Finally, after the bye week where teams prepped for the finals (insert *hit the turps celebrating wins by Richmond and the Storm), we enter week 1 of the finals. With Croydon dropping the ball at the back end of the season, we have the better set of games, in my opinion. Now I do not claim to be “in the know” with the availability of every team, and most of what I write is merely based on presumptions mixed in with recent history between the teams. Feel free to drop your own predictions in the comments of this post.
“Set your goals high, and don’t stop till you get there” – Bo Jackson
Before we get to the games, just a quick reflection of the 2 teams that missed the finals.
6th – South Eastern Predators
I would look at the end result of this season as a pass mark. For a team that did not look likely to win a game, suffered setbacks in player retention and some coaches that could not work together in spite of differences – this team punched above its weight. Yes, it could be argued that this team had a right to drop to Div 2, but luckily they had enough pride to fight out the season and build for a future.
With changes happening at the club, with Mark Levin stepping down, and Tex Perkins taking a greater role in the club, they readily acknowledge that coaching is the next area they need to improve their club. Word on the street is that the Preds will look to fly in a coach, as the Royals did this year, and focus on the development of players through their successful Juniors program. Expect this team to improve on their 2017 results, IF they can retain and recruit accordingly.
5th – Geelong Buccaneers
Another team who underwent a rebuild, they too looked at dropping to Div 2 but were not given the option as Div 1 had already lost 1 team. Geelong played a solid season in spite of their growth plan, but missing the finals for the first time in several years will hurt this very proud group. Add in the forfeit, and it was a season of “plus and minus” for the Buccs. They earned a place in the top 4 mid-season, but with so little depth, their injuries were just too much to overcome by the end of the season. While the Buccs start to put a strong effort in a Juniors program, they will start to see benefits within a few years, but only time will tell how long we have to wait for Geelong to return to the finals. Another possible candidate for a fly-in coach?
Western Crusaders 1st vs. Croydon Rangers 4th
Finishing the season undefeated shows just how dominant the Cru have been in 2017. While externally they played down their pre-season favourites title, few would have been that surprised with their dominance throughout the season. As predicted, the Cru showed nothing in their final game of the season. They took home the win with a dominant Defense that shut out the reigning champions, not that they were given too much to defend. How great is this team? So much so that I am uncomfortable in even listing individuals when writing as they display the standard all need to model for their own teamwork. On the flipside, the Rangers have limped through to the finals after dropping the last round to the Preds, and then falling to 4th after being behind the point difference against the Royals after their below-par game against them in the second last round. Breaking down the 2 teams:
- Week 5 – Crusaders 32 defeated Croydon 13
- Week 10 – Crusaders 48 defeated Croydon 0
Looking at form, the Crusaders Offense has been dominant throughout the season, while the Rangers stopped mounting any serious pressure from their offense in the second half of the season, in fact they only managed scores against the Buccs and Preds. The Cru run the ball with a very versatile group, forcing teams to load the box. In turn, once you drop down on the Cru’s run game, they will air the ball with confidence in their pass game that has not been seen at the Cru for a few years.
O-Line combinations of both teams, you have to lean towards the Cru as they have given plenty of time for their QBs and have helped protect the ball exchange to their RBs. If there was an area the Cru need improvement from their O-Line, it would be those “next man blocks” creating better lanes for the RBs to punch through the trenches.
The Receivers of the both teams have a strong upside, but again I give the edge to the Cru with a compliment of 2 of the best WRs in GV. With an ability to read the game, and pressure to their QB, they will find space with their breakaway speed.
RBs again goes to the Cru, with a diversity of styles that makes every play dangerous. The RBs will look for early edges to turn upfield and place faith in themselves to punch the required yards.
I am unsure if the Rangers will have Stafford start, but I have been impressed with how well the Cru’s QBs have developed over the season. They can scramble well, throw against the flow of the play and look beyond #1 targets. The area for concern for the Cru might be how many Interceptions vs. TDs as they move deeper into the finals.
Looking at form, there is no other team riding the wave of dominance like the Cru have. Coach Wilson has turned his troops into a unit of 11 that plays with the same intensity as he did. On the other side, the Rangers continued to lose stars with every game to the point where their lack of depth was exposed by several other clubs.
The D-Line of the Cru have long been their strength, and 2017 was no different. The physicality of the Cru’s DL will create several headaches for the Rangers, and the team they will face in the Vic Bowl. Croydon has again shown losses in this area that have required some of the OL to play both ways, which only affects both sides of the ball.
Looking at LBs, the Rangers have missed their on-field leader in Doyle. It is not just what Doyle does on the field that matters, but the manner in which he heralds his troops with a “no excuses” mentality that has been missing since his injury. The Cru’s LBs have had a strong season, with the luxury of the wall in front of them. Their pursuit of players attempting to run wide is relentless, and they will blitz with intensity. The support of LBs to break-up short passes will become more important in the finals.
The secondary of the Rangers has been strong for several years, but even they can’t stop the constant pressure they have been under in the second half of the season. If there was an area that appears vulnerable for the Cru, it may just be their DBs. While their coverage has been solid, their physicality while the ball is in the air will often attract the attention of the men in black and white. With a focus on eliminating silly penalties, I am sure this has been addressed at training.
Surely outside of the Croydon faithful, no-one is expecting the Rangers to even be competitive in this game. By no fault of its own, the Rangers have limped into the finals and now come up against the team that has pushed them around for the past few years. I have heard that the biggest score difference in a GV final may be 62 – 0 (and I am happy to be corrected), and I would expect the Cru to look at creating a record in this game by using the Rangers as training cones.
Western Crusaders 66 – Croydon Rangers 0
Semi – Final #2
Monash Warriors 2nd vs. Melbourne Uni Royals 3rd
What a finish to the season the Royals had, with their 2 last games of the season showing they were not going to be a team who just falls into the finals. With 2 strong wins, albeit against teams that were depleted with injuries, the Royals managed to finish Third with thanks to the Preds scoring an upset win against the Rangers. This is a team that is getting players back from injury at the important part of the season. On the flipside, the “grandparents” of GV did what had to be done – nothing more, nothing less. So what did the Warriors do for the last game of the season? Run the same 6 plays in an almost methodical manner to waste the time of anyone showing up to film the game. A smart move by the Warriors? I guess it will all come down to what mentality the teams will be in as they head into this game. Breaking down the 2 teams:
- Week 5 – Warriors 32 defeated Royals 7
- Week 10 – Warriors 22 defeated Royals 16
Looking at form, the Royals have all the momentum Offensively as they dropped 135 points vs. the Warrior’s output of 118. Not much of a difference, but in what may likely be a very close game, every point will matter. Both teams have multiple weapons, with solid OLs to protect their QBs, so the differences might just be a matter of opinion. The big edge going the way of the Warriors will be their experience in finals.
Starting in the trenches, both of these teams understand that importance of a solid O-Line that works in cohesion, but each might have a player that could be targeted by stunts or blitzes that overwhelm their decision-making skills. I am the first to say that these players have impressed me with their growth over the season, and they will stand up to any challenges, but I will give the Warriors a very, very slight advantage in this area, but if nothing else, watch how the Royals get downfield and hit those extra blocks to turn 3 yard runs into 5+ runs just with their mobility.
On to the QBs, the Warriors will trot out Father Time in Dearman for another run at “capture the flag”. Dom clearly does not like wet weather, windy weather and throwing over the middle, but he is smart QB who will read changes in a Defense and quickly adjust his play accordingly. The Royals have played Merry-Go-Round with QBs, starting with Franklin based on his form in 2016, used Marlon when Franklin was unavailable and finally convinced Dylan to take the helm. Do not for a second make the mistake of underestimating Dylan at QB, as he is playing with confidence and is enjoying the game much like he did while capturing titles in the Juniors. Dylan rolls with an air of confidence well above his years of experience and continues to show why he should be a strong consideration to train with any state teams.
The running game of these 2 teams is the foundation from which they build their Offensive strikes. Luke Jackson has been the pride of the Warrior’s Offensive since his arrival from Queensland, and is almost unstoppable – but did the Cru expose a weakness in the last round. Rarely have I seen Jackson lose the ball, but such was the case against the Cru and surely there will be several Royal’s arms trying to rip out the ball, or was this just some rust as he returned from injury. Curley is a good backup RB, but he too is clearly looking at getting some form as he too returns from injury. The Royals love the run game, often feeling like you are watching a State of Origin game as they are prepared to pound the middle and flick out to the wings. The Royals have some great RBs but this is a game where they need to demonstrate if they can match the Warriors dominance on the ground.
The Receivers of both teams can break open a game, but I feel the Royals have more options for short and long passes. The big question is whether Demontrez can get himself fit in time for this game, or will the “no name” receivers continue to expose any Defense that underestimates the quality of their development. For a game that could have conditions that are not ideal to the passing game, I am expecting the Royals will pull down a few passes that could go some way to affecting the result of this game.
On an extra note, the Warriors will need to be mindful that the Royals have one of the more damaging FG units and any chance of putting through 3 points will be taken.
I have not really been impressed with either team’s D-Line, and this is not by any fault of their own as anyone who has watched the Cru will understand why. Both units will be very physical, trying to not only close down any holes through the middle, they will also be seeking to force the QBs out of their comfort zones. With a slight experience advantage and the versatility of adjusting to field position, the Warriors unit will play a greater role in the outcome of this game. I can see the Royals needing to constantly adjust their playbook according to who is put on the DL by the Warriors.
Moving a few steps back we look at the LBs of both teams. Hunter Nice has been a handy addition to the Warriors, and for a young age has taken somewhat of a leadership role on the field. The Warriors have often boasted a solid group of LBs, and this has continued this year, but do they have the ability to be used to blitz when that extra pressure is required. The Royals have moved a few players into LB, cashing in on their rugby experience to make the transition as smooth as possible. The Royals LBs will attack, and attack often. They have great faith in their ability to strip the ball, sack the QB and break up any short passes – but they still lack the experience of the Warriors. Funnily enough, I believe that the unit that steps up in this game will probably affect the final result.
The secondary unit of the Warriors is a very proud group that is deservedly showered in accolades. When you have Wolfe and Bettles, you immediately have 2 names that you know you can rely on to break up passes, back up their LBs and hit you so you will remember it the next day. Imagine how different this would have looked if the Royals had been able to convince Bettles to switch teams. The Royals have had a very handy recruitment in this area, and they have a FS that will intercept any loose throws over the middle, but this is not an area Dearman likes to throw. Coverage by the Royals is good, but they can be turned inside out very quickly and sit back which allows opponents to throw quickly into 3 receivers sets. While the Royals have improved, the Warriors deserve the advantage in this area.
I am struggling with my choice here, as I have a close affinity to personnel at both clubs and know that both teams deserve a spot in the Vic Bowl. I guess I have to think back to a comment I made to Craig Wilson, at a past Warrior’s catch-up, where I boldly predicted his Crusaders would face the Royals at the Vic Bowl. So on this occasion, I have chosen enthusiasm, endurance and momentum of the Royals to overcome the experienced, but getting slower, talents of the Warriors.
Melbourne Uni Royals 27 – Monash Warriors 24