Round 17 Preview – it’s the finals countdown
Article by Michael Shillito.
With just two rounds remaining in the home and away season, calculations of possible finals matchups are well and truly in operation. Four matches in Premier Division this week all have the potential to shape how the finals line up.
St George Dragons vs. UNSW Eastern Suburbs Bulldogs
It is an early start at Olds Park, with St George playing host to UNSW Eastern Suburbs. Both clubs will be playing finals, but neither have been in great form in recent weeks.
The Dragons had a great chance to topple ladder leaders Sydney University last week, but an inaccurate first quarter with 13 behinds cruelled those hopes.
They will have worked on their goal-kicking this week, and with the likes of Nick Ryan and the ever-reliable Declan Donohue around, they have the firepower to kick a winning score. Keep an eye out for Kuiam Anu, who continues to develop well with every passing week.
It was a stunning shock to the system for UNSW Eastern Suburbs last week, as they were over-run by UTS. After a great season, they will be desperate to regain the form that has deserted them in the last couple of weeks.
Look out for Steven Pollock, who the Bulldogs will be looking to for another bag of goals this week. Tom Dickson and Darcy Cordell have been ball magnets of late, and the Dragons will need to keep them quiet.
The second placed Bulldogs are two games clear of St George, with a percentage gap that looks too big to run down. The Bulldogs’ double-chance in the finals is safe, but now is not the time they will be wanting to lose form.
St George’s hopes of avoiding sudden death in the finals rest on winning their last two games and hoping North Shore lose their last two.
The loser will find themselves on a three-game losing streak with just one week to turn their form around before the finals. The stakes are high in this game.
UTS Bats vs. Manly-Warringah Wolves
Waverley Oval will be the venue for another fascinating contest as UTS host Manly. Both clubs have been off the pace for much of this season, but go into this game in winning form.
UTS pulled off a remarkable win against UNSW Eastern Suburbs last week to keep themselves in the finals race. The likes of Tim McKenzie and Simon Lewis are hitting form at the right time of the year.
After a challenging season, two wins in a row see the Bats suddenly with a spring in their step and their finals hopes still alive.
The Wolves put in by far their best game this season when they dominated against East Coast to knock off the defending champions by 76 points. It was a result that came too late for their finals hopes, but showed the potential the team has.
Rising Star nominee, Jarrod Osborne has shown himself to have a bright future at Manly, while Lachlan Kilpatrick continues to impress and put in a solid effort every week.
Manly cannot make the finals this year, but UTS can. The Bats will need to win this game and hope Pennant Hills lose theirs. Then in the final round, the Bats and Demons play each other, with East Coast also in the finals mix.
But first things first, the Bats must win this week. If they lose, their finals hopes are gone.
Western Suburbs Magpies vs. North Shore Bombers
Western Suburbs take on North Shore at Picken Oval in another game with implications for the finals. The Magpies will not be playing finals this year, but the Bombers may have a double-chance riding on this result.
The Magpies had a disappointing game last start when they were well beaten by Pennant Hills. They find themselves bottom of the ladder, but their form for much of this year has been better than that.
The ever-reliable Seamus Pearson will be a player the Magpies will again look to for a big contribution, while Michael Tuttle enjoyed his opportunity in Premier Division last week, and will again be on the lookout for another big game.
North Shore go into this game refreshed after the bye last week. Before that, a five-game winning streak propelled them to third on the ladder. At their last start they were far too good for St George.
Watch out for Harry Carr, who has developed into a vital cog in the Bomber engine. Dylan Smith is another who has come from North Shore’s strong Under 19s system and made an impact at Premier Division level.
If the Bombers can get up, their double-chance in the finals is assured. But the Magpies will not be making it easy for them. Only a kick separated the two teams late in the game last time the two sides met, and the Magpies have the incentive of claiming a big finals scalp. They will not make the finals, but they can shape who does.
Sydney University vs. Pennant Hills Demons
There is an evening game at Sydney Uni No. 1 with Sydney University playing host to Pennant Hills. The Students already have the minor premiership sewn up, but the finals fate of the Demons is less than clear.
The Students – despite copping an early avalanche from St George last week – stood their ground and made better use of their opportunities.
Will Stratford has had a break-out season to remember, and his forward work last week showed why he is rated so highly in the Students camp. Also keep an eye out for Sam Ryan, who has been a regular in the Premier Division side this season and making the most of it.
The Demons moved into the top five last week, doing it in style with a convincing 101-point win over Wests.
In recent weeks, Nick Hey has stood out on the forward line for the Demons, so the Students will need to keep him quiet this time. Watch for Jackson Potter – a young Demon who looks to have a bright future after an impressive debut last week.
The Students will finish top of the ladder. With the bye in the last round, this is the last chance to press for senior selection for the finals, incentive enough for the Students players to put in another strong effort.
For Pennant Hills, a win here will ensure their place in the finals, but if the Demons lose this one, the last round will be a nervous experience.