WHILE they might not have made finals, the unique last round will give players of bottom four sides a chance to impress in front of recruiters at Ikon Park.
It is a first for 2016, allowing TAC Cup finalists to have a week’s bye in between the final round of the regular season and the first week of finals.
The top eight was decided a fortnight ago and with that, came the two matches to be played out this weekend.
Given the Pioneers and Jets clashed in round 16 and the Knights and Power just last week, it made sense to switch the match-ups around so the Knights played the Jets and the Power faced the Pioneers.
Despite four points not being on the line, it is one last match for these young men who may never play with any of their teammates again and move on to AFL, state leagues or local leagues to continue their football.
Northern Knights vs. Western Jets
Northern Knights are a hard working team that is well disciplined and seemingly in the contest more often than not, fading away in the last quarter to lose by more than they should. Western Jets have some sensational games and some poor games, and it has become quite obvious that the difficulties of trying to pick when they will win or lose is similar to that of Richmond or Collingwood.
In this match there are plenty of versatile midfielders to watch out for that could stake their claim in the National AFL Draft later this year. For the Knights, Mason Blakey and Luke Bunker are the inside grunt workers, often pushing back behind the ball to try to keep the team in possession. The two most damaging players for Northern are Matthew Signorello and Lachlan Murphy, both for different reasons.
Signorello has the acceleration that just burns an opponent off racing out of a contest, and he can impact the scoreboard as well. Signorello though will miss the class with a shoulder injury but has showed enough signs at school and TAC Cup level that he may be drafted. Murphy is more of a half-back that can play on the inside, who has a penetrating left boot that really stands out at this level. Jake Bradley is an over-ager that Carlton fans will be keen to watch, with the son of Craig doing some nice things, however is more of a rookie prospect than anything else.
Western’s highest draft hope is Daniel Venables, a potential first rounder and likely top 30 pick. The inside midfielder/forward is a tireless worker who is strong one-on-one and can be a dominant force up forward. Venables will miss the clash through injury and is unlikely to play in the All Star match later in the season. Inconsistency can plague Venables at times, but he’s still a very valuable player who will no doubt find an AFL home in November.
Otherwise, the Jets have Brodie Romensky, Oscar Junker and Judah Dundon that will be on recruiters’ watch lists. Romensky finds the ball at will, often from a half-back flank and can be a link-up player in Western’s chain of possession. Junker and Dundon do not find as much of the football, but generally use it well and can break a game open with quick handballs or forward thrusts. Dundon misses the clash with a leg issue, but the Jets are hopeful he’ll be back for testing in October. One name quietly going about his business is Brock McGregor. The Jets ruckman is one of a handful of rucks that could be drafted later in the year, and will be keen to impress this weekend.
Gippsland Power vs. Bendigo Pioneers
Gippsland versus Bendigo is less likely to produce as many draftees as the other match. The Power have one genuine star first round pick in Ben Ainsworth, while the Pioneers have top 40 prospects Kobe Mutch and Joe Atley.
Mutch hasn’t played much TAC Cup football of late with injury and once again has been ruled out of this weekend’s game. Atley last month tried his hand in the VFL for Geelong, booting two goals and collecting 16 disposals on debut. Kayle Kirby is another who got a taste of VFL football last week, but the goal sneak Pioneer did not just taste it, he lapped it up. Kirby booted five goals in Richmond’s upset win over Sandringham and really threw his name out there to be considered in November. Kirby once again will be with the Tigers on the weekend, missing the final clash of the season for the Pioneers.
For those who do not know much about Mutch or Atley, Mutch is a balanced midfielder who finds a truck load of possessions and is a solid all-round prospect. While he could kick a few more goals, Mutch works hard defensively and is a very solid kick of the football. Atley is an inside midfield beast who can win the footy on the outside too, and is the brother of North Melbourne’s Shaun.
The other Bendigo Pioneer who has some clubs interested is Cooper Jones, a developing tall forward who is a late to rookie prospect. The Pioneers have largely played a young side throughout 2016 and the signs that players such as Lochie O’Brien and Jarrod Brander have shown throughout the year, will give them hope for a better 2017.
For the Power, Ainsworth is clearly the standout player, with a possible top 10 selection to be used on the half forward. He has the potential to kick plenty of goals and has a strong body to win the ball at the coal face. A booming kick and plenty of confident, he is a likely type that most clubs will consider.
Other than Ainsworth, Sean Masterson and Will Leslie have a few clubs poking around. Masterson is a versatile player who has played mainly in defence but can play forward if required. Leslie is a midfielder who does not win a lot of the football, but has stood up while Ainsworth missed due to representative duties and suspension.
Lively forward Nathan Voss is another who may catch the eye of clubs. Voss booted 3.3 last weekend against Northern and had three score assists bringing plenty of energy inside 50 for the Power.
Overall, this game is likely to be about the potential top end talent and if any diamonds in the rough emerge from the match.