Round 12 Preview – No Room for Error Now
Written by Michael Shillito.
It’s another important weekend of footy coming up. One that will take us to two-thirds of the way through the home and away season. For the teams currently in the top five, a chance to consolidate their grip on a finals place and for those outside, a win is important to stay in the finals race.
UTS Bats vs. East Coast Eagles
The UTS Bats host the East Coast Eagles at Trumper Park on Saturday afternoon. For the home side, turning their fortunes around is crucial, but the visitors are on a roll and will be hoping to build on their momentum.
A season that promised much for UTS has unfortunately delivered little. When UTS knocked off the defending champions at Kanebridge Oval early in the year, hopes were high. But a big run of losses has seen them winless since, finding themselves in the unenviable bottom place on the ladder.
Last week they were never in the hunt against North Shore, but there is too much ability in the Bats’ team for them to stay down forever.
Louie O’Keefe and Scott Jansen stood out last week, and the talent is there on the park for them to lift.
After a relatively slow start, the Eagles’ season has got some steam behind it in recent weeks, showing they meant business last week as they shut Pennant Hills out of the contest.
Kieran Emery has been in and out of the side – depending on NEAFL selection – but if he is in Eagles’ colours this week, he will be one to keep an eye on.
The Vlatko brothers are always a dangerous force for East Coast, with Peter having his best season, joining Jon and Jamie as regular senior players – they will keep the Bats on their toes all day.
The Eagles have winning form behind them and will go into this as favourites, but the Bats will be desperate here. A loss will see their finals aspirations linked to the word ‘mathematical’. With the Eagles in fifth place, being the finals benchmark, knocking them off will bring them a game closer. The Eagles cannot afford to take the Bats lightly in this game.
North Shore Bombers vs. Manly-Warringah Wolves
With Mortgage Choice Oval out of commission, this week’s Battle of the Spit Bridge moves out to Blacktown as North Shore host Manly-Warringah.
North Shore moved back into the top three last week with a comfortable win over UTS – a welcome return to the winning list for the Bombers after they were pipped at the post the week before.
There’s always an array of exciting talent on display when the Bombers take the field.
James Cubis has established himself on the backline, with his breakout season being recognised with Round 11’s Rising Star nomination. Also, keep an eye on Andrew McConnell, who has enjoyed stepping up into the North Shore senior team in recent weeks.
Manly have not had everything go their way this season, and sit outside the top five. Last week they went down to Sydney University by a big 40 point margin. There was only a kick in it at half time, but they were unable to go the distance against the ladder leaders.
There were plenty of positives for the Wolves, with the form of Wills Brassil and key forward Hayden Washington pleasing for the Manly faithful who will be looking for big things from them this week.
It is time for Manly to step up if they hope to play in this year’s finals. The Wolves will go into this game knowing from experience that they can get the job done. They have beaten the Bombers once this season already, and since the Wolves went into Premier Division, they have only lost to North Shore once.
The Bombers have history to overcome if they are to win this one and stay in the top three.
UNSW Eastern Suburbs Bulldogs vs. Sydney University
One of the most mouth-watering clashes of the season so far will be a Sunday afternoon match at Henson Park. Neither UNSW Eastern Suburbs, nor Sydney Univeristy were anywhere near the top five last year, but that has all turned around this season. Sydney University currently lead the ladder with the Bulldogs holding second place convincingly.
The Bulldogs are the home side, and have only lost twice this season so far. Last week was their best performance yet, as they dominated from start to finish to record a comprehensive 136-point win over Wests at Picken Oval. When they are on song, the forward line is great to watch.
Bulldog Steven Pollock, in the form he was in last week, is a player the Students defenders will need to work hard to keep quiet. Justin Cann is another Bulldog on the rise, and will be watched closely in this game.
Last week was not one of the Students’ better games – a match made harder by their inaccurate finishing – but they still got the job done against Manly. There is no margin for error in this one, and the Students will have worked on their goalkicking radar at training this week.
The likes of Luke Vella and Kane Murphy have been consistent performers for the Students in Premier Division this season, making them players to keep tabs on during this match.
Sydney University have taken all before them so far this season, but the Bulldogs are also on a roll and will fancy their chances.
If the Bulldogs can get the points, both sides will be level on top and only percentage will separate them.
A Sydney University win will put them two games clear on top, a step closer to the minor premiership, and will also mathematically guarantee their participation in this year’s finals series.
St. George Dragons vs. Pennant Hills
The other game on Sunday afternoon will be St. George versus Pennant Hills at Olds Park.
St. George are coming into this game refreshed after a bye last week. They sit in fourth spot, half a game behind North Shore, but with a game in hand. The battle for the double-chance in the next few weeks will be fascinating.
Keep an eye on young guns, Tyler Gorman-Brown and Justin Maldigri, who are both making a strong impression in Premier Division this season.
In their last game, the Dragons gave UTS a big start and reeled them in, but cannot afford to give the Demons any such advantage this time.
The stakes are high for Pennant Hills. The Demons have not won a game since May, and now sit six points outside the top five. Last week they were unable to match the intensity of East Coast and dropped to a 37-point loss.
The Demons can find the players to lift when they need to, as we have seen so often before. Josh Boag and Daniel Witt are two Demons who have stepped up into some good form in recent weeks, and the club will be looking for another strong game from them this time round.
You have to go back 14 years to find the last time Pennant Hills missed the finals in Premier Division. It has been an extraordinary run of success, but if the Demons go down in this game, that finals streak is in serious doubt. They will be determined, and this is not a game the Dragons can afford to take lightly.
Western Suburbs Magpies
Wests have the bye this week. After being well beaten by UNSW Eastern Suburbs last week, the Magpies will need this week off to regroup and refine their game plan. There is plenty of hard work coming up in the next few weeks, and the Magpies will need to string some wins together to stay in the finals race.
It is all part of another big weekend of XBlades AFL Sydney. Every result is crucial, so there is no room for error by any team this weekend. Their finals place, or their position within the five, could well depend on it.