Finals within reach for TAC Cup sides


Oakleigh Chargers (8th) vs. Sandringham Dragons (4th)

If Oakleigh win: OC 6th-8th; SD 4th-5th
If Sandringham win: SD 4th; OC 8th

With metropolitan sides back at full-strength after the conclusion of the APS season, this match is expected to be a beauty.

Sandringham will go in as favourites, with Andrew McGrath, Tim Taranto and Will Setterfield fit and ready to play.

Oakleigh’s Jack Higgins has found a lot of the ball of late and used it well, while players such as Nick Larkey and Taylin Duman could provide much needed height yet athleticism to the Chargers.

The Chargers will be without tall Patrick Kerr will sit out with a finger injury.

Sandringham need to win because a loss could see them drop out of the top four and have to do it the hard way in finals.

With the fifth placed Rebels taking on the Knights, the Dragons would expect to drop to fifth with a loss, so they simply have to win.

For the Chargers, a loss would potentially lock them into eighth spot with a round to go as they could only hope the Cannons lose to the Falcons and Jets in the last two rounds to jump to seventh.

As a finals opponent, Oakleigh would want to meet the Cannons before the Rebels, Dragons or Ranges as the latter three top-end quality surpasses 5th-8th sides in the past few years.

In this match expect it to be fast paced with plenty of skill on show if the weather holds out.

I am going to tip the Dragons, but if the Chargers can nullify Sandringham’s damaging ball users, it will go a long way to winning the match.

North Ballarat Rebels (5th) vs. Northern Knights (12th)

If North Ballarat win: NBR 4th-5th; NK 12th
If Northern win: NK 9th-12th; NBR 5th

North Ballarat is hitting its straps at the right time of year, but this will be far from a lay-down win.

Northern Knights have shown competitiveness throughout most of their matches this season and quite rightly will be disappointed they could not snag a win against Eastern Ranges last week.

Up at Eureka Stadium is a different story however and you have to brave yourself for the icy conditions and swirly breeze.

The Rebels should win this reasonably comfortably, but with goal accuracy always a challenge in Ballarat, it gives both sides opportunities to capitalise on inside 50s.

With a full-strength side the Rebels are a genuine contender in 2016 and to be a contender as a country side, you do need to finish top four, so they will need to win and hope Sandringham lose so their fate is in their own hands in the final round.

A midfield containing Hugh McCluggage, Willem Drew and Cedric Cox is always going to be one to watch, but Luke Bunker and Mason Blakey will also have something to say if they can help the Knights get on top in the clash.

For Northern, a win could see them jump as high as ninth, with a winnable match against Gippsland in the final round.

If they can take a scalp like the Rebels and stop them getting a double chance, then they can be pleased with their season based on effort.

I am tipping the Rebels at home with more on the line, but they will not have it all their own way.

Gippsland Power (9th) vs. Eastern Ranges (7th)

If Gippsland win: GP 9th-10th; ER 7th-8th
If Eastern win: ER 6th-7th; GP 10th-12th

Eastern Ranges will make the trek to Morwell taking on the Power who are fresh off a good patch of form.

In the past fortnight, Gippsland has defeated Geelong Falcons and Calder Cannons and will back itself to make it three in a row against the Ranges at home.

While the Ranges cannot drop out of the finals, they will be keen to ensure a first final against either Calder or Oakleigh rather than the Rebels or Dragons.

This is a match the Ranges should win, particularly with the return of their All-Australians from school duties and could make a late charge for the premiership race.

Gippsland is playing its last home game and the fans willing to brave the conditions will be keen to see a strong outing by the Power before they move on to other leagues, whether it be AFL, state level or local leagues.

If Eastern wins this match as expected, they will lock up a top seven spot at the very least and therefore avoid a clash with a top five side in the first week of finals.

Ben Ainsworth and Josh Begley are the two excitement machines worth watching from their respective sides.

I am tipping the Ranges with more on the line and at full strength, although the Power might make it a struggle on their home turf.

Calder Cannons (6th) vs. Geelong Falcons (2nd)

If Calder win: CC 6th; GF 1st-3rd
If Geelong win: GF 1st-2nd; CC 6th-8th

Of all the games, the match that could define the top eight as much as the Dragons/Chargers encounter is that of the Cannons and Falcons.

Geelong will go in as favourites, but at RAMS Arena Calder can never be discounted, particularly if they are keen to finish sixth and avoid the Dragons or Rebels in the first final.

If Geelong win, they lock up a top four spot this year, which they must have if they are any chance of winning the flag.

Lose, and suddenly they rely on defeating the Stingrays in the final round with the Dragons, Bushrangers and Rebels losing all their matches.

For Calder, sixth place is as high as they can go, but they would rather face the Chargers or even the Ranges in the first final than slip to eighth.

The Cannons do not have a stand-out player like some clubs, but have a good cohesive unit, which is why they have made the finals this year.

Tall utility Noah Balta stood out in last weekend’s U17 Futures match and will be one Cannon to keep an eye on.


Geelong is very much the same after losing star defender Alex Witherden early in the season.

They have managed to secure a top two spot to this point in time, but after losing to the Power a fortnight ago, their double chance is under threat.

They have a hard working midfield that needs to win the clearances to give its big bodied forwards opportunities to kick goals.

If they can get it forward often enough, the Falcons will kick a high enough score to win.

Likewise if the Cannons can play keepings off, they are a real chance in this game and have a number of forward options to kick them a winning score.

I think this will be the closest game of the round, and I’m leaning towards the Falcons who need to lock up a top four spot, but I feel the Cannons could well cause an upset and ensure they do not finish eighth.

Dandenong Stingrays (1st) vs. Murray Bushrangers (3rd)

Dandenong win: DS 1st-2nd; MB 3rd-4th
Murray win: MB 1st-2nd; DS 2nd-3rd

Let us be honest, this is the game we are all waiting for. Without a doubt it is the match of the round with both country sides big premiership contenders.

Both the Stingrays and Bushrangers have All-Australians, AIS Academy and National Combine invitation players and will be expected to feature deep into the finals series.

I have remained steadfast in my belief the Bushrangers will win the flag, however at Shepley Oval, the Stingrays will be ready and prepared and keen to snare top spot.

The Bushrangers need to win to stop falling to fourth with a Dragons victory, however the Stingrays also need to win to avoid slipping down.

A potential week one finals match-up, it will be interesting to see the match-ups, which includes Will Brodie vs. Myles Poholke in the middle.

With arguably the two most damaging forward lines in the league, the biggest question will be whether both sides opt for a fast-running goal fest, or a tight defensive contest to try and win in a slugfest.

I hope it’s the former with Todd Marshall and Esava Ratugolea up one end and Josh Battle and Tom De Koning up the other.

I will tip Dandenong at home in this one, but Murray will be keen to win and if they can overcome the long trip and pull up well, back them in with a strong finish.

Bendigo Pioneers (10th) vs. Western Jets (11th)

If Bendigo win: BP 9th-10th; WJ 11th-12th
If Western win: WJ 9th-10th; BP 10th-12th

The match has become an anti-climax without a finals carrot dangling in front of the teams.

Bendigo came close to a finals place, but ultimately fell short with some upset losses late in the season.

The Pioneers in my opinion are the eighth best team in the competition this season, and could well finish off the year on a high with a win against the Jets.

They are at near full strength, with only Kobe Mutch missing, likely to play for the GWS Giants NEAFL. Joe Atley and Kayle Kirby are ones to watch in a match that will do little for ladder position, but mean a lot to the teams themselves.

While there’s still a round to play, the Pioneers will want to win in front of their home fans before travelling to Trevor Barker Oval to face the mighty Dragons.

For the Jets, they could jump as high as ninth but are missing star player Daniel Venables.

Western played so well in the opening round of the season, smashing the Chargers, but have not lived up to the expectations set in that match with some heavy losses throughout 2016.

They will give themselves a real chance in this clash and it is pretty close to a 50/50 game.

I will tip the Pioneers because their bottom agers are starting to impress, but it should be a reasonably tight contest if both teams are at full-strength.

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