After making my way down to Melbourne to watch a couple of Div 1 games, I was looking forward to catching up with a few friends and seeing how much the game has grown over the course of the 2017 season. Let’s just say that I write the preview with great trepidation.
Melbourne Uni Royals 4th (2 – 5) vs. Western Crusaders 1st (7 – 0)
Last time: Crusaders won 36 – 12
Let me start by looking at the “Unbeatables”, as the Crusaders come off a dual bye week. I am sure that Coach Wilson was hoping this would not have been the case as the momentum they were enjoying was growing with each game. As one who had to deal with a similar situation last year, it takes an extra effort to try and keep your team on track during the 21 days between games. The only negative you could add to this team might be some “game rust”, but I am not expecting that this will last beyond a few plays. There is nothing else that can be added to what everyone has likely accepted, the Crusaders will claim the Vic Bowl for the 2017 season.
When the forfeit moves you well and truly back into the playoff picture, must have reignited the fires of the Annoying Neighbours. The Royals faced the Preds, and despite some horrendous actions on the opposing sideline, Coach Trana was able to keep his team focused on the result of the game. I was also very impressed with how Coach Smith has managed to keep the Def fluid. They were able to adjust to the varying formations presented to them, with some very solid back-up from their teammates throughout each series. A Pick 6 is always a strong indicator to how well a Def unit adjusts to each play. On the other side of the ball, it was quickly apparent that far too many injuries are taking their toll on the productivity. With several players missing, a stunted run game and some rust showing on the OL, this unit passed up a great opportunity to show a greater versatility to that which we have seen this year. In saying that, they have a young receiver that impressed me with his hands and running of routes. This player makes it very difficult for opposition teams to just focus on the WR who carries the larger reputation.
The Royals and Crusaders usually have a good tussle along the way, and in theory, the bogey team for the Crusaders could be the surprise loss that might present itself, but the Royals are just not healthy enough to push the Crusaders at this stage.
Prediction: Western Crusaders 32 – Melbourne Uni Royals 16
Geelong Buccaneers 5th (2 – 5) vs. Croydon Rangers 3rd (4 – 3)
Last time: Croydon won 27 – 12
Looking at Croydon first, one might think the wheels were falling off with an 18 – 0 loss to Monash last week, but this is not the case at all. The game was played with the highest respect for each other, produced a score that did not reflect how close the 2 teams were, and was VERY indicative of a game where neither one wanted to give away too much as they will likely face each other in the first semi. The Rangers are also hampered by the injury plague, but still showed they’ve been producing some reliable back-ups along the way. Coach Martin will be hoping he can still get some games into returning players, and those niggling injuries to some of his more experienced brigade will not be too troublesome as they start closing out the season.
Geelong forfeited their game last week. Just stop for a second and realise how hard this would have been for such a proud club that has been top 4 team for many years. I have to admit that I was quite shocked that the Buccs had to forfeit a game, and this shows the importance of all clubs developing a strong junior program or they too will struggle at some stage down the road. I hope that this will prove to be the only forfeit in 2017 Div 1, but I have concerns that these struggles may affect 2 teams over the final 3 weeks. Let’s hope the Buccs get enough bodies on the field to offer up a classic last game against the Royals for the 4th position in the finals.
Prediction: If the game is played, I am expecting a VERY chewed up field that offers up even fewer good plays. Rangers to win this game 26 – 6.
South Eastern Predators 6th (1 – 6) vs. Monash Warriors 2nd (5 – 2)
Last time: Monash won, but the website has not been updated with correct scores.
Team Dearman, or Monash Warriors as listed with GV, are another team missing a few key players that are providing a unit well below their best. The Warriors won, but they too knew last week’s game was more like a pre-season game. I believe the first time I heard their sideline get excited was after some impressive plays from back-up players, and this was after 2 TDs had already been scored. It is difficult to gauge just where the Warriors are, based on this game and the long list of injuries. Monash will now likely finish the season in 2nd, but it will be the game against the Crusaders in the final round where we get any indication if they will return to the Vic Bowl game. Both Croydon and Monash should be congratulated on what I believe was a game with only 4 penalties and played in very good spirits.
For those in attendance at last week’s game, it was not a great day in the history of the Predators. I have no need to delve into details, for far too much bought the game into disrepute. I can only hope that no potential players were there to witness what took place. I will instead concentrate on what matters the most, those players that “stayed and played”. It would have been easy to quit, take the easy route and blame others, but I still saw a number of players who had more respect for the game, their team mates, and the opposition. The players that kept hitting the field showed me what I knew, there is a core group of guys at the Preds who CAN lead this team going forward. My only concern now is that these players still take to the field for the remaining 3 games of the season and then turn their support and time towards developing players coming through their junior ranks.
Prediction: Monash to win this game with a score of 42 – 8