North Ballarat might not have been in premiership contention earlier in the season after losing their opening four games of the year. The mental toughness and resilience of this football club from top to bottom since could not have been bigger with the Rebels finishing top four ahead of the finals series.
Geelong, Bendigo, Murray and Calder – in succession, they were the four teams the Rebels fell to earlier on in the year.
However, the Rebels went on a mid-year rampage, knocking over the likes of fellow finalists Dandenong and the Jets, whilst getting sweet revenge over the likes of Sandringham, Murray and Geelong from earlier in the year to record seven straight wins from rounds six through to 14.
The Rebels have been one of the league’s most consistent and dominant teams throughout the year, despite the outlook initially looking bleak. The Rebels have an even spread of role players without having the top-line talent other clubs boast. They’ve found consistency in the unlikeliest of players and have been bolstered with several bottom-age players who’ve stood up most weeks, and will form the backbone of the squad in 2015.
The Rebels would be taking in confidence against several finalists should they cross paths throughout September. Clean sheets against the Dragons, Jets, Stingrays and surprisingly Oakleigh, whom North Ballarat have beaten twice, as well as wins over Murray and Geelong will ensure the Rebels create more than just a splash in this year’s series.
NORTH BALLARAT REBELS
Coach: David Loader
Talent manager: Phil Partington
Captain: Keegan Mason
Leading goal kicker: Jess Palmer (28 Goals)
Final place: Fourth
Best win: Both wins against Oakleigh. Flip a coin, both wins were by under five points, both were gutsy, hard fought and clinical from start to finish.
Poorest loss: Round 14 loss against the Eastern Ranges – coughed up a lead, ran out of legs and it could’ve been their eighth win on the trot.
Finals threat: Calder – the Rebels haven’t managed to beat the Cannons in their two games this year.
The gun: Oscar McDonald
The younger brother of Melbourne’s Tom, Oscar McDonald’s season has seen himself launched into the limelight as a Jackson Trengove-like defender who boasts terrific athleticism, agility, speed, a lovely kick and the ability to threaten when pinch hitting up forward. McDonald has been North Ballarat’s gun player this year, and arguably their most important. Playing key roles at both ends of the field, he has been a large reason why the Rebels have shot into flag contention in 2014. With a terrific ability to read the play, mixed with a combination of being able to attract and use the ball in possession, his willingness to kick goals at one end and stop them at the other will go a long way to ensuring the Rebels go deep into September.
The smokey: Rowan Marshall
Somewhat of a Cinderella story, Rowan Marshall was largely off the map last year in terms of his draft stocks. However, returning to the competition as a 19-year-old in 2014, Marshall has found consistency and has developed strongly, utilised between ruck and deep forward. Coach David Loader has shownhis faith in the big man to go forward and clunk marks on multiple occasions this year, with Marshall’s notoriety to stand up in close games a strength that will certainly hold him in good stead throughout September. Marshall, who was Vic Country’s number one ruckman throughout the carnival, has averaged 26 hitouts in his 15 games this year, including almost 15 disposals, 4.4 marks and a whopping 4.2 tackles per game.
Mr Consistent: Jess Palmer
Playing every game this season to take home the Rebels’ leading goal kicker award, Jess Palmer’s year has been one of a revelation. The medium forward with a terrific leap and rare accuracy in front of goal has been the Rebels’ go-to man on most occasions in 2014, averaging almost five marks per game. Although Palmer isn’t key position size, his overhead marking and leading patterns match it with the league’s best. He’ll demand serious attention and close monitoring, and could cause the Cannons a few problems if he gets off the leash early.
The x-factor: Jacob Wheelahan
The lively forward flanker promises to create a serious splash in the finals series, and could be the Rebels’ greatest weapon. Wheelahanhas bagged 17 goals from his 14 games this year and is a damaging prospect that looms as North Ballarat’s wildcard against Calder. Wheelahan caused all sorts of problems for the Cannons’ defence only a fortnight ago, kicking two goals off 17 disposals including five tackles.
Under the radar: Tom Templeton
Tom Templeton plays the exact way he looks: classy, clean cut and sharp. But despite his polish he still goes heavily under the radar, which is more of a credit to the evenness of the North Ballarat outfit. He’s averaged 20 disposals from his 14 games this year, and has been in the Rebels’ best on 10 occasions, particularly against the Knights, when he collected 26 disposals and a goal earlier in the year. Although he has started to use the ball by foot more in the second half of the year, his handballing game is dangerous, and he has the vision and awareness to create space and left fly a handball to advantage that splits congestion.
The match winner: Dan Butler
Dan Butler’s draft stocks are rising since averaging 16.8 disposals and almost a goal a game this season. Butler, who is a quick goal-kicking midfielder, starred on the MCG for St Patrick’s College in the Herald Sun Shield, looking more than comfortable running amok on the MCG turf. He is one of the highest averaging TAC Cup players for handball receives with 5.5 a game, which really underlines his endurance and ability to stamp his influence on a game. A high volume tackler who is as vicious as he is reckless, Butler recorded a whopping 17 tackles against top of the ladder Oakleigh Chargers just prior to representing Vic Country in the championships. He averages 8.1 tackles and 2.7 marks per game, and is a wrecking ball in close.
Finals specialist: Darcy Tucker
One of the most exciting prospects for the 2015 draft, Darcy Tucker is going to blow minds this finals series. Tucker, an AFL-AIS member, brings endurance and athleticism to the Rebels’ squad and coupled with a basketball background, he is a midfielder who does damage. The 2014 All-Australian half back flanker has been in ripping form this year, and will be the point of the Cannons’ interest in stopping this weekend. Averaging 18 disposals, almost five marks and three tackles per game, with a season best 22 disposals, eight marks and three tackles coming against Calder earlier in the year, the Cannons won’t be taking this bottom-age star lightly.
FINALS PREDICTION: Preliminary finalists
It’s the old age debate: a team of champions, or a champion team. That is what the Rebels have faced this year in a nutshell. They’ve shown terrific mental fortitude after a slow start and have come home with a wet sail of late, but will face flag favourites Calder in their first final. It’ll be a great measuring stick in terms of just how far this team has come, but it’d be a disappointment for all involved if the Rebels were to bow out in straight sets. They’re good enough for a preliminary final, and the way David Loader has coached this team in 2014, don’t discount them just yet.