MURRAY Bushrangers have secured their spot in the finals race after outclassing the Bendigo Pioneers at Ikon Park over the weekend, defeating them by 27 points.
Ely Smith continues to make a case for a possible late second round pick with another strong showing in the Wild Card round against the Bendigo Pioneers. While originally missing selection in Vic Country’s original side, Smith later received a call up after Country lost their inside midfielders in Jye Caldwell and Mitch Riordan, and Smith’s continued showing of good form.
In the TAC Cup, Smith leads in clearances, sits third in disposals, third in contested possessions, third in handballs, tenth in inside 50s and twelfth in tackles. This strong bodied midfielder knows how to take a tackle and use his size and strength to gain prominent position. While his inside game is easily his most impressive quality, he by no means lacks an ability on the outside.
With stakes increasing heading deeper into finals, we could see a big lift from the Bushrangers’ contested possession winner and a big add to his stocks heading into the 2018 National Draft.
Quarter by quarter:
Ely Smith’s usual impact was nowhere to be seen in the first, tallying only the two possessions for the quarter, and being quickly dealt with on his first touch.
After some time to reflect at the break, and probably some choice words from his coach, Smith entered the second term with a huge lift in form. Off the tap down he read the drop best and manoeuvred well in tight space to burst into the Bushrangers’ attacking half. He shot off a lot of clean passes from the middle, aiding the Bushrangers’ aggressive run forward and picked his man well despite having Pioneers hanging off his back. He continued to boast a perfect read on the ball, spoiling a mark along the wing and collecting it off a bounce. He copped a tackle soon after but got a short pass away, quickly regained possession and chipped it up to the square and affected a Bushranger goal.
He kept lifting in the third, earning a clearance from the first stoppage and locking down a getaway in the second. In the next centre bounce, Smith earned himself a clearance and an inside 50, bursting away with the pill and setting up a shot on goal. He trapped the ball carrier out of the next centre bounce, causing a stoppage, and laid a second tackle to dispossess and hand Dylan Clarke a clearance. Some strong kicking and a burst away from congestion frequently broke Pioneer lines. Breaking one tackle and withstanding a second, Smith kicked clean down the passage which resulted in another Bushrangers goal. He repeated the same action soon after, booting the ball over the centre square out of their defensive half, shattering Pioneer lines. If he was not first to the footy, he was usually a close second, wrapping up his man before they could take a step.
The hitouts stopped going his way at the beginning of the final term, with one thumped long and another hit high. Though unlike the first, Smith turned it around and gained his first disposal with a chip kick inside 50 from a lead through the passage. He went onto to clean up his team’s messy clearance work from the stoppage, extracting it from the congestion and again creating movement. He broke lines with excellent work out of the back, including a strong kick in the defensive 50 which created some easy movement. Not long after, he received the ball at the end of the chain that he started inside 50 but missed to the left with his set shot. He got a second chance at it off the kick in, causing a turnover, but was unsuccessful in converting. Smith is an easy pick for best on ground, for his massive second and third quarter impact, dominating both the inside and outside game for the day.
29 disposals (16 contested)
12 handball receives
6 inside 50s
It cannot be said definitively but it is likely Smith will be taken somewhere in the middle of the Draft. Producing a strong showing in the finals has the potential to catch recruiters’ eyes, so if he is able to keep his form up and goes deeper into finals, that’s more time to affect a positive opinion.