylan Clarke, Jack Maibaum, Callum Brown and Sam Hayes who are likely to have a say on how far the Ranges go in September.

Another benefit for the Ranges if they win is they will not have to face the Dragons or in fact Rebels in the elimination final, rather taking on either the Calder Cannons or Oakleigh Charges.

The game that impacts both the top four and bottom four of the eight is Oakleigh Chargers versus Murray Bushrangers.

Murray has enough percentage on Sandringham to ensure a top four place regardless of the result, however could slip to fourth if North Ballarat defeats Eastern.

For the Bushrangers, there is no shortage of stars with Todd Marshall, Will Brodie, Zachary Sproule and Ryan Garthwaite among a host of draftable players, and the league’s most northern side has achieved a double chance without the injured Jy Simpkin.

Murray Bushrangers tall Todd Marshall in action for Allies in the Under 18 Championships.
Murray Bushrangers tall Todd Marshall in action for Allies in the Under 18 Championships.

Oakleigh is gunning for its third consecutive flag and fourth in five years when it enters the finals series this year.

It won the 2015 premiership from sixth and is still in with a chance to finish there again.

Should they win, the Chargers will not finish lower than seventh and could well steal sixth if the Ranges lose.

The Chargers have a lot of tall prospects worth keeping an eye on including Patrick KerrJordan Ridley and Nick Larkey, while Sam McLarty is still out injured. Other players such as Taylin Duman and Lachlan Walker have also attracted interest from recruiters.

While eyes will be on most of the games this round, the one game that is unlikely to have any bearing other than pride is the Northern Knights hosting the Gippsland Power.

Both teams have improved as the season has progressed, but neither side will challenge for finals.

The winner is likely to avoid the wooden spoon, while the loser could collect it depending on other results.

Northern have a number of players that have caught the eye this season including Matthew Signorello, Luke Bunker, Lachlan Murphy and Patrick Lipinski.

For the Power, Ben Ainsworth is the leading hope and likely first round prospect, while Sean Masterson is another that earned a state combine invitation.

The first game on the card for Sunday will be the Sandringham Dragons taking on the Bendigo Pioneers.

Both sides had poor losses last week and the Pioneers will be keen to turn it around in their final home and away game.

The Dragons have more on the line however and will need victory for a top four spot.

Sandringham has the advantage of knowing its equation heading into the match with the Rebels and Ranges facing off the day before.

The only other way the Dragons could secure a top four spot is with a 14 per cent differential with the Bushrangers, meaning that not only would Sandringham need a thumping win, but Murray would need to be belted by the Chargers for the Bushrangers to drop out of the four.

Sandringham is the slickest of all teams with Andrew McGrath, Tim Taranto and Oliver Florent among the smoothest movers in the draft crop, while Jack Scrimshaw has attracted a lot of interest from recruiters after missing most of the year through injury.

For the Pioneers, Joe Atley will be the key player to watch, while Kobe Mutch yet again misses as does Kayle Kirby who is playing Richmond VFL.

Bendigo Pioneers midfielder Joe Atley in action for Vic Country in the 2016 Under 18 Championships.
Bendigo Pioneers midfielder Joe Atley in action for Vic Country in the 2016 Under 18 Championships.

It is hard to see the Pioneers really challenging the Dragons given the Dragons’ top-end talent, but they have the power to cause an upset if they are on their game.

The final match of the round is more about determining top spot with Geelong Falcons and Dandenong Stingrays facing off at Simonds Stadium.

Both will finish first and second, it will be a simple equation with the winner claiming the minor premiership.

One side will take on Murray, while the other will meet either the North Ballarat or Sandringham.

The Falcons belted Calder last week and hit the form they are capable of ahead of finals.

Missing Alex Witherden, at least for now, the Falcons have relied on the likes of Jack Henry, Jack Blood, Max Augerinos and Paddy Dowling among others to keep their season running smoothly.

For Dandenong Stingrays, it has a wide variety of draftable players, with Josh Battle, Reece Piper, Sam Fowler and Myles Poholke just to name a few.

If the Stingrays get on top and all their players fire, they are right up there in contention for the flag.

With a round to play, there is still plenty on the line for the TAC Cup clubs.

For the finalists, there will be a week off before finals with the four bottom teams playing at Ikon Park on August 27.

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