WITH just two rounds remaining, the top two sides are locked in, the third to sixth sides cannot move from those four positions, seventh is almost secured, and eighth is up for grabs. Eleven teams are still in the hunt with a fortnight to go, but that can all change this weekend, with several crucial finals-defining clashes occuring. We take a look at the possibilities and which sides face off in the final two rounds of the TAC Cup season.
1 Geelong Falcons – 13-3 | 162% | 52 points
R17: Eastern Ranges
R18: Dandenong Stingrays
It seems to be said every season, but Geelong has set itself up to be in the best position come finals time. They cannot drop out of the top two with just two games remaining meaning they will face either Northern Knights, or one of the four teams battling for eighth spot. Given the tight proximity between the top six sides, finishing top two is incredibly important under the new finals series where there are no double chances. The next two games will be tough for the Falcons, with the two sides the top two premiership contenders from the start of the year. Given there’s every chance the Stingrays and Ranges face off in the first week of finals, they will be keen to knock off the Falcons and head into the finals series with some serious momentum behind them.
2 Oakleigh Chargers – 13-3 | 160% | 52 points
R17: Bendigo Pioneers
R18: Eastern Ranges
After a year that ended one short of the big dance, the Chargers are back in contention again, and, like the Falcons, have wrapped up a top two spot. The Chargers will face either Northern Knights or one of the four teams battling for eighth spot, which is a better result for them than a potential clash with a full strength Sandringham or Eastern. The Chargers should beat the Pioneers this weekend, but Jarrod Brander and possibly Lochie O’Brien back in Bendigo colours, it could be a closer match than many might anticipate. A final round showdown with the Ranges will be a good tune up for the finals series.
3 Dandenong Stingrays – 11-5 | 121% | 44 points
R17: Sandringham Dragons
R18: Geelong Falcons
This weekend’s clash with Sandringham will determine if the Stingrays finish top four or fifth. They would guarantee a top four spot with a victory over the Dragons, while a loss would mean they could slip as far as fifth this weekend. They cannot drop further than fifth given their superior percentage over Eastern, but with the new finals series, it means the Stingrays will face one of Eastern, Sandringham or Murray in the first round of finals. They played well on the weekend against the Greater Western Victoria Rebels, but with two very tough encounters in the next fortnight, nothing is a given from here on in.
4 Sandringham Dragons – 10-6 | 123% | 40 points
R17: Dandenong Stingrays
R18: Northern Knights
The Dragons are locked in a percentage battle with Murray Bushrangers and would be keen to grab some percentage boosting wins over the next fortnight. Unfortunately for the Dragons, both the Stingrays and Knights could be very stiff opposition, but it’s fair to say the Dragons will need to win at least one of those to guarantee a top four spot. With the new finals series that does not mean a double chance, but at least it potentially means facing a full-strength Murray in the finals – which it would have seen throughout the season – than a full-strength Eastern or potentially Dandenong again should it lose. Murray has the easier run home so the Dragons will need to win both to assure a top four place.
5 Murray Bushrangers – 10-6 | 122% | 40 points
R17: Northern Knights
R18: Gippsland Power
The Bushrangers could theoretically drop to sixth with a couple of losses, but in all likelihood they finish fourth or fifth. The Bushrangers have been consistent all season and while Geelong had their measure on the weekend, the Bushrangers will head into their final two games as favourites. They should beat Northern on form, but again that is a line-ball call, while Gippsland have shown heart throughout the season and are no easy-beats either. But win both and they finish higher than their opponents in the first week of finals.
6 Eastern Ranges – 9-7 | 99% | 36 points
R17: Geelong Falcons
R18: Oakleigh Chargers
Eastern Ranges cannot drop out of sixth so the final two games will ultimately test where they are situated heading into the finals series. Playing the top two sides without the fear of falling any lower is a positive thing for the Ranges, knowing if they can match it with the Falcons and Chargers, they can knock off anyone in the finals series and be the ‘dark horse’. Many tipped them for the flag, and now they have a full-strength side together, expect the Ranges to put the foot down and show their premiership wares with the likes of Sam Hayes, Jaidyn Stephenson and Joel Garner all rotating through the midfield which is ominous for any opposition side. The loss of Adam Cerra (out for the season with a shoulder injury) will be a blow, but the Ranges have shown they have plenty of depth in the midfield with the likes of Dylan Moore and Trent Mynott both having represented Vic Metro during the season.
7 Northern Knights – 6-9-1 | 82% 26 points
R17: Murray Bushrangers
R18: Sandringham Dragons
Northern are in a position where they cannot afford to rest on their laurels and fall into finals, both because A) they are not locked in and B) because they cannot drop a few games to finals-bound sides heading into the post-season series. The Knights have performed well throughout the season, but coming up against full strength sides they have drifted slightly, and they will have their work cut out for them in the final fortnight. They face Murray and Sandringham, two sides looking to cement a top four spot, even though top four is not what it used to be. For the Knights to drop out of the eight, Gippsland would need to win at least one game, and/or Calder, Western or GWV Rebels win both games. It’s an unlikely, but still possible scenario, with one win in the final two rounds to sew up a finals spot.
8 Gippsland Power – 6-10 | 87% 24 points
R17: Western Jets
R18: Murray Bushrangers
The Power continue to impress and just grind out wins despite momentum seemingly against them at times. The Pioneers threw everything at them and the Power wilted the storm and ran out victors on the weekend to retain eighth spot. It means they now not only have a four-point advantage over their rivals, but a big percentage difference too. A victory against Western this weekend will all but sew up a spot, with Calder needing to win its final two games and chase down 11 per cent to make finals. A loss to Western however, and the Power would almost certainly need to knock off Murray in the last round to secure eighth. Regardless, if they make finals they will face either Geelong or Oakleigh in the first week.
9 Calder Cannons – 5-11 | 76% | 20 points
R17: GWV Rebels
R18: Western Jets
The Cannons are still well and truly in the finals hunt, but need to win their games and hope either Gippsland or Northern drop their matches. The Cannons are just as likely to win their final two games as they are to lose them, with the sides they face backing themselves in to take home the points. If Calder can get the job done and watch the Power or Northern lose both, then the Cannons could jump as high as seventh with a bit of luck. But lose to the Rebels this weekend and their finals campaign is done and dusted with a huge percentage chase required in the final round to catch up.
10 Western Jets – 5-11 | 75% | 20 points
R17: Gippsland Power
R18: Calder Cannons
The Western Jets arguably hold the most power in their hands because they can knock off their two closest rivals for eighth spot. If they can defeat Gippsland this weekend, then all of a sudden they arguably sit in pole position for eighth spot. The Power would go in as underdogs against the Bushrangers, while the Jets would face the Cannons for the final top eight spot. But if the Jets lose to the Power this weekend, then it is game over, no second chances. A victory against the Power this weekend is non-negotiable and with Lachlan Fogarty and Cam Rayner in the side and the team hitting form, they would back themselves to win the final two games.
11 GWV Rebels – 4-11-1 | 80% | 18 points
R17: Calder Cannons
R18: Bendigo Pioneers
Much like the other bottom four sides, the Rebels will head into the final two rounds confident of coming away with two wins. But even then it may not be enough because the permutations required to make finals are hopeful more than realistic based on the face the other sides battling for eighth are facing each other and therefore a side must win (or draw). One aspect on the Rebels’ side is their percentage, which is higher than Calder or Western, but with a draw, they are two points adrift from those two teams. It does help them if they can win both and Northern lose both as chances are the Rebels make up the two per cent difference. But even then, they need Gippsland to either lose both, and the winner of the Western and Calder clash to lose their other game. Basically, the Rebels need Calder to defeat Western, Western to defeat Gippsland and Gippsland to lose to the Bushrangers.
12 Bendigo Pioneers – 3-13 | 71% | 12 points
R17: Oakleigh Chargers
R18: GWV Rebels
It is a genuine shame that Bendigo will miss out on finals for another year given it has had its strongest side in some time with three first round prospects and a number of others likely to get drafted. Unfortunately, school football and state representative duties have hurt the Pioneers and they cannot finish higher than tenth, and even then they would need Western and the Rebels to lose both. I imagine Oakleigh would be wary of the Pioneers this weekend given they are much better than their ladder position suggests, while a final round clash with the Rebels could end the Rebels’ finals hopes.