Men’s and Women’s Premier Division Grand Final Match Previews
Written by Michael Shillito
This is it! We’ve made it to the biggest day in the Sydney footy calendar; Grand Final Day. The forecast is good, Blacktown International Sportspark is looking a treat and we’re set for a sensational day of footy to wrap up the season.
In both our Premier Division Grand Finals, the cream has risen to the top. In both comps it’s first v second; the minor premier against the defending premier. Four clubs chasing one dream.
The best place to be on Saturday is Blacktown. If you’re going there, don’t forget that you’ll need a ticket; so head over to (link – https://www.eventbrite.com/d/australia–sydney/afl-sydney/ ) and get that sorted.
If you can’t get there, the next best thing is to tune into the live stream on Kayo Sports and the AFL Sydney Facebook page. There’ll be support coming in from around the country and around the world, from the far-flung faithful of these clubs.
It’s been a long season, and a lot of energy has been spent to get this far. But there’s one more mountain to climb, one more big effort needed. There’s no excuse for leaving anything in the tank. This is the moment; and history will honour the team that rises to the occasion and gets it done on the biggest day of all.
There’s been plenty of great players who never got to play in a premiership. But on Saturday, 22 men and 21 women will achieve the biggest prize there is; a premiership medal. A priceless moment with team-mates that will last forever. But there’s one more big effort that has to be done before those celebrations can begin. Because another 22 men and another 21 women will suffer the heartbreak of having their dream ripped away from them.
It all comes down to Saturday. This is where legends are made.
MENS PREMIER DIVISION GRAND FINAL
North Shore Bombers v UNSW-ES Bulldogs
Blacktown International Sportspark, Saturday 4:15pm
North Shore (1st) – Played 16, Won 15, Lost 1, 220.85%
UNSW-ES (2nd) – Played 16, Won 12, Lost 4, 177.83%
Qualifying Final – UNSW-ES 9.10 (64) def Pennant Hills 9.4 (58)
Major Semi-Final – North Shore 8.9 (57) def UNSW-ES 8.7 (55)
Preliminary Final – UNSW-ES 10.9 (69) def Pennant Hills 5.8 (38)
For the second year in a row, the Bombers and the Bulldogs will face off in the competition decider. Last year the Bulldogs were minor premiers and only had to play one final, while the Bombers played every week in the finals and had to win two games to get to the big one. This time it was North Shore who had the short route to the Grand Final, while the Bulldogs had to go the long way round.
North Shore have been the benchmark in 2023, as they raced out of the blocks and have been top of the ladder all season. They won their first 13 games and have only dropped one game all year. But they were given a scare in the Major Semi-Final; when after leading by 21 points at the last change, they were unable to score a goal in the last quarter and had to defend resolutely in the final minutes to get over the Bulldogs by just two points. But they managed to hang on and get themselves another week off.
This has been a formidable North Shore side. Captain Ned Campbell has had an outstanding year, which was recognised on Monday night when he took out the Phelan Medal in a three-way tie. It’s the second year in a row in which Campbell has led the voting, and this year he remained eligible. Campbell was also named as centre and captain in the AFL Sydney Team of the Year.
And there’s plenty more star power in the North Shore lineup who have enjoyed stellar seasons, who have been recognised in the AFL Sydney Team of the Year. Keep an eye on Sam Barkley, who has pace to burn up and down the wing. Jack Woodman in defence has been a solid rock that opponents have struggled to get past. And Mitch Crisafulli has made the ruck role his own this season.
To win a Grand Final, you’ve got to post a winning score; and the Bombers have the forward power to do that. Josh Rayner has led the way with 34 goals, while Christian Loone has contributed 23. These two have the height and marking power to do some serious damage, and the Bulldogs defenders will have some work to do to stop them.
And then there’s the Bulldogs. They’ve done it before, and they know how to do it again. Not counting the aborted 2021 season, it’s their fifth Grand Final in a row; and they’ve won three of them already. Last week was the first time in those five seasons that they’ve had to play a Preliminary Final, but they got it done with a comfortable 31-point win over Pennant Hills. And now they’re here and ready to continue their golden era.
In their quest for a winning score, much of the focus will be on Kieran Emery. The big number 11 took out the Stan Milton Trophy as the competition’s leading goal-scorer, and was named as full-forward in the AFL Sydney Team of the Year. With a whopping 74 goals so far this season, he’ll keep the North Shore defenders busy.
In the backline, Cooper Kilpatrick has been a standout for the Bulldogs this season, and he’ll be working hard to repel any attacking moves by the Bombers. And watch out for AFL Sydney Team of the Year players Brodie Romensky and Sam Thorne, who can pop up anywhere and make big contributions for the Bulldogs.
These teams have played three times in 2023, with the Bombers emerging victorious on all three occasions. In round 3 at Henson Park, the Bombers enjoyed a comfortable 38-point result. Round 15 at Gore Hill was tighter, but the Bombers got it done by 17 points. And then there was that Major Semi-Final thriller, when the Bombers hung on for dear life to get up by two points.
But the Bulldogs got it done in last year’s Grand Final; when the Bombers were unable to score a goal in the first three quarters. But a few minutes into the last term, suddenly they were within two goals. On that occasion, the Bulldogs steadied and the flag was theirs.
Two great clubs at the peak of their powers. This is a Grand Final that has all the ingredients of a classic. It comes down to being able to perform on the day, and both teams have the firepower to get the job done. You won’t want to miss a minute of the action here, and this is a day that will long be remembered and celebrated. Both teams know only too well that they’ll have to get past a very good and well respected opponent if they are to drink from the premiership cup.
WOMENS PREMIER DIVISION GRAND FINAL
East Coast Eagles v UTS Bats
Blacktown International Sportspark, Saturday 2:00pm
UTS (1st) – Played 16, Won 15, Lost 1, 349.35%
East Coast (2nd) – Played 16, Won 14, Lost 1, Drawn 1, 447.30%
Qualifying Final – East Coast 6.3 (39) def Manly 3.4 (22)
Major Semi-Final – East Coast 7.5 (47) def UTS 3.4 (22)
Preliminary Final – UTS 9.4 (58) def Macquarie Uni 7.7 (49)
A keenly-anticipated Grand Final match-up sees East Coast taking on UTS. The Eagles are going for their second premiership at this level, but will be tested all the way by a red-hot Bats lineup that is aiming to record a special piece of history for the black and green club with their first Womens Premier Division premiership.
The Bats were top of the ladder after the regular season, and had the first week of the finals off; while the Eagles had a successful final against Manly. This brought the top two sides together for the Major Semi-Final, in which the more experienced Eagles completed a 25-point win. That gave the Eagles a week off while the Bats were called into action in the Preliminary Final against Macquarie Uni; but the Bats did enough to record a nine-point win and make their way into the competition decider.
East Coast joined Premier Division in 2019 and wasted no time in establishing themselves as a powerhouse club at the elite level. A Grand Final appearance in their first season was followed up with a premiership last year. And now they’re looking to go back to back.
In their quest for a winning score, the Eagles will be looking for another big contribution from Caitlin Davidson. Davidson took out the Belinda Pride Trophy as leading goalkicker with 45 goals for the season to date, also earning herself the position as full-forward in the AFL Sydney Team of the Year. Outstanding ruck Caitlin Reid, also a Team of the Year player, can also move up forward and use her height and marking power to create scoring opportunities.
Watch out for Abbey Martin in defence, who has had a stellar season; and opposition forwards have struggled to create scoring chances against her this year. And two further Team of the Year players in Annaleise Barton and Renee Tomkins are versatile performers who will keep the Bats on their toes all afternoon. There’s plenty of quality players in the Eagles’ lineup, and they’re ready to perform.
UTS have a long history in womens’ footy. The club traces its roots back to its original name of the Shamrocks, before they became the Bats of today. And in 2023 they have taken their football to the next level, quickly racing to the top of the ladder and dropping just one game in the regular season. Despite going down in the Major Semi-Final, they hit back last week; and they are ready to complete what has been an outstanding and record-breaking season for the club.
In the midfield engine room, Danika Spamer has made an enormous contribution all season; being named rover in the Team of the Year. She’ll be hard to stop on the big stage this week. And in defence, few forwards this year have got on top of Rising Star winner Ella Parker; and she’ll be making life tough for the Eagle forwards on Saturday.
The Bats have plenty of options up forward as they look to create a winning score. Three of their forwards, Gillian Behan, Jessica Quade and Melissa Lindsay, made their way into the Team of the Year; a recognition of the numerous goal-scoring options that the Bats have at their disposal. This is going to be a challenging afternoon for the Eagle defenders.
These teams met in round 7 at Kanebridge, with the Eagles getting up by 41 points. But the Bats reversed that result at Waverley Oval in round 14, completing a nine-point win which set them up for the minor premiership. The Eagles then completed a 25-point win over the Bats in the Major Semi-Final. Neither of these teams has lost to anyone else in 2023.
And now it comes down to this game. Will it be the Eagles, with their big-game experience and first-hand knowledge of how to handle the Grand Final pressure? Or will it be the Bats, who finished the regular season as minor premiers and have been the benchmark team this season? All will be revealed on Saturday in a Grand Final that promises much. There won’t be much separating these teams in this blockbuster.