IT is a big round of NAB League boys action this weekend, with the Wildcard Round getting underway at Preston, Craigieburn and Box Hill across two big days. There is no turning back for the losers, so for five teams, it is curtains on season 2019, while five others live to fight another day.
SANDRINGHAM DRAGONS vs. GEELONG FALCONS
Saturday August 24, 11.45am
Preston City Oval
There was always going to be one of the highly-rated top four sides drop out of the automatic finals qualification places and in this case it was Sandringham who finished fifth and face a Wildcard Round elimination final. They meet 2019 Wooden Spooners, Geelong Falcons in the repeat of the 2017 TAC Cup Grand Final. Geelong has had its most disappointing year for some time on wins alone, but outside the win-loss ratio, the Falcons are a much better side than meets the eye. Their last quarter fadeouts have cost them on a number of occasions and the majority of their developing talent are bottom-agers. Not to dissimilar to Eastern Ranges this year, the core of the Geelong midfield will still have a year to go in the system and should be better heading into next year. Coupled with the bottom-agers is overager Charlie Sprague who has been on a goal-scoring spree over the past five rounds, piling on 18 goals in that time – including six last round against Dandenong Stingrays. He comes up against an in-form Corey Watts who, along with the likes of Jackson Voss and forward-turned-defender Charlie Dean will not make it easy for Sprague. Oliver Henry and Charlie Lazzaro provide strong support for Sprague inside 50, with Lazzaro rotating with Tanner Bruhn and Noah Gribble through the midfield. Sandringham’s midfield is star-studded and will take full advantage of their greater experience, with Darcy Chirgwin, Finn Maginness and Ryan Byrnes in the top three midfields of the competition. If the midfield gets on top, then the forwards of Fischer McAsey and Kyle Yorke could have a field day, especially with Miles Bergman, Hugo Ralphsmith and Jake Bowey named in the forward line and who are all capable of picking up midfield minutes. Jesse Clark looms as Geelong’s most important player to try and halt the Sandringham attack, while Cameron Fleeton returns to provide the Falcons with some more stability back there. It is hard to see Sandringham losing this clash, but Geelong played its best game of the season last week, so if they can build on that and start strongly, anything is possible.
NORTHERN KNIGHTS vs. BENDIGO PIONEERS
Saturday August 24, 2.15pm
Preston City Oval
In the second game of a double-header at Preston City Oval, the Knights host the Pioneers. The Knights are coming off an impressive win over Western Jets in the final round after starting slowly, while the Pioneers started strongly, and had their chances but just went down to Gippsland Power by 10 points on Sunday. The Knights midfield has the upperhand in this game with Northern trio Adam Carafa, Sam Philp and Josh Watson all in good form, while Josh D’Intinosante looms as a key for Northern up forward with 26 goals to his name this season – second over all on the goalkicking charts. James Schischka might be the man to try and stop him, while William Wallace and Riley Ironside have played good defensive roles in the back 50 of late. Brady Rowles was impressive last week and will provide good rebound, while Sam Conforti, Thomson Dow and Riley Wilson can win the pill and hit the scoreboard. Josh Treacy is strong enough to worry opposition key defenders, with Ryan Sturgess and Jackson Davies the two who will likely play a big role in the defence for the home side. Aaron Gundry has been in good form this season, as has Jack Ginnivan and Ben Worme with the former able to kick multiple goals in a game, while Worme can push up the ground and rotate through the middle. Nikolas Cox and Ryan Gardner are another couple of players that must be contained or Bendigo risk conceding a big score, but they will be relieved that Lachlan Potter will miss the season as his run and carry can break games open. Northern go in as favourites at home, but Bendigo beat the Knights at this venue earlier in the season so will be confident they can repeat the dose here.
CALDER CANNONS vs. TASMANIA DEVILS
Sunday, August 25, 11am
In the standalone game at RAMS Arena, Calder host a somewhat depleted Tasmania side in what on paper should favour the fifth placed home side. With Mitch O’Neill already out and the likes of Sam Collins and Oliver Davis missing it means three of their top players will be unavailable for the knockout clash. Jared Dakin has returned to provide some vital leadership, while Matt McGuinness, Patrick Walker and Liam Viney provide good rebound off the back 50. With Harrison Jones, Jake Sutton and Jackson Cardillo inside the forward arc, the Cannons front six will be hard to contain, but the Devils’ forward line is capable of providing impressive contested marking with Jackson Callow and Jake Steele named in the key position spots. Steele can also play in defence if the Devils start to get overwhelmed on the scoreboard, while Sam Banks and Will Peppin are future prospects who have shown great signs. The Calder midfield of Daniel Mott, Sam Ramsay and Ned Gentile should take control of the game given their experience, and if they get first use to their forwards nice and quickly, then the Cannons could put up a big score. Tasmania must remain composed and use the ball well to take advantage of their contested marking talls in the forward line if they are to cause an upset in this game.
WESTERN JETS vs. GWV REBELS
Sunday August 25, 11.45am
Box Hill City Oval
Down the Eastern Freeway, Western Jets cross the West Gate to play the Greater Western Victoria (GWV) Rebels at Box Hill. Western’s defence has won it games in the past, with Lucas Rocci, Darcy Cassar, Cody Raak and Josh Kellett a formidable combination, while Emerson Jeka can play there as well. Jeka has been named in attack, no doubt to stretch the Rebels’ defence with the tall utility likely to cause headaches for undersized defenders. Also in attack is competition leading goalscorer Archi Manton, but the Jets have struggled to kick big scorers on a consistent basis, so quick ball movement forward is key, as the likes of Josh Honey and Eddie Ford can run and hit the scoreboard. The Rebels are more than comfortable in a shootout situation, but showed last week they can win in a slog as well, which will be great preparation for this match. Jay Rantall, Mitch Martin and Cooper Craig-Peters is an underrated midfield and capable of producing quick clearances, while Josh Rentsch is already showing signs as a top-end key forward despite being two years away from being drafted. Riley Polkinghonre and Jack Tillig have been consistent players up either end this season, while Toby Mahony adds a touch of class, and Ben Hobbs is a 2021 draft prospect with a high ceiling. The Jets have overage experience in Aaron Clarke and Daly Andrews on their side, while Will Kennedy has been phenomenal in the ruck. He meets Patrick Glanford who averages the second most hitouts behind Kennedy, while James Cleaver and Matty Lloyd have also remained in the team this season as overagers, playing roles up opposite ends of the ground.
DANDENONG STINGRAYS vs. MURRAY BUSHRANGERS
Sunday August 25, 2.15pm
Box Hill City Oval
In what could be the match of the round, eighth placed Dandenong Stingrays take on ninth placed Murray Bushrangers in the second game at Box Hill. The Stingrays head into the game on an eight-game losing streak after sitting at a remarkable six wins and a draw from seven games. They have improved the past month, but were overwhelmed by the last placed Falcons in the wet at Bendigo last weekend. With elimination on the line for the reigning premiers, they must pick up if they are to overcome Murray in this match. The Bushrangers were starting to get back to their best before slipping and sliding – literally and figuratively – to a hungry GWV Rebels side in the previous round. The Stingrays still have plenty of match winners with Hayden Young, Ned Cahill and Cody Weightman in the side, and after spending time in the midfield, have been named back in their most dominant positions of half-back and the latter two, half-forward. Lachlan Williams has consistency to build, but as he showed from his three-goal last quarter in Round 17, can pop up and turn a game if it is tight. Murray is usually a strong defensive side, with Liam Fiore and Ethan Baxter able to nullify their direct opponents, as Charlie Byrne and Zavier Maher provide the run and carry out of defence. Sam Durham, Jye Chalcraft, Cam Wild and Dylan Clarke provide a hard edge to the midfield, while Lachlan Ash is all class and can play anywhere on the ground. Jimmy Boyer and Clayton Gay can play up both ends for their respective sides, while Ben Kelly will try and work over Bigoa Nyuon in the ruck, who will have the athletic advantage in the air. Will Lewis played his first game for the year last week and looked impressive, while Josh Rachele is a Under 16s forward who looms as a top pick in the 2021 draft already.