IT is that time of year again where the best sides take to the field and determine which TAC Cup clubs are contenders and which are pretenders. In the past years, the junior competition has seen the finals series take on the identical look to that of the AFL, but in 2017, the finals will be three weeks of pure knockout. The first two games to kick off the round are first taking on eighth and third taking on sixth. So without further adue, we take a look at the first match of the finals series.
Oakleigh Chargers vs. Northern Knights
Oakleigh: 1st, 15-3, 1653 points for, 993 points against, 166%
Northern: 8th, 7-10-1, 1164 points for, 1383 points against, 84%
On face value alone it is clear to see why the Chargers will head into this clash as strong favourites. They have amassed double the amount of points compared to Northern in the home and away season over 18 rounds and come in with a three-game winning streak, including two beltings over Bendigo Pioneers and Eastern Ranges. The Chargers’ three losses came against Western Jets, Geelong Falcons and Sandringham Dragons, with the Jets’ loss the only one since the end of April for the Chargers.
On the other hand, the Knights did not have the run home they would have liked. A huge 39-point win over finalists Murray Bushrangers in round 17 disguised a formline that would worry the Knights coaching staff, with five losses from their last six games. The last time these two sides met, Oakleigh triumphed 16.14 (110) to Northern’s 4.2 (26) in a pretty comprensive victory, holding the Knights to just two goals in each half, while running away with it in the second half.
What was most impressive about that win was the fact the Chargers were missing star and Morrish Medallist Jack Higgins – who has been withdrawn from today’s match with a shoulder injury – as well as Toby Wooller, the clubs’ two leading goal kickers. But the likes of Matthew Day (24 disposals, eight tackles, two goals), Lachlan Bugeja (24 disposals – 18 contested, seven clearances, five inside 50s) and Daniel Stanford (16 disposals, nine marks and four goals) all stood up, while Matthew King was a rock in defence with seven rebounds, and Jordan Troani played further up the field with 12 marks and four inside 50s from 21 disposals.
For the Knights, they too were missing a host of stars including top 10 draft pick Nick Coffield, speedsters Jack Petruccelle and Ethan Penrith, and the exciting Patrick Naish to name a few. Marcus Lentini had 34 disposals and six marks to lead the way, while Mitchell Andrews racked up 30 disposals, seven marks and six rebounds in the game. Oliver Stapleton (26 disposals, seven rebounds) and Jamison Shea (23 disposals and eight marks were others that stood up in the heavy defeat to the Knights.
Key Players today:
Toby Wooller (Oakleigh Chargers) – 17.7 disposals, 5.5 marks, 2.1 hitouts, 4.6 tackles, 2.7 goals per game
Without Higgins, Wooller will be the man the Chargers turn to for their goals and he will also play an important role leading up onto the wing. He has been in fantastic form all season, booting 40 goals, and still winning plenty of the football and most importantly laying some strong tackles.
Patrick Naish (Northern Knights) 18.7 disposals, 4.1 marks, 2.7 tackles, 1.7 goals per game
There were a number of players I could have highlighted here, but Naish is the one I feel could hold the key for the Knights. He has started in defence recently, but has the capability of going forward and kicking goals, which I think he will need to if they are to kick a winning score.
For Northern to win, they need to play smart football and get goals out of their midfielders because that is how Oakleigh has been so successful this season. For the Chargers, Higgins will be a big loss, but the structures and ability of others to stand up has been on show all season, and that is why Oakleigh is my tip in today’s game.