R11 Preview – Expect the unexpected

As June turns into July, the season rolls on. With the race for the finals still wide open, the premiership points on offer this week are extremely valuable, and there’s some more high-stakes games up for grabs this week.


East Coast Eagles vs. Pennant Hills Demons


It’s a Hills derby at Kanebridge Oval when the East Coast Eagles host Pennant Hills on Saturday.

The two sides have had some memorable clashes over the last few years – the 2015 Grand Final featuring prominently among them. On that occasion the Demons prevailed, however, the Eagles won the last meeting between the two sides, when they met at Mike Kenny in Round 2 this year.

The Eagles go into this game with some winning form, but they had to absorb plenty of pressure from Wests in the first half last week before getting on top in the third term.

Mark Weekes has emerged as the key spearhead for the Eagles this year, and he is one that will keep the Demon defenders busy all day. Stuart Turner is another one to keep an eye on, as he has picked up plenty of possessions for the Eagles in recent weeks.

Pennant Hills had the bye last week. Their last start was a thrilling draw against North Shore at Mortgage Choice Oval, when they came from nowhere to snatch two points.

The experienced hands of Aaron Crisfield and Tom Angel featured prominently that day, so the Demons will again be looking for a big effort from them this time.

Both teams have had inconsistent seasons to date, but they are still very much in contention. The winner of this match will be in the top five, and the loser will not. If that doesn’t motivate both sides to put in their best efforts, nothing will.

Expect a close and tightly-contested battle here, as neither side will be prepared to concede anything to their opponent.


Western Suburbs Magpies vs. UNSW Eastern Suburbs Bulldogs


An intriguing clash awaits at Picken Oval, with Wests at home against the second-placed UNSW Eastern Suburbs.

The Magpies had a strong first half against East Coast last week, and although they could not quite last the distance, there was plenty to like in how they took the fight up to the defending champions.

Reuben Haupt was particularly impressive last week, in his best game for the Magpies this season. Also, keep an eye on Pat Wilmot, who has often featured among the Magpies’ best this year.

The Bulldogs sit two games ahead of third on the ladder, after what has been a spectacularly successful season so far. Last week against Manly they were well short of their best, but still found a way to get the job done.

Darcy Cordell’s efforts earned him a Rising Star nomination, making him one to keep track of in this clash. Harry Annear will be another one to watch, as week after week he puts himself on the line and gets the job done for the Bulldogs.

The Magpies are a game out of the top five, and really need to capture a big scalp to keep themselves as genuine finals contenders.

The second-placed Bulldogs have been in great form and deserve to go into this clash as favourites, but with the home ground advantage and plenty to play for, the Magpies cannot be ruled out. If the Magpies can get the points in this one, they will be well and truly in the finals race.


UTS Bats vs. North Shore


Another game that is likely to be far more closely contested than the ladder suggests, is at Trumper Park where UTS will take on North Shore.

The Bats had their chances of a breakthrough win last week, when they got the early jump against St George, but were eventually tracked down by St George in the final term. They remain stuck on the bottom of the ladder with just two wins so far this season.

The Bats have the manpower to lift themselves up the ladder, especially if the likes of Jack Macklin and Damon Collina can reproduce the form they showed last week.

It was heartbreak for North Shore last start, when they were pipped at the post by ladder leaders Sydney Uni. The Bombers sit in fourth spot, but with St George having the ‘bye’ this week, a win will see them move into third.

For that to happen, the experienced hands will need to step up. The Bombers will be looking for big performances from the likes of midfielder, Sam Carruthers and defender, Chris Murphy this time around.

The Bombers knocked the Bats out of last year’s finals, after some last-quarter individual heroics from Wayd Blackburne. The Bombers repeated the dose when the two sides met at Mortgage Choice Oval in the early rounds this year.

The Bats have had a good record against the Bombers in recent years, and it has been several years since the Bombers have won at Trumper Park. This game is far from assured, and with the Bats in desperate need of a win to kick-start their finals charge, they will be going all-out for a win in this one.


Manly-Warring Wolves vs. Sydney University


Manly-Warringah will host Sydney University at Weldon Oval this weekend. The stakes are high for the Wolves, and they will be desperate to pull off the upset against the Students.

Manly put the second-placed Bulldogs under plenty of pressure last week to lead at half time, but were not able to get across the line in the second half.

Despite what has not been a great season so far, the Wolves have plenty of firepower. Lachlan Kilpatrick – after a stint interstate – has slotted seamlessly back into the Manly line-up in recent weeks.  Calum Johnston showed some good form last week in what was his best game for the Wolves so far this year, making him another player who will keep the Uni taggers busy.

Sydney Uni remain top of the ladder, and have only lost one game this season. They went perilously close to losing their second last week, and only some last-minute heroics got them over the line against North Shore.

Kane Murphy was sensational for the Students last week, and will be expected to again feature prominently in this game. Matt Vicic has been a standout for the Students all season, and he will be one that Manly will need to keep quiet if they are to get up this time round.

Manly will be thankful that Xavier Richards is not playing for Sydney Uni after his 13-goal haul when the two sides met at Sydney University No. 1 earlier this season.

The Students still have a quality line-up though, and Manly will need to lift for this one. A game outside the five and with a poor percentage, this is desperation stakes time, and the Wolves know they will need to put in a strong effort this time round. The Students cannot expect to have everything go their way in this game.


St George Dragons


St George have the bye this week. That’s the luck of the draw, but they would probably rather be playing after finding some momentum in the second half last week to run down UTS. The Dragons will drop to fourth if North Shore beat UTS, but with a game in hand compared to fellow finals contenders, there is still plenty of time for them to make a serious impact on finals calculations in weeks to come.

All four games this week see a team currently in the top five playing a team currently outside the five. But there has been plenty of upsets already this year, and plenty of scope for some more this week.

If all games were to go by the way ladder positions suggest they should, we would finally see a gap start to open up between the top five and the rest. But if we have learned anything from this season so far, it is that we should expect the unexpected and all victories have to be earned. There are no easy wins in 2017.