VIC Country head into the National Under 18 Championships hoping to improve on their result from last year which saw them win just one game out of the four – against the Allies. This time around Country have some genuine A-grade midfielders and rucks, and a fair bit of depth in the key position stakes. Their forward line can be dangerous on its day, and a number of midfielders roll through the defence.
Looking up front, the tall Stingrays trio of Bailey Williams, Riley Bowman and Bailey Schmidt will rotate through the ruck and forward positions. While Gippsland Power’s dangerous forwards Sam Flanders and Irving Mosquito, and Geelong Falcons’ Charlie Sprague will provide a point of difference up there. Midfielders Tom Berry, Sam Walsh and Ned McHenry will also rotate through the forward line to apply scoreboard pressure.
In the midfield, that core group of Walsh, McHenry, Dandenong Stingrays’ Mitch Riordan and Gippsland Power’s Xavier Duursma creates a top 20 starting midfield potentially, while Jye Caldwell can play anywhere, as can GWV Rebels’ Scott Carlin, who will rotate off half-back. Do not be surprised if the better kickers in Duursma and Riordan join Carlin in rotating through defence.
In the key position places, Geelong over-ager Dane Hollenkamp and Gippsland’s Kyle Reid will hold down the fort, while Connor Idun and impressive bottom-agers Lachlan Ash and Brock Smith are likely to get some games in the Vic Country side. It is also important to remember Hudson Garoni who is in some ripping form in the TAC Cup, as is teammate Zane Barzen who looms as a real wildcard up forward.
As a whole, Vic Country will likely finish around mid-table with many plaudits expecting them to beat Western Australia and the Allies, but they will have their work cut out against strong South Australian and Vic Metro sides. However as we have seen in past years, anything can happen.
Players to watch:
Balanced Midfielder | 183cm | 74kg | Geelong Falcons
TAC Cup average: 33.4 disposals, 4.8 marks, 6.0 tackles, 3.4 clearances, 4.0 inside 50s
A genuine match winner who would be one of the favourites for the National Championships Most Valuable Player (MVP). As we saw from the Vic Country trials, he is a clear talent who goes to a level that few can. Expect him to have an influence through the middle of the ground and up forward, but it will be hard for opposition teams to stop him.
Balanced Midfielder | 176cm | 71kg | Geelong Falcons
TAC Cup average: 23 disposals, 3.7 marks, 6.0 tackles, 8.0 clearances, 4.7 rebounds
McHenry is a quick, but small midfielder who plays with ferocity that defies his small stature. He is a clearance beast who racks them up at will and uses his acceleration to burn off opponents. He can be a big ball winner and play up either end as well, so look for him to rotate through the half-forward line to cause some headaches for opposition players.
Key Position Forward/Ruck | 198cm | 95kg | Dandenong Stingrays
TAC Cup average: 14.3 disposals, 4.3 marks, 10.5 hitouts, 3.3 inside 50s, 1.8 goals
The best tall in the Vic Country arsenal, Bailey Williams has athleticism that would embarrass many midfielders such is his speed and agility. Williams can turn it on from time to time and become a match winner, booting a few goals in quick succession and turning the tide of the match. With so many talls that can play through the ruck, expect Williams to spend most of his time at full-forward.
Balanced Midfielder | 185cm | 71kg | Gippsland Power
TAC Cup average: 22 disposals, 4.0 marks, 4.5 tackles, 2.8 clearances, 4.7 inside 50s
The balanced midfielder keeps rising up the ranks with a really impressive season. He leads by example and has very few holes in his game. He might not stand out as much as Walsh or look as good on the stats sheet as McHenry, but Duursma is one of those players that can really hurt opposition teams when coming off half-back or in transition along the wing.
Inside Midfielder | 186cm | 79kg | Dandenong Stingrays
TAC Cup average: 15.7 disposals, 2.3 marks, 2.7 clearances, 5.0 inside 50s, 1.3 goals
Not a huge ball winner, Riordan makes the most of his disposals with some strong field kicking. His stats do not look all that impressive, but do not let that fool you, he can be really damaging on the inside or if he drops to half-back, being able to use his superior vision to shovel handballs out to teammates in space. He’s a prime mover in transition.
Tall Forward/Inside Midfielder | 193cm | 77kg | Murray Bushrangers
TAC Cup average: Nine disposals, 3.0 marks, 1.8 tackles, 1.3 goals
Barzen could well be the barometer of the team, and certainly in the future. He is the kind of player who could be something special once he gets a clear run of it away from injury. He is explosive, with elite foot skills that can hit passes inside 50 that very few can. He also wins more than half of his possession in a contest, and while he does not win much of it, he only needs 12-15 touches to go close to best on ground with his influence.
Key Position Forward | 195cm | 91kg | Murray Bushrangers
TAC Cup average: 14.8 disposals, 6.5 marks, 2.2 inside 50s, 3.8 goals
The most in-form key position forward in the TAC Cup competition, Garoni will be tested against the best key position defenders in the land. He has averaged a massive 3.8 goals per game in the Under 18s competition and is a strong mark inside 50. Not as athletic as the other talls in the side, Garoni is the strongest of the lot and is the man mountain leading out of the forward 50.
Ruck/Key Position Forward | 198cm | 82kg | Dandenong Stingrays
TAC Cup average: 11.2 disposals, 2.7 marks, 3.2 tackles, 15.2 hitouts, 3.5 clearances, 0.8 goals
An embarrassment of riches through the forward and ruck positions, Bowman is yet another genuine talent who can play in either key role. He is likely to be the number one ruck who rests forward, averaging 15.2 hitouts per game and is athletic around the ground. He is good overhead and can nail his set shots from long range. Skinnier than the other talls, but very mobile.
Balanced Midfielder/General Forward | 184cm | 78kg
TAC Cup average: 24 disposals, 2.0 marks, 7.0 tackles, 3.0 clearances, 2.0 rebounds, 1.0 goals
Has just played the one game at TAC Cup level this season due to Geelong Grammar commitments, but Caldwell looms as a player who could get off the chain at the national carnival given the wraps on the other midfielders. He is a player who can rotate down forward and provide serious forward pressure. A tackling machine, he will compliment the other midfielders in the Country side.
R1: vs. Allies at Blacktown, Saturday June 9, 10.30am
R2: vs. South Australia at Thebarton Oval, Sunday, June 17, 11am
R3: vs. Vic Metro at MCG, Sunday, June 24, 12.05pm
R4: vs. Western Australia at GMHBA Stadium, Friday, June 29, 4.40pm