IT is back. The TAC Cup competition returns after a couple of fantastic weeks with the girls on centre stage. Now the boys join them to show the complete development pathway. The metropolitan sides face off against each other, while the country sides also clash in an action-packed weekend.
Calder Cannons vs. Western Jets
TWO metropolitan sides keen to bounce back after missing finals last year kick-off the season tonight, with Calder Cannons hosting Western Jets at RAMS Arena. Both sides came close to reaching finals, but ultimately fell short with inconsistent form at either end of the season.
The Cannons have a core group of top-end talent, led by Curtis Taylor, Jack Bytel and Rhylee West, while Mason Fletcher and Jack Evans will hold down their last line of defence. For the Jets, their strength lies in their depth with few holes across their line-up. Western have one of the best half-back lines in the league with Oskar Manton, Buku Khamis and Stefan Radovanovic lining up there, although the latter is likely to play inside. Emerson Jeka and Zac Butters will be two forwards to keep an eye on, while Xavier O’Halloran will win plenty of inside ball.
Oakleigh Chargers vs. Eastern Ranges
In the first of a double header metropolitan clash, Oakleigh Chargers host Eastern Ranges at Skybus Stadium in Frankston. The Chargers won the minor premiership last year but bowed out in the preliminary final. The Ranges made the finals but lost to Dandenong despite being in control in the first half.
Oakleigh has been famous for serious top-end talent in past years, but in 2018 the Chargers have highlighted greater depth rather than a couple of stars. Xavier O’Neill, Riley Collier-Dawkins and Isaac Quaynor are all ones who will be talked about this season, while bottom-agers Matt Rowell, Noah Anderson and Dylan Williams are a trio likely to just keep getting better. Eastern will look to a team approach to win the game with Adrian Kalcovski, Kye Quirk and Xavier Fry leading the midfield, and Ben Cardamone steadying down back.
Northern Knights vs. Sandringham Dragons
For the second game at Skybus Stadium, last year’s grand finalists Sandringham Dragons clash with the Northern Knights. The Knights were bundled out in a one-sided contest against Oakleigh in the elimination final last year, but will be keen to start out strong in season 2018.
Northern’s midfield duo of Tom McKenzie and Braedyn Gillard will hope to match the Dragons at the stoppages, but will need to limit the influence of the slick Bailey Smith. The Dragons also have the much talked about King twins lining up this weekend with Max and Ben up opposite ends of the ground. Sandringham have greater depth than last year when they reached the grand final and with the top stars in for the weekend, will be tough to beat.
GWV Rebels vs. Bendigo Pioneers
In a rematch of last year’s first round clash, the GWV Rebels host Bendigo Pioneers at Mars Stadium. The Pioneers got the better of the Rebels in the corresponding fixture last season, but the Rebels will be confident of their chances in this clash.
The Rebels will be well serviced off half-back by Scott Carlin and through the midfield with the returning Tom Berry – who missed the second half of 2017 through injury. Tylar Watts will hold down a key position post, with the rotating ruckman aiming to dominate deep this season. The Pioneers will miss Jye Caldwell, who is still playing school cricket for Geelong Grammar, but will be aided by the inclusions of Jacob Atley and Bailey Henderson in the back half to sure up the ball movement.
Murray Bushrangers vs. Gippsland Power
Two of last year’s finalists that were bundled out in the elimination finals stage clash in the first round this season. Murray Bushrangers went down to Sandringham Dragons, and Gippsland Power were overwhelmed by Geelong Falcons in the first week of finals last season. This time around the sides will meet in the middle of their respective highways for a huge clash at Swinburne Centre (Punt Road).
The Rolls Royce for Murray is Zane Barzen, an imposing half-forward of key position height who rolls through the midfield. Along with Barzen, Murray have a host of tall options such as Mark Marriott and Hudson Garoni who will both attract recruiters gazes. For Gippsland, captain Xavier Duursma will lead the team through the midfield with his balanced style and inside grunt. Irving Mosquito will undoubtedly create an air of excitement inside 50, while down back, Matthew McGannon will use his foot skills to hurt teams on the rebound.
Geelong Falcons vs. Dandenong Stingrays
In the clash of the round, Geelong Falcons host Dandenong Stingrays in a blockbuster Sunday afternoon game. Scheduled for GMHBA Stadium, the match is predicted to be a ripper of a contest given both sides are genuine premiership contenders. With full-strength line-ups, there will be plenty on show for recruiters to get an early gauge on the form of some players.
Geelong’s key strength lies in its midfield with arguably the strongest triple threat in Sam Walsh, Ned McHenry and Oscar Brownless lining up in the guts. Naturally the Falcons defence and forward structures are sound, but its midfield is all class. For the Stingrays, there are plenty of names to watch across the team sheet, but the return of former AFL AIS Academy member Aaron Darling is the story of the day. Bailey Williams, Riley Bowman and Mitch Riordan are just a few other names to keep an eye on, while the Cumming twins will play their first game for the Stingrays since crossing from basketball.