Round 15 Preview – Finals places on the line
Article by Michael Shillito
With just four rounds to go until the finals, the battle for positions in the top five is getting tight. There are some crunch games on Saturday afternoon, and they may well be the determinant of who goes where when the finals come around.
North Shore Bombers vs. St. George Dragons
It is a high-stakes clash at Blacktown International Sportspark as North Shore take on St George. The Bombers are half a game clear in third spot, but the Dragons have a game in hand. With the two teams facing off this weekend, the race for the double-chance won’t get tighter than this.
North Shore go into this game in winning form. Last week they were clearly the better side against the East Coast Eagles at Kanebridge Oval, managing to get the win despite some inaccurate finishing. The Bombers have an impressive crop of youngsters coming through, Dylan Smith making his biggest impact yet at Premier Division level last week. Defender James Cubis is another to keep an eye out for, stepping up magnificently this season when called on.
St George also goes into the match with winning momentum behind them. The Dragons were given a solid workout by Wests last week, however, and had to dig deep to get the points. When the game was there to be won, they found a way to do it, and the bottom line is that is why they are in the race for the double chance.
Keep an eye on David Lycakis who features prominently among the Dragons’ best nearly every week. The strength and height of Earl Shaw in the ruck has also been a key guiding hand for the Dragons’ midfield.
This match could be the difference between who holds the double-chance going into the finals, and who has to go through sudden death. St George won the first meeting between the two teams back on the opening day of the season, but just 10 points separated the two sides. Expect another close and tightly-contested game this time round.
Sydney University vs. East Coast Eagles
Top side Sydney University can expect a tough test in a blue and gold derby against the East Coast Eagles at Henson Park. The Students returned to the winner’s list in style last week as they put on a strong performance to overpower UTS. The result was enough to return to outright top spot, albeit with UNSW-ES still having a game in hand.
Josh Cole had his best Premier Division game for the season and will again be one to watch against the Eagles. Matt Powys’ ability to conjure up goals from tricky situations will also keep the Eagles defenders on their toes all afternoon.
The Eagles only hold a half a game margin over the Pennant Hills Demons after going down to North Shore last weekend. The Eagles must lift for the game at Henson Park, and you can be sure they will not be making life easy for the Students. They have some experienced hands to guide them and the likes of Ryan Fitton and Eugene Kruger, who have had long and successful stints in Eagles colours, will again be asked to step up and take responsibility.
The Students need a win to be sure of staying top of the ladder, while the Eagles will be desperate for a win to guarantee staying in the five. The stakes are high and no quarter will be asked or given in such a crunch game.
UTS Bats vs. Western Suburbs
It is the last chance for UTS and Wests to keep themselves in the finals race when the Bats and the Magpies face off at Waverley Oval. Both sides sit two games out of the top five, but if East Coast go down to Sydney Uni the winner will find themselves within striking distance of the finals.
The Bats were well beaten by Sydney Uni at their last start, but with an extra day of recovery and the home ground advantage, they will be keen for a stronger showing this time. Keep an eye on Daniel Crouch and Jack Macklin who have both been consistent performers for the Bats in what has been a difficult season. They will be looking for another big performance this time to get the Bats a much-needed win.
The Magpies went close to upsetting St George last week but unfortunately for them they were not able to get across the line. It has been a familiar story for the Magpies who have fought out most of their games well this season. They have caused anxious moments for plenty of the top sides, without getting the wins that their efforts went close to pulling off.
Brenton Mumme is one to watch, as he has been picking up plenty of possessions in recent weeks to play a key leadership role around the club. Nick Salter will keep the UTS defenders busy, as week after week he has managed to kick stacks of goals.
There are no more chances after this game, the loser will find it near impossible to make it to the playoffs. The winner however, should other results go their way, will be well and truly in the finals race. Both sides will be motivated to fight for every possession as their finals chances may well hinge on it.
Pennant Hills Demons vs. UNSW-Eastern Suburbs Bulldogs
Pennant Hills and UNSW-ES face off at Mike Kenny Oval in another game which is must-win for both clubs.
The Demons had to ride out a strong start by a young Manly side last week, but stepped up in the premiership quarter to get the job done. The game keeps the Demons in sixth place, half a game behind East Coast with a game in hand which means qualifying for the finals is in their hands.
They will need to get over the second-placed Bulldogs to be sure of staying in that position. Luke Skrivanic has become a regular in Premier Division this season, recognised for his efforts with this week’s Rising Star nomination. Also, keep an eye on the pace of Jesse Hare, another Demon having a strong season.
The Bulldogs go into the game refreshed after last week’s bye, and in strong form on the back of their long winning streak. In their last start they were far too strong for East Coast and cruised to a big win.
The rise of the Bulldogs has been a remarkable success story this season. Watch out for Jack McAnespie and Jerry Venitabua who have been prolific possession winners consistently this season.
With the Demons wanting a win to move into the top five, and the Bulldogs keen to maintain their impressive form and challenge for the minor premiership, this game should be a cracker. There is no room for slacking off in what is sure to be another crunch game.
Manly have the bye this week, and it will be a time of nervous watching and waiting. With the Wolves two games plus plenty of percentage out of the five, they can’t afford an East Coast or Pennant Hills win. They will be hoping to still be in the finals race when the action resumes, but even then there is no time to lose.
All four games are on Saturday afternoon, and with the competition for spots within the finals so tight, there sure to be a lot of interest in all the results. It is another weekend where you will not want to miss out on any of the action when spots in the finals are up for grabs.