Australia: Western Crusaders, Melbourne Royals top seeds as Gridiron Victoria heads into playoffs

The newly revamped Gridiron Victoria 2018 men’s regular season has come to a close, with eight teams now ready to compete for Vic Bowl XXXIV with playoffs kicking off Saturday 3 November.

The men’s competition was made up of 13 teams in 2018, comprised of the six teams from the 2017 Division 1 competition (Crusaders, Royals, Warriors, Rangers, Buccaneers and Predators), six of the seven teams from the 2017 Division 2 competition (Raiders, Wolves, Dragons, Barbarians, Falcons and Silverbacks), and new club the Peninsula Sharks.

Each team played 10 regular season games, meaning they didn’t play against two other teams which were allocated on seedings from 2017. Below is a recap of each team’s regular season with a look to their playoff chances:

The BIG 4

The four teams who have been the most dominant this year, and only defeated by the teams above them on the ladder, the Crusaders, Royals, Warriors and Rangers are all favourites to win in week 1 of the playoffs.

#1 seed – Western Crusaders

Going through another regular season undefeated, the Western Crusaders are the hot favourite to repeat again in 2018. Led by the league’s highest scoring offense, the Cru have comfortably beaten most opposition this year with their closest test coming in a 16-9 victory over the second placed Melbourne University Royals in week 12, the team they defeated in Vic Bowl XXXIII.

As the #1 seed, the Crusaders will face the #8 seed Ballarat Falcons in week 1 of the playoffs, a team they defeated 42-6 back in week 2. All signs point to another Vic Bowl appearance for the Crusaders.

#2 seed – Melbourne University Royals

The Royals have continued their form from 2017 where they made their first top division Vic Bowl appearance into 2018 finishing the year with just the one loss to the aforementioned Crusaders. The stout Royals defense have only allowed 40 points against all year, 31 of those coming from two games (Rangers in Week 1 and Crusaders in Week 12) while shutting our seven teams from the other eight games (the Royals offense conceded a safety in the 40-2 defeated of the Barbarians in Week 4).

A physical matchup is expected as the #2 seed Royals come up against the #7 seed South Eastern Predators.

#3 seed – Monash Warriors

Perennial league powerhouses, the Warriors finished the season 8-2 and head into the knockout stage looking to use their playoff experience to take them back to the Vic Bowl. An up-and-down season saw some convincing wins against lower placed teams, a hard-fought win over fellow challengers the Rangers in Week 7, and a disappointing scoreless loss against the Royals in Week 8.

The #3 seed Warriors take on the #6 seed Bendigo Dragons, just three weeks after facing off in a thrilling 42-31 encounter in Bendigo.

#4 seed – Croydon Rangers

Much like the Warriors who finished one place above them, the Croydon Rangers have managed to defeat all the teams below them quite comfortably this season. To open the season, the Rangers lost a scintillating contest with the Royals 20-15, before putting together four straight wins. A disappointing loss to the Warriors and a sound beating by the Crusaders took them to 4-3 before finishing the year with three straight wins.

The #4 seed Rangers will host #5 seed Geelong Buccaneers in the first week of the playoffs. Both teams have rich histories and play for the Jon Johnston Memorial Trophy.

The challengers

The four challengers head into the first week of the playoffs as underdogs against the big 4, who of the Buccaneers, Dragons, Predators and Falcons can cause an upset and progress to the semi finals?

#5 seed – Geelong Buccaneers

Unveiling a new field and facility in 2018 (the host venue for Vic Box XXXIV), the Buccaneers finished with a 6-4 record and claimed the #5 seed above the Dragons and Predators after a tie-breaker. The Buccs mix of youth and experience managed big wins over the Dragons 22-0, Predators 20-16 and a game-winning field goal getting them across the line against the Raiders in Week 12 to cement 5th position.

It’ll be a tough test for the Buccs taking on the #4 seed Rangers who beat them soundly by 39-0 in Week 11.

#6 seed – Bendigo Dragons

After starting the season 2-3 including being shut out twice, the Dragons finished strongly with four wins in their last five matches to finish 6-4 and equal on points with the Buccaneers and Predators and claiming the #6 seed. Despite losing their Week 11 match-up to the Warriors 42-31, the Dragons showed that on their day their offense is one to watch, nearly pulling off a great comeback. A tough 13-0 win over the Raiders in Week 10, with all points coming in the last quarter, propelled the Dragons into the playoffs.

Can the Dragons do one better than Week 11 as they take on the #3 seed Warriors?

#7 seed – South Eastern Predators

The last of the 6-4 teams, the Predators came home strong winning four of their last five games. Their 20-16 loss to the Buccaneers in Week 10 proving the difference between the #5 and #7 seeds. Before their last round matchup with the Raiders, the Predators were already locked into seventh spot but came out firing to claim the victory 28-6 over the Raiders, ending their chances of playing finals.

It’ll be a tough ask for the Predators against the #2 seed Royals, the two teams had a bruising encounter in Week 7 so expect no different here.

#8 seed – Ballarat Falcons

Despite losing four of their last five games, the Falcons did enough to clinch #8 seed finishing the season 4-6.  Close wins over the Barbarians 16-14 and Wolves 24-14, along with convincing victories over the Sharks and Silverbacks earnt the Falcons a well-deserved spot in the finals. The last round 43-0 victory over the Silverbacks was a great finish to the regular season.

The Falcons will be hoping to take some of their last round form into their clash with the #1 seed Crusaders.

The unlucky five

It was a tough season for the former division 2 Raiders, Wolves, Barbarians, and Silverbacks, along with new kids on the block the Sharks, in a strong one division competition. All five will be better for the experience in 2018 with their sights set on progress in 2019.

9th position – Northern Raiders

The 2017 Division 2 champion Norther Raiders finished the year 3-7, losing their first four games, winning the next three, and finishing the year with four straight losses. The close 14-17 defeat to Geelong in Week 12 stands out as the difference between making the playoffs and not. The highlight of their season was a great 26-21 win over Melton that capped off their third win in as many weeks.

10th position – Melton Wolves

Finishing 3-7, the Wolves fell just one game short of making the playoffs with the close loss to the Raiders and a narrow defeat to the Falcons being the difference between 10th and the #8 seed. After a big 66-0 win over the Sharks in Week 2, things looked promising for the Wolves but they were unable to sustain their offensive firepower losing their next three matches including a big loss to the Predators. The 30-22 win over the Barbarians in Week 8 was the other major highlight for the Wolves this year.

11th position – Monash Barbarians

The second team in the Monash family, the Barbarians finished the year 2-7 with wins against the Pakenham Silverbacks 6-0 and the Peninsula Sharks 42-0. In true Monash fashion, the Barbarians whilst losing 7 games, proved to be super competitive in all of their matches. If close defeats against the Raiders 18-6, Falcons 16-14 and Wolves 30-22 had gone the other way, their season could still be going into playoffs.

12th position – Pakenham Silverbacks

The 1-9 Silverbacks had a tough year, struggling to get numbers on the park due to injuries. Having to forfeit a number of games at half time or before they began was disappointing, especially after a solid 42-6 opening week win over the Sharks.

13th position – Peninsula Sharks

It was a rough introduction to GV football for the Sharks who went through the season winless after 10 games. The Sharks conceded an average 56 points a game this year though will look at the positives of the two touchdowns scored, one in Week 1 against the Silverbacks and the other in Week 12 against #7 seed Predators. With a debut year now under their belts, hopefully the Sharks can continue to build for 2019.

Photographs: Barendphotos.com

For complete coverage of Gridiron Victoria, check out the Gridiron DownUnder website.

Aaron McNaughton
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