1st Dandenong Stingrays
Dandenong Stingrays are arguably the most consistent team across the board, without a distinct strength, but very few weaknesses.
They have talented players in the defence, through the middle and up forward, and work well as a cohesive unit, particularly at Shepley Oval.
Their top prospect for this year’s draft is Josh Battle, a key forward who is the smartest tall in the draft, and an accurate set shot for goal.
Roving around his feet is Sam Fowler, a dangerous goal sneak who has gained more midfield minutes lately and is adding an extra string to his bow.
Chuck in bottom-ager Tom De Koning and they have more than enough targets up forward that can kick a big score.
In the midfield, Myles Poholke is the man to watch, with plenty of eyes set to be on him this finals series.
An inside midfielder who can impact the scoreboard, Poholke is in great form and primed for a big finals series.
Joining him in the middle are over-agers Thomas Glen and Tom Jok, both of whom can win the footy, with Glen a consistent ball winner, while Jok has the evasion to do the unthinkable.
Looking down back, Bailey Morrish and Reece Piper are the players chosen to move the ball in transition and are among a list of names on recruiter’s lists given their impressive seasons.
Dandenong Stingrays fans can also enjoy some of the country’s most talented bottom-agers with Hunter Clark, Aaron Darling, Luke Davies-Uniacke and Oscar Clavarino named in the Level Two AFL Academy squad with De Koning.
In terms of premiership credentials, in the discussion of “contender or pretender”, I rate Dandenong third overall behind the Bushrangers and Dragons when teams are at full strength and therefore are truly a “contender”.
The aspect I like most about Dandenong is they do not rely on their top-age talent, nor do they have a star they need to rely on.
They have players across the ground that can play their role and in finals this is often what can get the job done.
I would be very surprised not to see them featuring in at least the preliminary finals this year.
Overall, I think they have a solid chance at taking out the premiership, but will be tested in the first final to see exactly where they are at in 2016.A
2nd Geelong Falcons
Geelong Falcons are a perennial finals team that seem to make top four before falling ahead of the big dance.
In 2013, their star studded team filled with would-be AFL players Lewis Taylor, Paddy McCartin, Hugh Goddard, Jackson Nelson, Darcy Lang and Darcy Gardiner was unable to get the job done.
Since then they have continually pushed teams throughout the year, but travel, or ultimately the fresher metropolitan teams have caught up with them.
In 2016, Geelong have been the pace setters from the get-go and until last round held pole position for most of the season.
After losing AIS Academy member and talented running defender Alex Witherden for the year early, the Falcons have made do since and have racked up the victories.
The biggest query on them is the fact that they lacked Vic Country representatives for the most part and therefore were close to full-strength beating understrength sides.
However, the experience as a cohesive unit should not be understated, with a number of players to watch in the finals series.
James Worpel is one name that will be on every recruiter’s list for the 2017 draft.
Worpel was recently added to the AFL Academy Level Two squad after missing selection the year before.
The rugged inside midfielder has a fearless approach to the way he plays his football and he has fantastic goal sense as well.
James Henry is an interesting prospect to keep an eye on, with the tall midfielder a smooth mover with a booming kick.
To me he seems like a barometer and when he is up and going, so is the rest of the side.
He is surrounded in the midfield by reliable, consistent midfielders including Max Augerinos, Mitch Diamond, Jack Blood and Cassidy Parish.
With two strong contested marks up forward in Zachary Zdybel and Brett Blair, and the monster that is Sean Darcy in the middle, Geelong’s best chance of winning the premiership in 2016 is possession football.
They keep hold of it and give their forwards a chance of marking it and they will go a long way to winning the game.
Other names draft watchers should look out for are Patrick Killen, Harry Benson and Lockey McCartney, all of whom can impact on their day.
In terms of whether they could win it, I do feel a lot would need to go their way.
Firstly stay injury free and then play possession football to stop stronger opposition midfields dominating the game and putting their defence under siege.
The Falcons’ forward line and run are amongst their strengths, backing themselves to take the game on and get it forward.
If they can give their forwards opportunities they will be a good chance, but they will need to be at their best against strong first-choice midfields, particularly in the top five sides.
3rd North Ballarat Rebels
North Ballarat Rebels are a side that at full strength have the capability to beat anyone.
While they do not have the star key position posts of other sides, they have a shared contribution from players around the field that chip in and hit the scoreboard.
Their midfield is first class with the likes of possible number one pick Hugh McCluggage, inside bull Willem Drew and the underrated Callan Wellings.
With Lloyd Meek winning the hitouts more often than not, the midfielders often get first use.
With Jarrod Korewha, Jarrod Berry and Cedric Cox stationed at half-back, the Rebels also have plenty of run coming out of the defensive 50.
Berry can move forward and have an impact, while Tom Williamson can be fitted in just about anywhere and is a smooth mover with a bit of toe.
Heading forward, Shannon Beks is the most likely prospect to kick a bag of goals, however he has struggled with inconsistency at times.
Rotating with the likes of Meek and Todd Lawrence in the ruck, Beks is strong overhead and a solid set shot, he just has to get to the right positions more often.
Another underrated player at the Rebels is Sam White, who can play at either end, starting as a key defender, but has spent time up forward lately.
He can take a grab, earn a free and kick goals, so could be a secret weapon in the finals series.
The big question is how far can the Rebels go?
I think matching up one-on-one against any side, they can beat them, it will be whether or not they get it done on the day.
I rate the Rebels as the fourth best side, however they are not far off the Stingrays in third.
With a well-balanced midfield, a hard working forward line and a defence that takes the game on, you can never discount the Rebels and they would have to be considered in contention for the premiership.
4th Murray Bushrangers
Murray Bushrangers are the team I am most looking forward to watching in the 2016 finals series.
They have an honest, hard-working ball-winning midfield and a forward line to die for.
I have no qualms placing them as my favourite for the flag, simply because they have so much inside grunt that just win the ball and get it forward – simple football.
The one question mark I have is over their class compared to other sides, because while they have a blue collar midfield, they might lack those couple of classy runners who slice up oppositions with their foot skills.
Led by potential number one draft pick Will Brodie, the Bushrangers have a two-way running midfield which includes James Cousins and Fletcher Carroll.
Up forward, the Bushrangers have a wealth of options with likely top 10 pick Todd Marshall, Esava Ratugolea, Trent McMullan, Zachary Sproule and Max Lynch all able to take a contested mark inside 50.
Of late, McMullan and Lynch have been sharing the ruck duties, while Sproule has played higher up the ground and as a key defender, making Marshall and Ratugolea the two key targets inside 50.
Their defence should not be underrated either with the likes of Ryan Garthwaite and Harry Morrison, both of whom are solid users of the ball, but have not been able to sustain a run on the park because of injuries.
One of the most impressive aspects about the Bushrangers is they have been able to secure a top four spot without arguably the best small forward in the competition who suffered a season ending injury just one match in – Jy Simpkin.
The Bushrangers arguably have the most draftable talent of any TAC Cup club, with many coming under Greater Western Sydney’s Academy program.
No less than eight Bushrangers could find homes in November’s draft, and they could head onto AFL lists on the back of a TAC Cup premiership.
However like every year, it will come down to whether the travelling catches up to them.
They should make it through to a preliminary final, but face a fresh metropolitan team and that is where it goes pearshaped for the country sides.
Murray has their best list when it featured the likes of Steele Sidebottom and Tom Rockliff in 2008, as they stormed to the TAC Cup premiership.
If they have enough run in the legs and sustain their performance for the next four weeks, they could very well break the metropolitan team’s stranglehold over the title.
5th Sandringham Dragons
The Sandringham Dragons are aguably one of the favourites to take out the 2016 TAC Cup title. Despite dropping out of the four, Oakleigh showed last year that the top four isn’t a prerequisite for success- especially given all eight clubs had the bye over last weekend.
Boasting a midfield with names such as Andrew McGrath, Will Setterfield, Tim Taranto and Oliver Florent, expect Sandringham to get their hands on the football.
McGrath could well warrent a Top five pick come November and has shown twice this year he can win his own football collecting over 40 disposals against Gippsland and Bendigo.
Setterfield made a successful return from injury against Bendigo, playing one of his best games for the season in the midfield.
Across half back, Ari Sakeson and Jack Scrimshaw have shown some good agility getting round their opposition and will be crucial for the Dragons to rebound the ball out of defence.
The Dragons will look to get the ball in Scrimshaw’s hands to catapult them forward and their opponents will need to watch Scrimshaw carefully in an attempt to keep him out of the play.
Inside 50, Sandringham have relied on bottom age talls Hayden McLean and Isaac Morrisby.
Both talls have shown good signs this season, being apart of the Vic Metro U17 Futures squads throughout the year. You could make a case that McLean will be in the first handful of talls for the 2017 draft pool.
Both are sound overhead and are strong enough to out muscle their opponents.
Vic Metro ruckman Lachlan Filipovic‘s hitout numbers have been good in the ruck and he will be crucial for the Dragons to get first use of the ball.
Filipovic is relatively new to football and has mounted a case that should see him earn a rookie spot come November 28.
For me, I think the Dragons are the best Metro side that made it through the finals. They will have to do it the hard way and win four games to be crowned as premiers, but their midfield is the best in the competition and if they can go in and win the hard stuff they’ll be tough to beat.
Missing finals in 2015 was a kick in the guts for Sandringham and they won’t want to let this opportunity slip at glory. If their defence can hold up against Eastern’s strong forwards, they shouldn’t have any issues accounting for the elimination final.
6th Oakleigh Chargers
Can they pull off a three peat? Oakleigh have won back-to-back finals and have well & truly been the benchmark over the last few seasons. This year they haven’t been able to gel it all together, with injuries, Vic Metro and school commitments meaning they haven’t had their Best 23 on the park each week.
Bottom age midfielder Jack Higgins has been crucial on the inside for the Chargers when he hasn’t been away playing school football. Higgins has averaged 22 disposals and two goals throughout the season and looms as a first round pick in 2017.
19-year-olds Campbell Lane and Lachlan Walker have been superb throughout the season, able to find the footy without any issues. Both are the only two Chargers to have averaged over 25 disposals, having played 27 games between them.
Up forward Oakleigh will be looking to Patrick Kerr to hit the scoreboard. Kerr booted three in their elimination final last year and if he can repeat that effort again throughout the finals they should be able to progress to the second week.
Kerr is a tough opponent on the lead and has worked on his cleanliness at ground level. Josh Daicos has the potential to be damaging inside 50 and may provide the spark they need to get through the first final.
Toby Wooller has also been prominent inside 50 and will be another target the Chargers will look for after he dominated APS school football for Scotch College.
Swingman Nick Larkey will move between ends and has been known to float forward late in games and boot goals.
Medium defenders Jordan Ridley and Taylin Duman both had a taste of Vic Metro football in June and will be two names that could really push themselves up draft orders should they play well.
Oakleigh may not have had the best year- But they did knock off Sandringham Dragons a few weeks ago and if they produce an effort similar to that they could be hard to stop.
7th Calder Cannons
There is no denying the Cannons are a hard team to read.
They have benefited from having less state representatives from other teams and just purely won the games they had to win in order to make finals.
There are a few players in the line-up that could get called up on draft day, but the side is not the powerhouse of a couple of seasons ago.
Looking through the list, the likes of Hayden Blythe and Jackson McDonald jump out through the defence and midfield, standing up despite not winning a lot of the ball.
Defensively they match up well, but offensively they can find themselves exposed against the top teams.
Tom Burnside is a player that I really enjoy watching when he is on his game.
A athletic tall that breezes around the field, he takes marks, kicks goals or can work defensively to shut out an opposition tall.
More importantly he can play a lanky midfielder, so there is scope there for him to improve at the top level.
It is hard to talk about the Cannons without mentioning leading goal kicker Karl Brown.
A lot of draft fans look and see he kicks bags most weeks but is never in talks about his draft ability.
I think the biggest knock on him is his size – medium height – and the fact he needs to do more when not in possession of the ball.
Brown could be a contributing factor in the finals series, but he will often beat opponents on experience or use his smarts to win the footy.
Up the other end there is Zac Guthrie who is a very strong rebounding defender with a bit of toe.
He looks pretty impressive tucking the ball under his arm, but his kicking needs work.
In 2016, Calder has a lot of half-chances for draftees, which in my terms are players that have some potential, but their deficiencies are also pretty clear.
It would not surprise me to see a lot of Cannons taken in the rookie draft as opposed to the National Draft just due to this fact.
As for the finals series, it is hard to see them getting past the country teams or full-strength metropolitan teams.
I could envision them challenging Oakleigh or Geelong on their day, but the depth that has got them this far will need to stand up in finals against stronger top-end talent.
But, I am always one for the underdog and if they can click as a group in September, as they say, you have to be in it to win it, and the Cannons are in it.
8th Eastern Ranges
Eastern Ranges are the wildcard in the pack, with a hard working midfield and an incredibly strong forward line.
The Ranges have finished eighth but they are far from making up the numbers, with many of their top talents missing through the year due to school football and state commitments.
Their midfield comprises of Dylan Clarke, Callum Brown, Josh Begley and Jordan Gallucci, all of whom can influence a game.
The forward line is a bottom-age line-up to die for with the lines of Joel Garner, Sam Hayes and Jaidyn Stephenson all expected to be high picks in 2017.
In defence, the likes of All-Australian full back Jack Maibaum lead the charge with the ever reliable Harrison Nolan and Josh Hannon there for support.
In the past, sides with strong forward lines have got the job done, and Eastern, along with Oakleigh, have certainly got that.
What will be interesting is whether the Ranges’ blue collar midfield will have enough outside skill under pressure to deliver to targets up forward.
There is no doubting their inside capabilities are as good as the likes of North Ballarat and Sandringham, if not better, yet both those sides have outside pace and plenty of it.
If they can get the ball in the hands of bottom-ager Adam Cerra, then he could really influence the game as he did as a 16 year-old in last year’s finals series.
For me, Eastern Ranges are a genuine contender if they can get past Sandringham who is one of the premiership favourites.
As a whole, Eastern have a well balanced team and I think the blow torch will be on the midfield this September to get first hands to it, because if they can, they are every chance of winning the flag.
They have recent success in finals, where they won the premiership back in 2013, with Tom Boyd booting four goals in the grand final as the Ranges obliterated the Dandenong Stingrays.
This year will be tougher, but they have the cattle on the park to get there, it will just be a case of if they can put it together on the day.