Finals preview: Saturday’s games

CC - Tyson Lever

Oakleigh Chargers vs. Calder Cannons

FANS will not have to wait long to find out the first team to be eliminated from the 2016 TAC Cup finals series, with no coming back for the loser of Oakleigh and Calder. The teams will take to the field from 11.30am on Saturday, with a number of top-age and bottom age prospects to watch for.

For Oakleigh, its strength is in its forward line, with Patrick Kerr, Toby Wooller, Nick Larkey, Jack Higgins and Dion Johnstone all capable of kicking a bag on their day. While their midfield might not have the silky clash of past years, they have a number of players that can find the ball and get it forward, which is all they need to do with the firepower forward of centre.

Their defence has a few talented players likely to end up on AFL lists, starting with Taylin Duman, a composed user of the ball, as well as the athletic and versatile Jordan Ridley. The Chargers have good depth in their 23, with their 23rd player still able to provide a role on the day.

For Calder, their strength lies at either end. In their defence is Hayden Blythe, Lachlan Bramble and Zac Guthrie all on clubs radars and will be keen to impress. In the forward line, Karl Brown is the league’s leading goal kicker, while Muhammed Saad booted seven goals in a game, with Mitch Lewis and Noah Balta (bottom ager) another two forwards to keep an eye on. Their midfield like Oakleigh’s, is not as strong as in past years, but the likes of Tyson Lever, Ben Ronke and Jackson McDonald are more than capable of winning their own ball. Ovie Magbegor is likely to have a fascinating duel in the ruck with Ned Reeves, with Magbegor a potential rookie selection.

What is the key to winning the match?

Ball movement will be a huge factor in the difference between winning and losing, with both teams willing to take risks through the centre corridor and kicking long down the line.

Who could be the difference for each side?

Jack Higgins (Oakleigh) is a natural ball winner and just finds plenty of space. More importantly, he can kick multiple goals in a short space of time and really turn a game on its head.

Zac Guthrie (Calder) will have one of the most important roles on Saturday, not only needing to likely nullify Nick Larkey, but also provide run out of defence. He loves to run, but can often rush his kicks, something he cannot afford to do in a final.

What do Oakleigh need to do to win?

The midfield battle is important to win, but their defence uses it well and they have plenty targets up forward that are not only strong overhead, but mobile as well. If the ball hits the ground, you can back the Chargers’ crumbers to make the most of their opportunities.

What do Calder need to do to win?

Simply, they must win the midfield battle. It is the one area they can top Oakleigh, and might even win the clearance count with an abundance of inside midfielders. Magbegor should win the hitouts and give the midfielders first touch, but they need to make the most of it. If Brown and Saad can get off the chain, then they are half a chance, but they cannot afford to engage in a shoot-out because it will not end well.

Who will win?

For mine it’s hard to go past Oakleigh. I respect Calder for what they have been able to do without an elite talent, but the cream rises to the top in finals, and Oakleigh has that cream.

Tip: Oakleigh by 35 points.

Geelong Falcons vs. North Ballarat Rebels

The second Saturday match is the qualifying final between the Geelong Falcons and North Ballarat Rebels. The Falcons held top spot for most of the season and had a massive win over Calder in the second last round before surrendering the minor premiership to Dandenong in the final round.

North Ballarat is on a huge high following a strong second half showing to snatch third after looking destined to finish fifth for most of the season. This game could be a low scoring game with both sides’ forward lines the lowest of the finals teams in my opinion.

While the Falcons have Brett Blair and Zachary Zdybel, Zdybel often rotates through the ruck with Sean Darcy, while Hayden Elliot also floats through both positions. Aside from those two key forwards, a lot of their goals come from midfielders, which is great because of the unpredictability, but it also means if you are losing the midfield battle, chances are you will lose the match.

The Rebels have a very solid defence with Jarrod Korewha, Clay Bilney and Hunter Dawborn able to match up on the taller players, while Tom Williamson and Callan Wellings provide movement from half-back and through the midfield.

North Ballarat Rebels’ midfield is the best in the competition, with Hugh McCluggage, Willem Drew, Jarrod Berry and Cedric Cox all to be drafted in November, and quite possibly in the first 40 picks.

It will be a tough ask for Geelong, with top prospect Jack Henry (probably a later National Draft selection) and James Worpel (bottom ager) as they provide the class, while the likes of Max Augerinos and Lockey McCartney provide the inside grunt. Sean Darcy is a monster in the ruck, but the Falcons will need to overcome a lack of star power across the field to win.

In defence there are a few underrated players in Jack Blood and Mitch Diamond, while Sam Simpson and Pat Dowling can kick a few goals on their day up forward. Overall, it will be a case of whether Geelong’s working class midfield can upstage the polish of North Ballarat’s midfield.

What is the key to winning the match?

The key in my opinion is converting opportunities. Both forward lines might not have big names in there, but have shown to still kick big scores on occasions with midfielders rotating through.

Who could be the difference for each side?

James Worpel (Geelong) is a star and still 12 months away from being drafted. The inside midfield beast can go forward and kick goals, and I think he will get to go head-to-head with another contested beast in Willem Drew.

It is hard to go past Hugh McCluggage for the Rebels, with the likely number one draft pick all class and seemingly unstoppable in the second half of the season. McCluggage does it all from finding space, moving through traffic and kicking goals, of which he kicks an absurd amount for a midfielder.

What do Geelong need to do to win?

Geelong will have to play a possession style game and nullify North Ballarat’s better ball users in McCluggage and Cox. If Geelong can win the football at the coal face and try and reduce the amount of pain the Rebels can cause them on the outside, then they are certainly in with a chance. On paper they lack the class, but a blue collar side are not afraid to get down and dirty and if it’s a tight game, they are the ones that often close out matches.

What do North Ballarat need to do to win?

Simply, put it in the hands of their better ball users in McCluggage and Cox. Exactly the opposite to Geelong – give it to them and let them work their magic. If both have days out, then the Rebels will win. They also have more run around the ground than the Falcons, so they can afford to take the game on with big kicks Korewha and Berry able to clear zones. They will need to be smart going forward as their most dangerous targets are small to medium types, whereas Geelong is good at getting across and spoiling.

Who will win?

I’m tipping North Ballarat as I believe they can go all the way and win the flag. But in saying that, Geelong are in with a shot if they can win the inside battle and get it to their big forwards. If North Ballarat can open the game up, then they will really apply pressure on their opponents, and much like the Oakleigh/Calder game, class rises to the top.

Tip: North Ballarat by four points.

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