SO many changes at the selection table and ahead of round four we investigate which players will need to stand out, and those who will need to continue their form in order to get their team across the line in round four of the TAC Cup competition.
BENDIGO PIONEERS v. OAKLEIGH CHARGERS
Round 4 – Friday, April 20, 7pm
Queen Elizabeth Oval, Bendigo
Bendigo Pioneers host Oakleigh Chargers under lights tonight at Queen Elizabeth Oval and it becomes a game which is almost impossible to predict how it is going to go. Bendigo has made at least six changes, something that pales in comparison with Oakleigh’s team selection as 13 players return to school football or other commitments. Noah Anderson will be a key out, second overall in clearances for the Chargers, but Bendigo will still need to watch James Rowbottom, who has notched up 17 clearances (eight centre clearances) and is influential at the stoppages.
Bendigo’s 1-2 counter punch at the stoppages are Noah Wheeler and Zane Keighran with the latter named at half-back for the match. They have 21 clearances between them in season 2018, but Wheeler has also been crucial for 12 inside 50s. Bailey Henderson has been named up forward after being Mr Consistent at half-back, and he will line-up alongside Will Holt who is leading the goal kicking in the competition with Max King. The injury to Daniel Keating will be felt, with the in-form ruck having played some great football to date, and the Pioneers will look to Matt Hird in his first game this year to provide the midfielders with the first possession.
For Oakleigh, they will need their depth to step up in the absence of Anderson, Trent Bianco, Matt Rowell, Jack Ross and Charlie Whitehead in the middle, while Ben Silvagni has been the most influential forward in terms of scoreboard influence this year. In his place comes Sam Elliott who moves to full-forward with Daniel Scala the key small down there. With Anderson, Silvagni, Whitehead and Zac Hart gone, the Chargers lose four of their top five players involved in scoring chains this year. Instead of having eight of the top 10 in this match-up, it is more even 6-4 split. Oakleigh still has the depth to win the game, but Bendigo will be hoping to take advantage of the mass changes and its strong inside brigade make the most of its experience at the stoppages.
GEELONG FALCONS v. EASTERN RANGES
Round 4 – Saturday, April 21, 11.15am
Avalon Airport Oval, Werribee
In a game where both sides are still looking for their first win, last year’s reigning premiers and the team with the most players drafted in 2017, find themselves in a vastly different situation six months on. Geelong will welcome back Sam Walsh who is a crucial cog in the Falcons midfield, especially against an Eastern Ranges outfit which will be without the likes of Xavier Fry and Cody Hirst who both rotate through there.
Geelong will miss Charlie Sprague who has been arguably the most consistent Falcons player who has played all three games, as Sprague heads back to play school football, as will Cooper Stephens and a host of others among seven changes for Geelong. Eastern have also made six changes, with Hirst’s a forced one through injury. One area in which Eastern can try and take control is in the midfield with a strong inside brigade. With no Ed McHenry, the Ranges have four of the top five clearance players in the game, with Joel Burleigh, Jonte Duffy, Adrian Kalcovski and Lachlan Stapleton all providing good extraction from the stoppages. Oscar Brownless, Baxter Mensch, Brayden Ham and of course Walsh will look to go head-to-head with the Eastern onballers in what could decide the match.
The big question for these teams is scoring, with the Falcons missing Sprague (who would have the highest scoreboard impact in this match-up) and relying on Blake Schlensog who has had nine score involvements, three more than any other player on the field this season. Based on the season so far, both teams will look to share the load in terms of scoring, with Billy McCormack and Thomas Lockman named as the key position posts for Eastern, while Finlay Parish comes in for his first game and will line-up at centre-half forward in between Ham and Walsh. Throwing Connor Idun forward continues to offer a different look for the Falcons, and with a marked improvement in round three compared to the prior two rounds, the Falcons will be confident going into this one.
MURRAY BUSHRANGERS v. SANDRINGHAM DRAGONS
Round 4 – Saturday, April 21, 11.30am
Norm Minns Oval, Wangaratta
In the other early game on Saturday, Murray Bushrangers will look to win their third consecutive match, while Sandringham Dragons head into the game unbeaten. With the start of the APS and AGVS seasons, the Dragons are hit harder than any other team and lose almost all of their best 22 – they made 16 changes. It will be a great test to see if they can overcome the Bushrangers with their next tier of players, and see some stand up in the absence of others.
Players who have been in form for the Dragons include Alastair Richards, Liam Stocker and Kai Owen, the three highest extractors for the Dragons this season who have been named in the line-up. Without Dawit McNeish and Bailey Smith, the Dragons will need to win the clearances against a Bushrangers midfield which includes Ely Smith and Dylan Clarke, with Mark Marriott dominant in the ruck more often than not. Losing the King twins always hurts, but the Dragons got the job done against Calder without them, and they will look to James Rendell to continue his good form – booting four goals in the second half against the Cannons – to have an impact on the contest. Up the other end, the Bushrangers have no shortage of contributors, with Patrick Warner (six goals), Bailey Frauenfelder (five), Riley Bice (four) and Jacob Koschitkze (three) all having an impact. Sandringham will be vastly unknown quantity up forward, with Liam Stocker (two) the highest season goal kicker behind Rendell, with Angus Hanrahan thrown forward for this match.
Last year the Dragons knocked off Dandenong Stingrays at Frankston Oval after making 17 changes to its side at the start of the APS season. It was a remarkable win, and they will be looking to do the same here. The trick will be trying to limit the influence of Murray’s midfield and working as a team to ensure they don’t concede too many early goals as they try and gel which is always difficult with wholesale changes. Murray does not rely on one goal kicker to kick a high score, something Sandringham will look for this round as the teams aim to share the goals around and provide a great contest in Wangaratta.
GIPPSLAND POWER v. NORTHERN KNIGHTS
Round 4 – Saturday, April 21, 12.45pm
Morwell Recreation Reserve, Morwell
In what is shaping to be a great contest, Gippsland Power takes on Northern Knights at Morwell, a ground where the Power pushed Dandenong Stingrays all the way a few weeks back. The Knights have also improved since a round one capitulation against the Sandringham Dragons, and are starting to find their groove – so naturally both sides have been scattered with the start of the school football system with Gippsland’s four omissions among their four most important players – Xavier Duursma, Sam Flanders, Austin Hodge and Caleb Serong. Northern has also lost their most consistent ball winner in Tom McKenzie, as well as the likes of Justin McInerney, Oscar White and Joel Naylor among at least seven changes.
Gippsland will look to rely on Matthew McGannon for plenty of drive out of the back half, with the overager leading the competition in disposals (84) and marks (30). Through the midfield, Riley Baldi’s role as a clearance gem will become more important given the loss of partner in crime Hodge, and the fact the Knights will be without the only player with more clearances than Baldi this season in McKenzie. Gippsland will look to the likes of Nick Lowden, Brett Thorson and Boadie Motton to stand up through the middle and around the ground who have been that next tier of players behind the four omissions. Brock Smith is a talented bottom-ager who provides great drive, while Ryan Sparkes is another one who has impressed so far this season. Gippsland’s forward line is vastly untouched outside of Flanders, with Irving Mosquito and Josh Smith – two of the three highest Power goal kickers – both in the side.
For Northern, Josh D’Intinosante and Braedyn Gillard shape as the two most important players. D’Intinosante is a bottom-ager who has a good all-round game providing forward pressure and scoreboard impact. He also gets up the ground and sets up his teammates, as does Gillard through the middle with his work at stoppages. Without McKenzie, Gillard will look to Harrison Grace and Ryan Gardner among others to try and win the midfield battle – an area which is weakened for the Power by their omissions. Lachlan Potter provides a good link down back, while Patrik Della Rocca and Mark Baker will be a couple of targets who can hit the scoreboard if given the opportunity. The battle between Rylan Henkel and Thomas Hallebone in the ruck will be fascinating with both players selected in the extended Vic Country and Vic Metro squads respectively.
DANDENONG STINGRAYS v. WESTERN JETS
Round 4 – Sunday, April 22, 12.30pm
Shepley Oval, Dandenong
Dandenong Stingrays face Western Jets in the first game on Sunday, with the Stingrays losing a number of key players to school football and Under 18 Academy Series commitments. The Stingrays are yet to lose in season 2018, but their depth will be put to the test with the likes of Stephen and Matthew Cumming, Hayden Young, Mitch Riordan, Toby Bedford, Jai Nanscawen and Heath Briggs out of the side. Riley Bowman and Bailey Williams return from the AFL Academy game among a host of fresh faces including familiar Stingrays name Sam De Koning who lines up at centre-half back. For the Jets, Emerson Jeka is a big loss down forward, while Lucas Rocci is another out; but the return of AFL Academy member Buku Khamis will buoy the Jets coaching staff.
Western might have the upper hand if they can control Williams and Bowman in their defensive 50, with Aaron Clarke, Steven Kyriazis and Zak Butters three of the most damaging forwards in the game, all adding a different element inside 50 for the Jets. Bailey Schmidt, captain Campbell Hustwaite, and Finlay Bayne have the three highest score involvements of the remaining Dragons, although expect both Williams and Bowman to have a say in the team’s fortune down forward. Zac Foot booted four goals in the last outing against the GWV Rebels, so is another who could be damaging, but the Jets also have a strong defence to rely upon.
The likes of Khamis and Hamish Murphy hold down the key defensive posts, while Stefan Radovanovic and Jack Papachatzakis provide good run and defensive pressure. Xavier O’Halloran has been Mr Consistent through midfield, while Connor Thar provides a strong presence at the stoppages and is a known ball winner. Daly Andrews and Darcy Cassar are others who have shown some good signs throughout the season. For Dandenong, Jamie Plumridge and Will Hamill provide a good trio with Hustwaite, while Angus Paterson has been a rock in defence.
GREATER WESTERN VICTORIA REBELS v. CALDER CANNONS
Round 4 – Sunday, April 22, 1.30pm
MARS Stadium, Ballarat
The final game of the round sees GWV Rebels return to MARS Stadium where they take on the Calder Cannons with both sides at a crucial junction in the early part of the season, sitting 1-2 after three rounds. The Rebels will look to turnaround from the heavy defeat at the hands of Dandenong Stingrays up in Bendigo, while Calder will look to build on the performance against Sandringham Dragons without their AFL Academy members, and bring the same level of intensity into this clash. Unlike many other teams, both sides have got stronger at the top end, with the Rebels welcoming back midfielder Tom Berry, while the Cannons have their AFL Academy trio in, of Jack Bytel, Curtis Taylor and Rhylee West. They do lose Mitch Podhajski and Mason Fletcher who have been consistent all season, but will be bolstered by the important returns.
Without a second thought, the clearances are going to be an entertaining battle with Lochie Dawson and Scott Carlin leading the way in this game, while Taylor, Bytel and Curtis will add some serious grunt in the middle. Neither side has a dominant key forward, and instead looks to share the goals around between talls and smalls, with Jed Hill (five), Mitch Martin (four) and Josh Chatfield (three) the top Rebels goal kickers; and Taylor (four) and Jack O’Sullivan (three) the top Cannons in the absence of Podhajski. Tylar Watts returns to the ruck against Devereux Pretty who is back into the side this week, with the ruck battle a crucial one-on-one in the overall scheme of things.
Calder has a consistent defence with Jack Evans, Lucas Cavallaro and Lachlan Sholl back there, while Kyle Baker adds composure and speed. Dylan Landt and Tye Browning are other consistent mid/forwards, while the Rebels have a mosquito fleet in attack. Matt Schnerring and Toby Mahony joining Hill, Chatfield and Martin as dangerous forwards, while Jed Henderson will look to provide a target as well. Harris Jennings and Charlie Wilson are other players to watch, while Angus Gove links well between midfield and attack.