After a disappointing 40-point loss to the Geelong Falcons in the first Elimination Final last year, the Murray Bushrangers are looking to bounce back this year under the leadership of captain Michael Gibbons and vice-captains Kristian Cary and Nick Holman.
“The loss was really painful for us, especially after we had such a good season. But we worked really hard over the pre-season. It’s a real motivator for this year” Cary said. “But we have a very good chance this year. We are a much more united group and all the boys trust each other and we have very good team chemistry.” With a number of the teams’ better players remaining on the list from last year, the team looks set to improve on its ten win season in 2012.
One of the main strengths of the Bushrangers squad this year is their leadership. “There are many at the Bushrangers this year such as Michael Gibbons, Jake Sharp, Nick Holman and Kieran Ellis” Cary said. “I am just one of many leaders.” With 18 bottom-aged players and 29 new faces in the squad, that leadership will be crucial to the team’s success this year.
Despite a narrow first round loss to their conquerors last season, the Geelong Falcons, morale is high around the Bushies squad and it showed in their last two victories over the Bendigo Pioneers and North Ballarat Rebels. “We had a lot of first gamers and every team needs a few games under their belt to gel and become a unit. We certainly have a lot of improvement that I think will show over the course of the season,” said Cary before the victory over the Pioneers.
It was the experienced heads at the Bushrangers that helped them get over the line in the scrappy affair with overaged player Jydon Neagle impressing, along with Cary, Sharp, Bryden Squire and captain Gibbons who continued his impressive start to the season with a best on ground performance.
Gibbons, along with livewire small forward Jarman Impey and midfielder Nick Holman rate as the top draft chances according to Cary, who is also a chance at having his name called out in November. “I certainly hope to be drafted. It is one of my main goals.” Cary lists his strengths as tackling, pressure, speed and attack on the footy, which are all qualities recruiters look for in outside midfielders like Cary.
When pushed on his chances at making the NSW/ACT Rams team this year Cary was confident, “I am hoping they are pretty good. I was on the extended list for the National Carnival last year but didn’t get the opportunity to play.” The carnival is crucial to the draft chances of many players as there are numerous club representatives passing judgement on a player’s every move however Cary remained undaunted, “Everybody says to forget about who is watching but that’s hard. I’ll probably be nervous but I’ll just try and play my best and do my role for the team when the time comes.”
Cary was unable to break into the Bushrangers team last year until players left to play for the Rams or Vic Country. Cary is well aware of the need for depth in the squad and the possibility of players taking their opportunities in the team to cause competition for spots when the representative players return. “Last year I knew that when Nationals started up we would lose a lot of our senior players so I was hoping to get a go then and I just wanted to make sure that when I got in the team I stayed in there.”
The depth of the Bushrangers squad is likely to be the difference between another disappointing finish to the season and a finals place giving players and opportunity to showcase their skills in front of recruiters on the big stage. They are currently sitting fourth after three rounds as they head to the week off before facing the Eastern Ranges in Wangaratta the following week.