AFTER a week off, the NAB League Boys top four set-up is set for a shake-up this weekend. A top of the table clash headlines the action, while the Gippsland Power face a tough task in holding onto fourth as Western and Oakleigh hunt their spot. A Mars Stadium double-header leads the five Country-based Saturday games, with Eastern hosting Sunday’s only fixture at Box Hill. This weekend also marks the first Futures Round, where teams are required to field at least 11 sixteen-seventeen year olds and squads are expanded to 24 players.
TASMANIA DEVILS vs. NORTHERN KNIGHTS
Saturday June 22, 11:00am
Twin Oval, Kingston
The slightly replenished Tasmania Devils are set to host a Northern Knights side without all of their Vic Metro squad members, as both look to crack into the top eight with a win. The tenth-place, 4-5 Devils have been ultra competitive in their first full-time NAB League season, but struggled last time out against Murray with a host of stars instead suiting up for the Allies in their first outing for the year. This game is the first of five home games for Tasmania over the last six rounds, and with Northern missing as host of big names, could act as a chance to get on a roll. The inclusions of bottom-age Allies representatives Oliver Davis and Sam Collins should inject some class into the middle and off half-back respectively, but the in-form Matt McGuinness and his fellow over-ager Lachlan Gadomski come out of the side to accomodate the Futures requirements. Meanwhile, the Knights will once again be without Adam Carafa as he slots back into the Metro side, joined by rangy bottom-age utility Nikolas Cox as key outs. A host of bottom-agers also replace the likes of Nathan Howard, Bailey Leonard and Ben Nikolovski, who have been key figures in the team this year. It will be a tough test for the Knights as they look to build on their Round 10 win, with the top-age talent of Sam Philp, Jackson Davies and Josh D’Intinosante on each line crucial to their chances. Expect a slog down on the Apple Isle to open the round.
GWV REBELS vs. WESTERN JETS
Saturday June 22, 11:30am
A top four spot could be on the horizon for Western Jets should they get over the GWV Rebels in enemy territory and have results go their way. They travel to Ballarat with high hopes of claiming a fourth consecutive victory, as their weekend opponents are coming off a goalless trumping at the hands of Eastern. Still, the Rebels should be buoyed by the inclusions of a couple of in-form Country representatives as they search for just their third win of the year, and their first at Mars Stadium. Over-ager Matty Lloyd comes out of the side, but Mitch Martin and Toby Mahony should cover the gap left in the midfield/forward rotation two-fold after promising national carnival outings. Meanwhile, the in-form Jets lose some tall timber in the form of Metro inclusion Emerson Jeka and Aaron Clarke, but gain some midfield depth as Josh Honey and Daly Andrews make their NAB League returns. The likes of Lucas Rocci down back and over-age tall Will Kennedy have shown form of late for the Jets, while Jack Tillig and Riley Polkinghorne have stood tall in a depleted Rebels line-up. Form may show otherwise, but the home side will be looking to really test the Jets, but Western have a lot to play for as they hope to keep pace with the top four.
DANDENONG STINGRAYS vs. MURRAY BUSHRANGERS
Saturday June 22, 1:30pm
The Dandenong Stingrays will be looking to get right back onto the winners list as they host Murray Bushrangers at Shepley Oval on Saturday afternoon. A loss could remarkably see the Stingrays dislodged from the top four – barring a draw in the Gippsland-Oakleigh clash – after going undefeated across their first seven games. The raft of changes finally caught up with them last time out, and they are set to face a few more in the lead up to this game. Country representatives Sam De Koning and Lachlan Williams are welcome additions, but the depth of Luca Goonan, Corey Ellison, and Jai Nanscawen that had helped to keep the Stingrays in the hunt with their stars out are all exclusions in this week’s 24. On the other hand, Murray is set to benefit greatly from Country’s bye, regaining skipper Lachlan Ash alongside versatile midfielder Cam Wild and Allies representative, Will Chandler. Ash should add a ton of class to the back six, working in tandem with the in-form Jimmy Boyer and perhaps even freeing up Jye Chalcraft to go forward should he be moved into the middle. A disappointing start to the year is something the Bushrangers look to be putting behind them after their last outing, with the top eight still well within reach at just four points away. Beating Dandenong has proved a difficult job over the last two seasons though, and the reigning premiers should be keen to bounce back after a rare loss.
GIPPSLAND POWER vs. OAKLEIGH CHARGERS
Saturday June 22, 2:00pm
Morwell Football Ground
Oakleigh Chargers can throw a spanner in the top four works and snatch Gippsland Power’s spot in one fell swoop with a win as the two do battle in Morwell on Saturday. The Chargers look to be back to their usual selves on the back of four-straight wins, with their last two coming by a combined 126 points. Their depth has been well and truly tested during the middle part of the season and just as they look to be adapting well, they are set to contend with at least another 14 changes from their Round 10 side. Representative action calls for Jeromy Lucas and Will Phillips, while Futures round sees over-ager Joe Ayton-Delaney out and school football sees last round’s five-goal hero, Jamarra Ugle-Hagan also out of the side. On the other hand, the Power should benefit greatly from a Vic Country bye – regaining the likes of Harrison Pepper, Ryan Sparkes, Brock Smith, Fraser Phillips, and Charlie Comben to add enormous strength and class to each line. Gippsland will look to overpower an Oakleigh midfield led by usual wingman Josh May and bottom-age gun Lochlan Jenkins, and should have some capable aerial cover in defence with Smith back. You can never rule Oakleigh out – especially given recent form – but Gippsland looks a formidable opponent for any side this week.
BENDIGO PIONEERS vs. GEELONG FALCONS
Saturday June 22, 2:00pm
Two sides desperate for a win are set to clash in Saturday’s final fixture, as Bendigo looks to do the season double over Geelong at Mars Stadium. The Pioneers are reeling on the back of six-straight losses, but impressively beat the Falcons in Round 1 in their first of two wins to open the season. On the other hand, Geelong has been massively unlucky to find themselves at 1-7-1, fading out late in a number of games to surrender winning positions and remain the lowest-ranked Victorian side. The largely inexperienced Falcons side has shown promise though, and Futures round should provide the perfect platform for their younger talent to shine through once again. Noah Gribble, Charlie Brauer, and Henry Walsh are three notable bottom-age ins, with holes left by Charlie Sprague, Charlie Lazzaro, and Noah Gadsby. The Bendigo team looks near full strength barring the absence of their two top-end stars, with the likes of top-agers Ben Worme, Brady Rowles, and James Schischka all important figures with plenty of ball winning ability. This should be a cracking contest as two Country sides in varying bouts of form put it all on the line, and the prevalence of Bendigo’s top-agers could prove a key factor in deciding the outcome.
EASTERN RANGES vs. SANDRINGHAM DRAGONS
Sunday June 23, 1:00pm
Box Hill City Oval
A top-of-the-table clash closes Round 11 in Sunday’s only fixture, as Eastern Ranges and Sandringham Dragons go head to head for the second time this year. In their first meeting, current ladder leaders Eastern got the better of the Dragons away from home in a low-scoring tussle, and may even come in as favourites for this bout. The Dragons will be impacted once again by at least 15 changes, but have a couple of more than handy ins. Ryan Byrnes and Darcy Chirgwin will slot straight back into the midfield in their returns from injury, adding strength and class to the engine room mix with Angus Hanrahan and Jake Bowey going the other way. They should have an interesting time combating ball-winning Eastern pair Lachlan Stapleton and Zak Pretty in what will be a hotly contested midfield duel. Both sides lose stocks in the ruck department as Riley Smith is set to miss for the Ranges, while Riley Bowman and Andrew Courtney also come out of the Sandringham side. A swap of Metro representative talls from either end is also a feature of Eastern’s changed, with James Ross a handy addition as Jack Bell comes in for the Dragons. With big contests set to take place on each line, expect a high-quality contest as both sides throw everything at a result and the chance to claim top spot.