GREATER Western Victoria Rebels’ season would be over under the old TAC Cup system.
Instead they’re preparing for the competition’s inaugural wildcard round.
The new format gives the top-four teams a week off.
The eight remaining sides – fifth will play 12th and so on – will fight it out for four remaining spots in a three-week finals series.
Warrnambool’s Matt Schnerring is among the south-west contingent preparing for the Rebels’ eighth-versus-ninth wildcard clash with Northern Knights at Ballarat’s Mars Stadium on Saturday.
He said players welcomed the new concept, which was implemented to help AFL recruiters see players in high-pressure games.
“We’re looking forward to it. It’s a good opportunity to finish the year well after struggling and losing a few tights games,” Schnerring said.
“It’s a good opportunity for the lower teams to have a chance at the end and stay motivated.”
Schnerring, 18, has played 17 matches at TAC Cup level in 2018 and four senior matches for Warrnambool.
The Ballarat Clarendon College student said he’d focused on improving his work rate and it had paid dividends.
“It’s been nice to keep my spot throughout the year,” he said. “It’s different to last year when I was in and out. I’ve learned to work a lot harder and built on my endurance a lot.”
Schnerring, who hopes to play for the Blues in the finals if they progress past Sunday’s elimination final against arch rival South Warrnambool, can seek out older brother Tom for advice.
He said his sibling, who also played for the Rebels as a teenager, was “a completely different player” to him who had overcome serious knee injuries.
“He’s playing for Williamstown in the VFL and will play in the qualifying final against Richmond (on Saturday night),” Schnerring said.
“He’s taught me to work hard and to make the most of the opportunities you get.”
Rebels talent manager Phil Partington said he welcomed the wildcard round.
“It’s another big, important game and AFL clubs want to see players in games that mean something to clubs,” he said. The AFL clubs love it.”
Partington said the Rebels, who will regain Terang Mortlake’s Scott Carlin after his VFL debut for Werribee, matched up well against the Knights.
“We are about even with them on the ladder and with the way we play,” he said.
“It should be a close game and it’s a big opportunity for us to get into the finals.”