It’s season over for the North Ballarat Rebels, who fell short of the Oakleigh Chargers by 32 points in Saturday’s preliminary final at IKON Park.
The Rebels gave up a two-goal lead at half time to be overrun by an impressive Chargers’ outfit in the 8.9 (57) to 13.11 (89) defeat.
It was an unfortunate flashback to the Rebels’ 2012 campaign, when they similarly finished on top of the TAC ladder but were unable to make it all the way to the grand final.
The Rebels started well, particularly in-and-under midfielders Jacob Hopper and Joel Cowan, who helped the side to its healthy half time advantage.
However, the Rebels soon lost control of the game in a disappointing third term that was rife with poor forward entries and dropped marks.
An important major from forward Matthew Johnston just before the three quarter time siren reduced the Rebels’ deficit to just a solitary goal, but it was Oakleigh which drew first blood in the final term.
The Rebels kept pushing hard, but their inability to turn forward opportunities into scores prevented any chance of a late comeback.
Rebels’ coach David Loader was proud of his side, which he admitted was distraught by the loss, but lamented some costly mistakes after half time.
“They were gutted (after the game), absolutely gutted … words can’t really describe what the group would be feeling,” Loader said.
“We had a couple of opportunities early in the third quarter and we just didn’t take them. I thought after that we made some really, really bad errors which gave Oakleigh goals – and that’s really energy-sapping. I just felt the demeanour of the boys then went down a fair bit.
“They actually picked themselves up a bit about five minutes before the end of the (third) quarter. I thought at three quarter time we had wrestled back the momentum and would go on to win the game, but unfortunately it just wasn’t to be.”
Despite strong individual efforts from defenders Ben Simpson and Billy Lloyd, as well as tough inside midfielder Ben Lusby, the Rebels appeared to lack the poise and conviction that got them across the line against the Geelong Falcons in their qualifying final two weeks ago.
The Rebels will now have to watch on from the sidelines as Oakleigh faces off against the Eastern Ranges in the TAC Cup grand final.
Despite the loss, Loader praised his team for how far it has come this year – and also hinted at his excitement for the season ahead.
“At the end of the day, it’s a big development competition as well,” Loader said.
“I think the boys are better off now than they were at the start of the year – I’m thoroughly convinced of that. There are a lot of guys that have improved out of sight.
“We’ve got plenty of games into young kids, so the look of the group for 2016 is really strong. We’ve got a lot of bottom-agers that are good players and I’m excited about what they might be able to bring next year.”
North Ballarat Rebels 3.0-18, 5.4-34, 7.7-49, 8.9 (57)
Oakleigh Chargers 2.3-15, 3.4-22, 8.7-55, 13.11 (89)
NORTH BALLARAT REBELS
Goal Kickers: J. Cowan 2, J. Hopper 2, T. Taurau, D. Rioli, M. Johnston, J. Korewha
Best Players: J. Hopper, Y. Eades, J. Cowan, B. Lloyd, J. Webster, T. Templeton
Goal Kickers: P. Phillips 3, H. Thompson 2, B. Crocker 2, T. Phillips 2, D. Johnstone, K. Answerth, V. Adduci, S. McLarty
Best Players: K. Answerth, L. Byrne-Jones, F. Pearce, D. Johnstone, J. Whitehead, T. Duman