WITH the Under 18 National Championships done and dusted, some important fixtures in the back end of the TAC Cup season will come to the fore as the race to the finals heats up. Over the coming weeks, a number of Vic Country, Vic Metro and Allies representatives will slot back into their respective sides as they near full strength once again.
CALDER CANNONS v. WESTERN JETS
Round 11 – Saturday, July 7, 10:45am
RAMS Arena, Craigieburn
The first game of the round pits Calder, looking to hold on to its spot in the top eight, against Western Jets, hoping to maintain its position in the top four. Both sides came into the year with a good raft of top end talent to propel their respective teams into finals contention. Having done so, they will each welcome back a Vic Metro representative in the form of Calder’s Lachlan Sholl, and Western’s skipper Stefan Radovanovic with the National Championships wrapped up. There’s an interesting quirk that will play a deciding part in the fixture, as both sides having the exactly same tally in points for (676) and against (674) – with both defences sured up at the selection table, it will be worth seeing which team can kick a winning score in blustery RAMS conditions. The Cannons will be looking to co-captain Mitch Podhajski to add some goal threat from midfield after a stint with Coburg in the VFL, while the Jets should get a good amount of potency from 2019 prospect Darcy Cassar.
SANDRINGHAM DRAGONS v NORTHERN KNIGHTS
Round 11 – Saturday, July 7, 11:30am
Trevor Barker Oval, Sandringham
Despite sitting pretty in fifth, the depth of the Sandrignham Dragons squad has been tested at times this season, and the eighth placed Knights will be looking to have that same effect when they meet on Saturday. While the Dragons scraped home against Oakleigh in an important win last time out, Northern suffered a loss that sees them clinging on to their finals spot, and another defeat could see the teams below cut the gap to within four points. To help allay those threats, bottom-aged Vic Metro rep Ryan Gardner comes back into the team alongside mobile over-age tall Joel Naylor, who could pose a goal threat alongside fellow inclusion James Lucente should he be thrown up the ground. Sandringham will look to gain an edge in the midfield, with guns Liam Stocker, Alistair Richards and Harry Houlahan making up a dangerous centre bounce line-up. The likes of Patrik Della Rocca and Josh D’Intinosante have both mixed midfield time with their forward duties, and may have to put their hands up if the Knights are to stand a chance.
OAKLEIGH CHARGERS v. EASTERN RANGES
Round 11 – Saturday, July 7, 2:00pm
Warrawee Park, Oakleigh
With both sides coming off tight losses to top eight competition, the Chargers and Ranges will be looking to get back on the winners list. Oakleigh are poised a game clear within the finals spots in sixth, while Eastern have notched just the two wins in 2018 to sit in eleventh place. The Ranges possess a consistent group of midfield performers, and will welcome the likes of Lachlan Stapleton back into that mix to go with skipper Joel Burleigh, Kye Quirk and Mitch Mellis. Half-backs Xavier Fry and Ben Cardamone will have their work cut out for them with the inclusion of bottom-aged Vic Metro star Dylan Williams for Oakleigh, who may even spend some time through the middle alongside fellow ins Lachlan Bugeja and Xavier O’Neill. Oakleigh are one of the more free-scoring teams, while Eastern have struggled in that department this year, so the onus will be on that midfield group to win the ball early and put pressure on the Chargers defence while protecting their own.
DANDENONG STINGRAYS v. GEELONG FALCONS
Round 11 – Saturday, July 7, 2:00pm
Shepley Oval, Dandenong
Ladder leaders Dandenong will be looking to continue their winning ways when they host Geelong in Saturday’s second afternoon game. The Stingrays have some vital breathing space on top of the table, and more importantly, add some serious talent back into the line-up. The team that is rolling on throughout the season adds Riley Bowman, Will Hamill and Toby Bedford after their Vic Country stints, and team that with the Cumming twins – Stephen and Matthew – and Sam De Koning and there’s some impressive talls and great crumbers. Jai Taylor provides the speed, while Campbell Hustwaite and Jamie Plumridge can find the football on the inside. For the Falcons, they also welcome back a few key players after a disastrous game last round where they failed to kick a goal. Connor Idun and Dane Hollenkamp add important strength to the back 50, while Blake Schlensog will be a target up front. With no Sam Walsh or Ned McHenry in this game, the Falcons will need it’s next tier to stand up against a star-studded Stingrays midfield.
GIPPSLAND POWER v. MURRAY BUSHRANGERS
Round 11 – Sunday, July 8, 12:00pm
Morwell Football Ground, Morwell
On the early game on Sunday, we have the match of the round with two top four sides going head-to-head. The Power are coming off a draw to Calder Cannons and a shock loss to the Bendigo Pioneers, while the Bushrangers have regained form after a rare loss to Oakleigh Chargers, to smash Geelong Falcons last week. The winner will take second spot on the table, while the loser might slip to fourth if the Western Jets get up. Murray’s forward line is arguably the best in the comp with the leading goal kicker Hudson Garoni, crashing packs and causing all sorts headaches for opposition defenders. Jye Chalcraft and Bailey Frauenfelder have been impressive in attack, while Jordon Butts has also kicked a bag of goals in the past month. The most in-form TAC Cup player in Ely Smith returns after a huge game for Vic Country, and he will face off against Caleb Serong, Riley Baldi and Austin Hodge in the midfield. Both sides have promising bottom-agers including Lachlan Ash and Brock Smith who have been in strong form throughout the season, and it is billed as an exciting clash for those who can make it to the game.
BENDIGO PIONEERS v. GREATER WESTERN VICTORIA REBELS
Round 11 – Sunday, July 8, 1:00pm
Queen Elizabeth Oval, Bendigo
In the final game of the round, two sides pretty keen for a win face-off with both sides managing the two so far this season. For Bendigo Pioneers, they had a fantastic win over Gippsland Power last week and will want to go back-to-back with victory over the GWV Rebels here. The Rebels will remember the round one loss against the Pioneers where they had control of the game until Tom Berry came off with concussion and the Pioneers swarmed home to win by a point. With Berry and Scott Carlin returning to the side, joining Matty Lloyd as some crucial players in that team, the Rebels will fancy their chances. But Brodie Kemp was impressive for Vic Country, while Bailey Henderson returns, and Noah Wheeler is coming off a season-best game. It spells an even contest and one which will result in a well-deserved victor.