After a great set of Semi-Finals, a season that was far too short, and the longest list of injuries of I have seen in recent years, we have arrived at “The Game”. So what scenario have we arrived at? No Rangers or Warriors in the big dance for the first time in 22 years. Are we heading towards the Crusaders closing out the season in the fashion we have become used to in 2017, or did we witness the arrival of the new kids on the block who will look at adding another scalp at the business end of 2017?
- “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships” – Michael Jordan
- “The ones who want to achieve and win championships motivate themselves” – Mike Ditka
Before we get to the game, I’d like to drop a quick reflection on how I saw the season of the 2 teams that dropped out in the finals;
4th – Croydon Rangers
So how does one sum up what was a roller coaster season? Injuries and “The Suspension”. When the Rangers had their starters available, they were playing great football. When they missed the presence of these key players, their lack of depth was very quickly exposed. I know this sounds like a broken record, and a statement that surely counts for the majority of teams throughout Australia, ignore your junior program at the expense of your own future. Croydon finished off the season with a strong performance against the Cru in the Semi, but I have a feeling that their plans for 2018 will need to have a 2018 – 2023 focus or they will continue to be reliant on too few to do far too much. Expect the Rangers to take the necessary steps forward and return to push for “their spot” in the Vic Bowl.
3rd – Monash Warriors
Looking at the 2017 season for Monash doesn’t reveal too many areas that must be addressed immediately. They continue to develop players from Juniors, through their Development Team in the Barbarians, which came within a point of making the Div 2 Championship game and into the Warriors team. So what led to this team missing out on the Vic Bowl? It appears the Warriors have some ageing stars who are becoming a step slower, not recovering from the physicality of the game as quick as they had in the past and a possible longer time required for players to “step up” in the transition from Barbs to Warriors competition levels. The Warriors are already planning for 2018, of which the biggest decision will require who will take over the helm of the club as Ralph Maggio steps off into the sunset and enjoy time with his family. Personally, I wish Ralph all the best and still hope that in time he has not been lost to the game altogether. In short, the Warriors are not playing in the Vic Bowl because of a poor PAT call, or because of some key injuries or calls by officials. The Warriors are not in the Vic Bowl because they came up against a hungrier team who outplayed them.
Vic Bowl XXXIII
Western Crusaders vs. Melbourne Uni Royals
The Cru being in the game was the closest thing we have had to a sure bet in 2017, but the Royals joining them on the stage was probably only of the opinion of those who know just how much this team has grown in recent years. The Cru won their Semi against the Rangers by a score of 34 – 10. Far from the blowout, I was expecting, but it was great to see many faces return for the Rangers’ game and provide the Cru with a tougher contest than was indicated by Croydon’s last game of the regular season. The Royals won their final over the Warriors, by a score of 24 – 13, which was even more impressive when you consider they shutout the Warriors in the second half to overcome a 13 – 8 deficit. The Royals continued to show just how dangerous this team is when at full strength, and now we have 2 Inner City teams face each other in the biggest game of the season.
- Week 7 – Crusaders 36 defeated Royals 12
- Week 12 – Crusaders 34 defeated Royals 0
The Crusaders have regularly produced defendable scores throughout the season, and several times scoring the most points for each round of the regular season. A score of 34 points in the Semi indicates yet another solid result for a team that has been the envy of many coaches throughout the league. On the other side of the field, we are seeing a Royals Offense that has welcomes back many from injury. Most teams would be ecstatic with putting 24 points up against the Warriors, or it that 23 points plus an assisted PAT? Regardless, even 23 points would have won the game. The Royals and the Cru have a mixed bag when it comes to recent history, with games that can produce miserly scores, or produce lop-sided results. So with a forecast of 20 and only a possible drizzle in the morning, which can be mopped up by the Div 2 game, we should have ideal conditions for the Vic Bowl.
O-Line combinations of both teams have solid contributions, but at full strength, I feel the Royals’ OL gets further downfield to assist their RBs get those extra yards that matter for ball retention. The question here might be whether the Royals will have their OL at full strength. While the loss of Jumbo from the OL did not affect the result last weekend, the Cru will exploit any missing bodies from the starting line-up.
Receivers of both teams are playing out great seasons, but I believe the experience of the Crusaders in this area gives them the edge of the Royals receivers. Rumour has it that Trez will return for the Royals, but questions must remain over how healthy that back is in readiness for the physical game that will come his way. The Cru boasts 3 of the smoothest receivers in GV, but the Royals pace in their No Name (well OK maybe dreadlocks got named), but they adjust to any pressure on their QB and can move very quickly to any parts of the field exposed by over pursuit or breakdowns in coverage.
RBs is a mixed bag because they play very different styles. The Royals love to run over their opponents and push the packs to get that extra yard or 2 and be assured those quickly converted to first down against the Warriors. The Cru has a very silky fast-moving set of RBs that do not waste the game trying to run around their opponents. They rely on their OL setting up short sideways movement with solid blocks which results in a quicker up-field movement of the ball. The Royals rely on Toks getting momentum for his gains, but let’s keep in mind this will be against the Cru DL which has not had a peer thus far in 2017. I see this area evenly split as a Victorian team would likely contain members of both squads.
So onto the QBs – the glam boys of this sport, and we present 2 players who are both enjoying playing the game. They can both run, they can both pass, they both make great choices and force some throws when it is not really needed. You have the youth of the Royal’s QB vs. the knowledge that comes with growing up with the game in the Cru’s QB. In what is a very close choice, I will lean towards the Royals in this area, partly because I carry a biased opinion and that I believe their QB adds a running game that not only enables him to scramble but also be used as a regular weapon in the run game.
Looking at the form of both teams in recent weeks, one might almost give the edge to the Royals in this area, but this is a call not made by playing opponents of equal standards. The Cru has a Defense that continually handed the ball back to their Offense all year. In contrast, the Royals have had to change around personnel to find the better mix that has to lead them towards greater consistency in the end.
The D-Line of the Cru are big, physical and they take on a “let’s move the ball backwards” mentality. No O-Line in 2017 has been able to push these players around, no O-Line has been able to protect their QB for very long and no O-Line has been able to block them for gaping holes for their RBs. The Royals have had many changes on their DL, one of which has been the rotation of some OL to bolster their stocks. The concern with this will become durability and endurance as they will already be pushed to limits holding down their OL responsibilities. The Royals have taken great strides forward on their DL, as I openly criticised during the course of the season, but man for man they have not reached the standards of the Cru’s DL which will likely take ¾ spots in the All-State Team.
LBs for both teams are of a varying style. The Cru boast aggressive LBs that will blitz and gang-tackle all day. The Cru’s LBs have been responsible for many forced fumbles and they hit with pure ferocity. The Royals boast a very fast group of LBs who read the game quickly to adjust between run and pass. The communication between these players enables them to take gambles that will affect the outcome of games if they can force their opponents into having to come from behind. The biggest test in GV comes this week for the Royals as they come up against Garnham, whom I consider the player who will most likely carry the result of the game on his performance. Not comparing performances of their opponents this week, I see both units of an equal value to their respective units and they will both need to remain focused all game for any breakdowns will quickly lead to large gains and scores.
Onto the last area, I see an area that the Royals take the edge. The Royals have collected many players into this group and they will break up passes, and return poor pass choices. The Royals coverage is aggressive, fast and just about everywhere on the field. The vertical leaps of these players have cut-off many passes, and with so many of them also having soft hands, they will pick the ball out of the air. The Cru play an interesting coverage, with a reliance on forcing teams to pass over the middle where they hope to maximise support for one another. The Royals will test the coverage of the Cru’s DBs like few other teams have, and they must stand up to the challenge or be exposed very quickly.
Much like anytime one looks at choosing the winner of a game, looking at the season you get a cumulative score of 70 to 12 in favour of the Crusaders, but neither of these games is likely to be the indicator by which I am looking at this game. If there is a team that could cause problems for the Crusader’s perfect season, the Royals are probably that team. These teams have produced close games in past years and I have a feeling this game will go down to the wire. Coach Wilson will not want to have a 3rd successive loss in the Vic Bowl and will know that they will be forced to try and break the spirit of the Royals early in the game as they have not yet been tested in “close game” in 2017. On the other side of the field, the Royals have announced themselves as a team who will be a force in GV for several years with youth and a strong development program in place but are they ready to topple the giants of 2017. This is the year Wilson will get his hands on that trophy, but he too would be mindful of the potential for an upset in this game.
Western Crusaders 32 – Melbourne Uni Royals 22
That’s my wrap for the season, and I thank those who have taken the time to read the ramblings of this grumpy old bastard.