RUCKMAN Rowan Marshall, midfield-forward Dan Butler and versatile midfielder Darcy Tucker will suit up for a blockbuster opening round in the AFL national under-18 championships.
The North Ballarat Rebels’ trio – Marshall (Portland), Butler (Lake Wendouree) and Tucker (Horsham Saints) – will represent Victoria Country against arch-rival Victoria Metro at Sandringham’s Trevor Barker Beach Oval on Sunday.
A further four Rebels – key position player Oscar McDonald (Edenhope-Apsley/North Ballarat City), utility Sam Bennett (North Ballarat City), defender Josh Webster (Kalkee) and midfield-forward Tom Templeton (Portland) – will play in a secondary match that is aimed to help finalise the playing squad down to about 40 players for the remaining championships.
In a restructured championship format, the competition’s division one teams – Vic Country, Vic Metro, Western Australia and South Australia – will play each other twice and avoid clashes with division two state teams.
Division one teams must use 32 players through the six-game carnival.
Rebels talent manager Phil Partington said it was fantastic to have eight Rebels, including the injured James Richards (Horsham Saints), involved in the Vic Country program.
“The Rebels really seem to have come of age, probably the last two rounds. We were competitive and playing well early in the season but just needing those wins,” Partington said.
“Getting a few playing at the higher standard is a great opportunity.”
The Rebels also have 11 development players still in the mix for the Victoria Country under-16 squad, which is yet to be finalised for national championships.
Meanwhile, North Ballarat Rebels youth girls academy trained with the Rebels’ TAC Cup under-18 playing squad for the first time.
The academy – featuring players from Ballarat, Bendigo and Geelong – joined the Rebels on Tuesday night for a skills session and video analysis from the Rebels’ match against Northern Knights.
Academy players were paired with Rebels footballers through the session, giving the girls a taste of the high-intensity drills in TAC Cup training.
Partington was impressed with all players’ involvement in the session, which is likely to become an annual event.