Round 14 Preview – it’s anyone’s game
Article by Michael Shillito
We are well and truly in the build-up to this season’s finals but the teams playing in the finals and the finishing order, are far from settled. There are some big games this weekend, which could go a long way to determining who finishes where.
Sydney University vs. UTS Bats
We start this round with a rare Friday night fixture starring Sydney University and the UTS Bats at Sydney Uni Oval No.1. Although the two teams are well apart on the ladder, both teams have plenty to play for.
Sydney Uni have had a great season, but it’s only their percentage that currently has them leading the competition. With UNSW Eastern Suburbs having the bye, this is the Students’ chance to move to outright first.
Last week against Wests, the Students burst out of the blocks and looked poised to break records at half-time, before the Magpies pegged them back.
Matt Vicic led the way up forward with five goals, while Sam Ryan was a ball magnet. They will be two of the many big names that the Bats will be desperate to keep quiet this week.
UTS will go into this game refreshed after last week’s bye and with winning confidence after they broke a losing streak over East Coast in their last start. Although sitting two games out of the top five, they are still in the finals race if they can spring an upset in this game.
Keep an eye on Louis O’Keefe and Sam Nethersole, who starred in their last win and will be important to UTS if they are to get up this time.
Sydney Uni will go into the match as favourites, but they cannot expect to have everything their own way. The Bats will be desperate, and if they do not get up here, it will be hard to make the finals. They will be taking the fight up to the Students as best they can and this one could well be closer than the ladder positions suggest.
East Coast Eagles vs. North Shore Bombers
Saturday evening at Kanebridge Oval is a game that will attract plenty of interest. Not only from East Coast Eagles and North Shore who will take to the field, but from other teams whose place on the ladder and finals prospects may well depend on this result.
East Coast did not have a great game last week, when they were well beaten by UNSW Eastern Suburbs. It was not all bad news for the Eagles, with Andrew Browning and Damon Steer in good form all day, but the loss was a heavy one.
The Eagles remain in fifth spot, six points clear of Pennant Hills and two games clear of the bottom three. If UTS, Manly-Warringah, Wests or Pennant Hills win their game, they will be wanting a North Shore win to make some serious ground in the race for the finals.
North Shore are in third place – half a game clear of St George, and the Dragons will be hoping for an Eagles win to give them the opportunity to move into the double-chance position on the ladder.
Last week, the Bombers had a see-sawing game against Pennant Hills in which there were plenty of lead changes before they managed to get in front in the final minutes.
They have got some good scoring power, including Michael Manteit and Luke Smailes who last week found the big sticks enough times to get the Bombers home.
A North Shore win would mathematically wrap up a place in this year’s finals, which gives more motivation for the Bombers.
North Shore were the only team to beat East Coast in their Premiership season last year, getting the job done twice. They did it again at Mortgage Choice Oval earlier this season, but this time the Eagles have the home ground advantage. The stakes are enormous and the ramifications for the league ladder could be significant.
Manly-Warringah Wolves vs. Pennant Hills Demons
It was only a few years ago that Manly-Warringah and Pennant Hills played off in back-to-back Grand Finals. Times change however, as the Wolves and Demons go into this game with neither in the top five, meaning the stakes are high for both clubs to stay in the finals race.
Manly have plenty of ground to make up if they are to compete in this year’s playoffs. The Wolves have three wins this season and sit two games out of the five with a poor percentage. Last week they put in a solid effort against St George, although they were unable to take the premiership points.
There are some quality players in the Wolves’ lineup – Ryan Wearne and Lachlan Kilpatrick in particular hitting some good form last week. It is now or never for the Wolves, and you can expect to see them show plenty of fight this week.
Pennant Hills find themselves in unfamiliar territory outside the top five. It has been 14 years since the Demons missed the Premier Division finals, and if they cannot get up in this game, then their finals prospects are in deep trouble.
Last week they took the fight up to North Shore, leading during the last quarter, but they were unable to take the game.
Watch out for Tom Edmonds and Luke Skrivanic who have been solid performers for the Demons all season. Pennant Hills will need another big effort from them this week.
The earlier meeting between the two clubs this year saw Manly take the points at Mike Kenny Oval. This time round it is on the Wolves’ turf. It is going to be a clash between two desperate sides, one in which there are no second chances. This is a game that means whoever is going to win, will need to display their best endeavours for the full four quarters.
Western Suburbs vs. St. George Dragons
Western Suburbs and St George have had some thrilling and willing contests over the years, and both have plenty to play for when the two clubs meet again at Picken Oval on Saturday afternoon.
The Magpies were down for the count at half time against Sydney Uni last week, but came out swinging in the second half to win two quarters and salvage plenty of self-respect. It was a half of footy that showed the Magpies are not that far off matching it with the best sides in the comp.
Keep an eye on Cam McEvoy-Gray, who was magnificent in the Magpies’ second-half fightback last week. Add Nick Salter, who is always dangerous and has kicked plenty of big goals this season.
The Magpies are two games out of the five but they have already had their second bye, and have a game in hand. Time is running out, and a win this week is all-important.
St George are in fourth place, half a game behind North Shore, but with a game in hand. It is going to be a tight battle for the double-chance. Last week they were not totally convincing against Manly but were good enough to get the job done and take the four points.
The elite level experience of Earl Shaw and the all-day efforts of Justin Maldigri were critical in getting the Dragons over the line against Manly, meaning they will be pivotal performers in this match.
When the two sides met at Olds Park earlier this season, the Dragons won comfortably. This time the Magpies have the home advantage, and they will not be making it easy for St George. This one is going to be tight and hard, and the Dragons will need to be on their guard for four quarters if they are going to take the points this time.
UNSW-Eastern Suburbs Bulldogs
UNSW Eastern Suburbs have the bye this week. It is a well-earned break after seven wins on the trot – a winning streak that sees them sit comfortably in second place and well clear of third. It has been a great season for the Bulldogs, and they will appreciate a breather, but there is plenty more work to be done this season.
We have had plenty of upsets and unpredictable results this season, and there is scope for some more this weekend. The battle for the top five, and the order of teams within the five, is well and truly heating up.