CASUAL observers of the TAC Cup competition would have confidently predicted Gippsland Power would have had the comfortable win that they did over the North Ballarat Rebels at Morwell on Saturday.
Logically the Power was rightfully given clear favourite status based on the relative ladder positions of both sides. The Power was sitting in third position while the Rebels were near the bottom of the ladder after only one win for the season.
However more astute analysts, like Power coach Nick Stevens, were well aware the Rebels might have won only one game but, critically, they had been highly competitive for large segments of each of the losses. He ensured that the Power went into the game respecting the Rebels and their ability to serve it up to all sides and wanted a four-quarter effort by the boys to ensure that they kept the pressure on the gutsy Rebels side.
To further complicate what appeared to be a winnable game, both sides were below full strength due to state football duties, injury and school football commitments and it meant that predictability went out the window in assessing the potential of the opposition.
The Power was without Jack Leslie and Alex Saunders due to state football, had Ben Kearns out due to injury and Lucas Webb missing due to school commitments. On a positive note, Adam Wallace and Mitch Mustoe returned after playing earlier in the season and their team oriented efforts would be crucial factors in the side’s ability to deal effectively with the Rebels.
Conditions at Morwell were amazingly good despite the torrential rain of the previous few days and it meant that the teams skills weren’t going to be compromised by weather.
The Power was applying their trademark pressure early in the game but the Rebels were equally as determined as they worked hard to do the same to the Power. Some excellent forward pressure culminating with Ed Morris finding Nathan Dennison saw the Power finally break the Rebels shackles.
Ed Morris then went long and direct to find Bohdi Walker who goaled off the pack and then he became a provider with some clever play that saw Alex Carr join in the fun.
The Power was playing excellent one-on-one football but wasn’t accurately finishing off the resultant forward thrusts. They side the trend with a clever goal to Dennison and went to the first break 26 points up.
The home side was pleased to lead but was well aware the Rebels were ready to exploit any deficiencies in effort or decision making.
This point was hammered home in the first 10 minutes of the quarter as the Rebels upped the ante and made the Power struggle to score due to the consistent pressure that they applied in each contest. It took a free kick and 50 metre penalty to Nate Paredes for the Power to finally shake the Rebels off and then Declan Keilty capitalised on another free to extend the Power lead.
Not to be outdone, the Rebels hit back with their first goal but the Power replied well when Liam Nash worked hard to find Carr for his second major.
By the long break the Power led by 40 points but had to play some very hard-nosed team football to create their lead.
Coach Stevens reminded the boys that only a four quarter effort was good enough against the Rebels and it was very much game on no matter what the scoreboard said.
To emphasise that point, the Rebels scored the first goal of the term and the Power replied with a clever goal by Brenton Rees after he roved the pack brilliantly.
The Rebels made a rare defensive error that allowed Jordie Cunico to kick another for the Power and then some heady play by Jake Thomas resulted in a fine goal to Josh Scott.
The Power had definitely taken the initiative but it was the Rebels who scored next after a “howler” by Power defenders.
Not to be outdone, Keilty did some clever ruckwork to allow Rohan Hildebrand in for another Power goal and then some excellent scrambly play resulted in another to Scott.
The Power was finally converting their hard-won forward opportunities and then Carr and Brandon Bailey combined for the centre bounce to give Scott his third for term.
The Power lead was now 63 points and Stevens again reminded the boys that they needed to work equally as hard in the final quarter if they were to keep the Rebels at bay.
As if they hadn’t read Steven’s script, the Rebels opened the scoring in the last term when they punished some sloppy Power defence.
Dennison showed what happens when you go long and direct into the forward lien and he allowed Scott in for another as a consequence.
Morris then showed how important forward pressure was with a fine goal from a well-deserved free kick and this seemed to inspire the boys. They used great team football to bring the ball from full back to the forward line where Carr capped it off with a clever major but the Rebels reminded them to stay focused with good goal after some rebound football.
The Power were working very hard in all contests and Keilty capped off some of this effort with a stunning kick over his head. Some more pressure and team play saw Lachie Channing set up Cunico for another and by the final siren the Power had extended the margin to 86 points.
The Power won 18.17 (125) to 5.9 (39).
Considering how hard the Rebels had worked for the whole match, Stevens was justifiably pleased with the side’s four quarter effort and ability to stick with the game plan so efficiently.
In such a fine team performance Ed Morris played a major role in setting the tone for his team mates with a stunning four quarter effort. He accumulated nearly thirty vital possessions but, more importantly, did a lot of hard work in the thick of the action with over ten tackles.
Captain Josh Cashman also led the side by stellar example as he soundly held opponents with disciplined defence. This was just the start of his performance as he worked even harder to initiate many positive passages of team play with his ability to back his judgement and run off and win many telling possessions.
Ruckman Jake Thomas manfully assumed almost all of the aerial duties for the game and did a great job of not only winning the rucking contests but also working equally as hard when the ball was at ground level. He tackled well, applied intense pressure on opponents and marked well around the ground.
Tom Muir was another defender not content with soundly defeating his dangerous opponents with disciplined play. He also backed himself to generate many positive passages of play by winning many possessions himself and ensuring that he used the all intelligently.
On-baller Alex Carr has been a consistent contributor all season for the Power and once again was in the thick of the action. He applied his brand of pressure in the packs and then finished off his performance with stunning use of his twenty plus possessions.
Mitch Mustoe really pleased his coach by following the team plan to perfection as he sacrificed his individual performance. He did a huge amount of the vital “one-percenters” in the tightest situations and helped to set up team mates with many easy possessions as a consequence of his disciplined play.
Another to do the team things was Declan Keilty who not only played really well as a consistent forward target for team mates with his strong contesting work in packs but also did some fine forward line ruckwork to help Jake Thomas out and set up others with clever scoring opportunities.
Utility Liam Nash is renowned in the TAC Cup for his hard-nosed brand of disciplined football and once again he applied intense pressure on dangerous opponents as well as being able to win many important possessions himself. His team first approach set a great example for others all day.
The Power will play the Calder Cannons on Saturday at Craigieburn and will be well prepared for another danger game regardless of respective ladder positions.
Both of the sides are likely to have their state team players back so it should be a terrific contest.
Nick Stevens will continue to work with the boys to ensure that they follow the team plan consistently throughout the game and will make them well aware of the Cannons ability to effectively exploit any deficiencies in their levels of commitment.