IMAGINE if your AFL team finishes just outside the top-eight but this week, your season was still alive. Actually, your season is do or die.
This could be you North Melbourne, Port Adelaide, Essendon or Adelaide fans – all one game short of finals football.
The catch is there are no guarantees for those ranked fifth to eighth either. They get thrust into this wild card scenario as well.
Undoubtedly there would be outrage from those inside the eight without top-four status.
But there would be an added hunger in the lower ranks. Broadcast ratings and crowds would be electric.
Greater Western Victoria Rebels get their chance to earn finals football in TAC Cup under-18 competition’s new wild card play-off system. The Rebels finished the season ninth, two games off finals pace, but take on the eighth-ranked Northern Knights for a spot in an elimination final next week.
Would this be deemed popular or fair in AFL? Unlikely.
Although, as a Richmond supporter whose team was clear atop the ladder this season and has a long, cruel history of finishing nice, the concept is incredibly appealing.
AFL Victoria and Rebels talent manager Phil Partington says the wild card play-off week is both exciting and important for TAC Cup as a development league.
“This allows players more time in front of AFL recruiters,” Partington said. “It’s one more game but it keeps players engaged because it means something...AFL clubs get to see players in big games and performance games.”
School football duties can have a strong impact on TAC Cup competition, an issue predominantly among Melbourne clubs, despite being the most prominent AFL recruiting ground.
The Rebels are largely spared from such divided loyalties in a long partnership with Ballarat schools to play mid-week, rather than the weekend.
For the Rebels, this can mean adapting to inconsistent opposition, a test in itself.
But now, the stakes are clear.
The wild card system includes all 12 clubs outside the TAC Cup top-four. Even Bendigo Pioneers and Eastern Rangers who only had two wins apiece for the season.
Chances are stacked against them. Bendigo must face a strong, fifth-ranked Murray Bushrangers outfit who will be fired up to ensure their finals do not slip – particularly against a team with nothing to lose.
Wild Card play-offs feature in NFL in the United States. NFL structure is far more complex with conferences and divisions. Of the 10 teams to reach a Super Bowl since wild cards came into play in 1970, six have claimed an unlikely victory.
The Rebels enter the wild card round off a heavy loss to third-finishing Calder Cannons. There is renewed faith, particularly knowing wild card rival Northern Knights’ style well.
TAC Cup wild cards are great promotion for Ballarat. AFL recruiters like Mars Stadium, which will host a double-header on Saturday with Calder Cannons and Geelong Falcons to clash first before the Rebels take to the field.
Time to hear the Rebel yell.
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