By SAMUEL DARROCH
GIPPSLAND Power faces its toughest stretch of the TAC Cup season with 10 of its stars to miss up to six matches with Victoria Country commitments.
Power felt the crippling effects of representative duty at the weekend when it lost a tight encounter with Murray Bushrangers, but coach Nick Stevens said the next month was a period of great opportunity at both levels for individual players.
“It gives them (the Vic Country boys) a massive chance… to play against the best of the best and really showcase their talent, and it also gives the other guys that stay back here a chance to stand up and say they should be in the side,” Stevens said.
“It’s always an interesting time of year because you find a couple of players that maybe you didn’t know a great deal about and it shows how good some of them can be.
“It makes things tough when you have so many changes out of your side but it also gives everyone else an opportunity to play and as it sits we’ve pretty much played everyone on the list.”
On the Power front Stevens said ruckman Wes Russell showed his credentials in the absence of Jack Leslie and Jake Thomas, and offered much needed height to the squad.
“He came in and really showed he was up to the level… I thought he was a real shining light,” Stevens said.
“It’s probably an area where we’ve been lacking a little bit to have three talls so it was a really good find.”
At state level, captain Josh Cashman led Victoria Country in a 22.13 (145) to 5.4 (34) demolition of the Northern Territory at the weekend, and was joined by Bohdi Walker, Leslie, Alex Saunders, Lukas Webb, Jordan Cunico and Thomas among the side’s best.
Saunders was particularly dangerous and kicked two goals before succumbing to an ankle injury, and Stevens said the exposure at Victoria Country level was a huge leg up for his charges.
“To go against the best and have all the recruiters there… it really is a showcase,” he said.
“Every club in Australia is there and they really do get great exposure from it.”
Thirteen Power players made the Victoria Country squad, and will rotate through the side in the coming weeks.
In a boost for Power, Cashman, Josh Scott and Ben Kearns will only play one game each at representative level as returning overage players.
Their influence will be necessary over the coming month as Power looks to hang in with the top clubs while undermanned.
“If you can win a few games through this period it really does help us,” Stevens said.
“It’s pretty common knowledge that the country sides are up against it because we don’t have the depth of the metro sides so it’s a great challenge.
“We’ve just got to find a way to win the next couple of games… if we could go two and two in the next few weeks we’ll be in a good position with the sides we’re playing.”
Power plays Northern Knights, North Ballarat Rebels, Calder Cannons and Sandringham Dragons in the next four rounds, and currently sits fifth on the ladder.