THE STARS have aligned in the North Ballarat Rebels’ quest for a double finals chance.
A two-point win over Oakleigh Chargers in the final home-and-away round of the TAC Cup, aided by a capitulation from fellow contender Western Jets, has seen the Rebels book a top-four place for the finals series.
Rebels held the second-placed Chargers goalless in the final term to run out 8.2 (50) to 5.18 (48) winners at Eureka Stadium on Saturday.
Ecstatic coach David Loader described the performance from his young side as “outstanding”.
The visitors jumped out to a nine-point opening quarter lead before North pegged the margin back in the second term, starting a see-sawing trend that both teams would adhere to in the second half.
Oakleigh again wrested the lead back in the third quarter, before a late Rebels goal kept the home side in the hunt heading into the final break.
North hit the lead midway through the final quarter and held on for a thrilling win in a “slog” of a final 10 minutes.
“Our effort across the board was outstanding,” Loader said.
“To be put under the pump with a lot of personnel out and still get the win was phenomenal.
“Any team that plays the top two sides in the final rounds of the year – for us to be able to lose by 19 to Calder (Cannons) and then have a win against the Chargers is great for the players’ belief.”
Loader nominated Oscar McDonald, Matthew Johnston and Jacob O’Beirne as the standouts in an even performance across the board.
Alex Ross made his debut for the club, becoming the 50th Rebel to find game time this season.
The first TAC match on Sunday saw the Jets slump to a shock two-point loss to Gippsland Power, leaving Rebels coaches and players to wait nervously on the outcome of the Sandringham Dragons v Eastern Ranges Clash.
The Dragons, needing a big win to bridge the 6.22 percentage gap from the Rebels, ground out a one-point victory over the Ranges, sealing North’s fate in the top-four.
Five rounds into the season, North Ballarat was winless and the last of the Victorian teams.
A rousing second half of the year saw it win 10 of the last 12 games and enter finals full of confidence.
North will now start preparing for league benchmark Calder, with Loader describing this Saturday’s qualifying final as something akin to “David v Goliath”.
“We’ll go up against a giant of the competition next week,” he said.
“I certainly like to think now that the boys have got a very, very clear picture about what’s possible.
“It’s not a surprise to me (making the top four); I think it’s a surprise to everyone else in the competition.”
Loader also has no problems with his side being perceived as the dark horse of the TAC finals series.
“I would have thought we are, that’s pretty accurate,” he said.