Round 8 Men’s & Women’s Premier Division Preview

Written by Michael Shillito

Time marches relentlessly onwards. May turns into June, autumn turns into winter, and we’ve passed the one-third of the way through the season.

This week is AFL Sydney’s Pride Round, when we send a clear message that homophobia has no place in our game.

In Mens Premier Division, everyone has now had a win. That euphoric feeling of singing the song has been experienced by every team. But the ladder has been split in three. The top four, only a game plus percentage separating them; unless something remarkable happens, they’re fighting for the minor premiership and the double-chance. Then there’s a two-game break to Inner West Magpies, sitting in fifth place and in pole position for the last finals spot. And then another two games to the chasing group of five teams, and any of them with finals ambitions will need to start to get a winning streak going.

In the Womens, East Coast have five wins and sit alone on top. They have the bye this week, and while the Eagles rest and recover, a chasing pack of three teams will be looking to bridge that gap and catch the Eagles; but two of those teams are playing each other. Manly and Sydney Uni are a game behind that chasing pack, but there’s only five finals spots. Then a two-game break to the bottom three.

It all adds up to another fascinating round of footy, with plenty of pivotal games to be played out.


North Shore Bombers v Inner West Magpies

Gore Hill Oval, Saturday 1:30pm

North Shore – 2nd. Played 6, Won 6, Lost 0, 255.00%. Streak – W6

Inner West – 5th. Played 6, Won 3, Lost 3, 100.91%. Streak – L1

The first Mens Premier Division match to get under way on Saturday sees the undefeated North Shore host Inner West Magpies. The Bombers will be looking to continue their unbeaten run, while the Magpies’ unique ladder position will see them looking to get in touch with the top four and keep the chasing pack of teams well behind them.

The Bombers have won their first six games in 2024. The most recent, last Saturday, saw them travel to Monarch to take on competition newcomers South-West Sydney. It wasn’t a game that reached any great heights, but the Bombers did enough to record a comfortable 46-point win; spearheaded by a six-goal haul from Wayd Blackburne, who along with Ned Campbell and James Tidemann was among the Bombers’ best. So far so good for the Bombers, but they know all too well that they have to keep the wins coming.

For the Magpies, it’s their second game in a row against an unbeaten opponent. Last week at Picken Oval, they looked set to cause Manly’s first loss as they led the Wolves by 30 points at the long break; but were unable to last the distance. Jye Doyle, Ben Klemke and Dan Hillam put up valiant efforts all day, but unfortunately for the Magpies they were unable to stop the Manly juggernaut in the second half. But the first half effort shows what’s possible for this side; and if they can sustain an effort like that for four quarters this time they’ll take it up to the Bombers.

The Bombers go into this game with an unbeaten record, and they’ll be hard to stop on their home deck. But the Magpies have plenty to play for. If they can get the win here, they stay within reach of the top four and keep the chasing pack of teams two games behind. But if the Magpies go down here, any of the bottom five teams that can get the win this weekend will be only a game behind.

UTS Bats v Manly-Warringah Wolves

Waverley Oval, Saturday 2:10pm

UTS – 7th. Played 6, Won 1, Lost 5, 65.91%. Streak – L3

Manly – 1st. Played 6, Won 6, Lost 0, 255.00%. Streak – W6

Now is the time when UTS need to lift. Three losses on the trot sees them in seventh spot, two games out of the five. But they have the home ground advantage at Waverley; and they will need every advantage they can find as they are up against the undefeated ladder leaders.

UTS had their chances at Olds Park last week when they got to within a kick of St George at three quarter time. But when the game was there to be won, the Bats were unable to keep up with the Dragons and went down by 48 points, their fifth loss of the season. Hugo Birks chipped in with four goals, while Lewis McCormack, Josh Lee and Louis Pribula got plenty of the ball. But it was a disappointing last quarter by the Bats; and something they’ll need to improve on this time if they are to take the fight up to the Wolves.

Manly remain undefeated, but last week they were given a test by the Magpies at Picken Oval and found themselves in a bit of trouble when they trailed by 30 points at the long break. But six unanswered goals in the third term was enough to give them the lead, and a further six goals in the last quarter extended the winning margin to 35 points. Sam McMeeken, Kyle Martin and Alex Jacobs were in the thick of the action in the second half fightback. Even after little went right in the first half, it was a solid effort to come back and take the win; and the Wolves will be delighted with the never-say-die spirit that got them over the line.

The Wolves will go into this game as favourites. Unbeaten, refusing to lose. But for the Bats, this is the time they need to find something more. They can’t let another season slide by. A win here and, depending on other results, the top five is within reach. The Bats will need to take the fight up to Manly, and go all out for the upset. Their hopes and aspirations for 2024 depend on it.

East Coast Eagles v South-West Sydney Blues

Kanebridge Oval, Saturday 2:30pm

East Coast – 10th. Played 6, Won 1, Lost 5, 40.44%. Streak – L5

South-West Sydney – 8th. Played 6, Won 1, Lost 5, 64.04%. Streak – L2

Up in the north-west, we see two teams that are desperate for a win go head to head. Both have saluted just once so far in 2024; and when the opportunity is there to record their second win, both teams will go hard for it.

East Coast started the season with that stirring win against UNSW-ES, but haven’t been able to replicate that performance since. And last Saturday at Sydney Uni, tbey were never in the contest as the Students dominated throughout to record a 109-point win. Jacob Jones, Zac Johns and Nick Johns tried hard all afternoon, but the Eagles didn’t have the ammunition to match it with a red-hot Sydney Uni side. Now they return home to play a team with an identical win-loss record; and can’t afford another game like last week. They need more. That first round showed that it can be done; but now is the time to get it done.

The Blues, in their first year in Premier Division, have recorded one win so far. They were unable to add to that tally when they hosted North Shore at Monarch last week. After conceding five unanswered goals in the first term, they put up some reasonable fighting spirit for the rest of the game; with Jayden Flanagan, Kerwin Stuart and Bailey Stewart playing pivotal roles. But it’s been a familiar story for the Blues, who have found themselves a long way behind at quarter time in all but one of their games so far this year; and getting off to a good start is all-important this time.

Expect to see plenty of desperation here. Wins have been hard to come by for both teams; but this is an opportunity. A chance to get that breakthrough result, and if other results go their way, they could find themselves only one win outside the five. Plenty to play for here, and expect both teams to be up for the contest.

UNSW-ES Bulldogs v Sydney University Students

Henson Park, Saturday 3:10pm

UNSW-ES – 6th. Played 6, Won 1, Lost 5, 68.11%. Streak – L4

Sydney Uni – 4th. Played 6, Won 5, Lost 1, 164.87%. Streak – W4

One of Australia’s biggest sporting rivalries is the clash between University of NSW and Sydney Uni; with university pride on the line. AFL’s installment in the sporting rivalry will be played out at Henson Park as the Bulldogs play host to the Students in a no-holds-barred clash. Don’t miss the latest instalment of this rivalry; if you’re not able to get to Henson Park for it, you can catch all the action live on Streamer.

UNSW-ES find themselves in unfamiliar territory, in sixth place, two games plus percentage behind fifth. Last week at Mike Kenny they were never in the contest against Pennant Hills and were well beaten by 66 points. Toby Aiker, Tom Unger and Jarrod Wachman never gave up; but the Bulldogs were outgunned by the Demons and never looked like working their way back into the contest. For the Bulldogs, this is far from the dominant force of recent seasons. But surely they can’t stay this low for the whole season. There’ll be a point where they can lift themselves up.

Meanwhile Sydney Uni continue on their winning ways. They’ve only dropped one game so far in 2024, and last week they put on their best performance for the season to dominate East Coast and record a comprehensive 109-point victory. Nik Dale was unstoppable up forward to boot six goals; while Nathan Tang, Jack Dimery and Nick Lees were everywhere around the ground picking up myriad possessions. If the Students can turn on another performance like that one, they’ll be hard to stop.

The Bulldogs have had a golden era in recent years, but it’s going to take something special to keep that golden run going in 2024. They’re going to have to get a winning streak going, and it starts here. It won’t be easy, and the Students are looking good and building up to some imposing form. But even with the departure of some players after last year’s premiership, there’s still too much talent for the Bulldogs to stay down all season. They need to find a boost, and it starts here. Otherwise the 2024 season is already in serious danger of getting out of reach.

Pennant Hills Demons v St George Dragons

Mike Kenny Oval (Top oval), Saturday 3:20pm

Pennant Hills – 3rd. Played 6, Won 5, Lost 1, 173.38%. Streak – W5

St George – 9th. Played 6, Won 1, Lost 1, 56.06%. Streak – W1

The Demons and the Dragons face off in a twilight encounter at Mike Kenny Oval. The Demons are on a roll, with five wins in a row; but they’ll be taking on an opponent with a newfound enthusiasm after the Dragons finally are on the winners list for 2024.

Since dropping their opening game of the season, the Demons have been in impressive form and have won their last five in a row. Last week at Mike Kenny, they put defending champions UNSW-ES to the sword to take out a comfortable 66-point win. Harrison Pitt spearheaded the charge with five goals, while Michael and James Carroll and Nick Eynaud featured prominently around the ground. If the Demons can keep putting efforts in like last week, there’s not many teams that are capable of knocking them off.

It hasn’t been a great start to the season for the Dragons; but last week at Olds Park they finally broke through for their first win of the year. Playing UTS at Olds Park, there was only a kick in it at the last change, but all the pain of the first five games went away as the Dragons played like men inspired to add eight goals in the final term. Tye Gander was the focal point up forward to finish with six goals, while Jeremos Mills-Vasas and Lachlan Cabor also featured prominently for the Dragons. It was a welcome respite from the trials and tribulations of the start of the season; but one win isn’t enough and to get back into this season, they need to start stringing a few wins together.

The Demons are in impressive form. Five in a row, a healthy percentage, and their ambitions of a double-chance finish remain strong. It would take something special for the Dragons to knock them off, especially on the Demons’ turf. But the Dragons finally have their tails up, and they know that they need to capitalise on last week’s effort; that last week can’t just be a one-off. The Dragons will be going all-out to test the Demons here, and the Demons can’t afford to take them lightly.


North Shore Bombers v Parramatta Goannas

Gore Hill Oval, Saturday 11:50am

North Shore – 4th. Played 5, Won 4, Lost 1, 120.00%. Streak – L1

Parramatta – 3rd. Played 6, Won 4, Lost 2, 202.73%. Streak – W2

The Bombers and the Goannas are a game behind East Coast on the ladder; and with the Eagles having the bye, one of these teams will draw equal top of the ladder. It promises to be a cracker of a contest on the Gore Hill synthetic, and there’s a lot hanging on the result of this one.

It’s a long-awaited return to on-field action for the Bombers, playing their first game in three weeks after the Rep weekend then the bye last week. Their last start was against the Eagles at Kanebridge, where they were handed their first loss of the season, held to just three behinds and going down by 57 points; despite the tireless efforts of Pippy Clegg, Emily Bliss and Georgina Maher. It’s been a long wait for the Bombers but now it’s time to put things right and return to the winning list.

In contrast, the Goannas go into this game with winning form on the board. Last Saturday at Gipps Road, it was a superb defensive effort to hold Manly goal-less and make their way to a 36-point win. Lauren O’Sullivan, Sophie Kavanagh and Chloe Davis were in the thick of the action for the Goannas; who with two wins on the trot have worked their way into the top three. But they need the win here to stay there.

There’s plenty on the line here, and this should be a fascinating match-up. Plenty of quality players on both lists, and the winner will pick up an edge against a potential finals rival as well as going equal top on the ladder. There’s no quarter to be asked or given here, and these are the sort of games that any finals aspirant player should have no trouble getting themselves motivated for.

UTS Bats v Manly-Warringah Wolves

Waverley Oval, Saturday 12:25pm

UTS – 2nd. Played 5, Won 4, Lost 1, 250.45%. Streak – W2

Manly – 5th. Played 5, Won 3, Lost 2, 180.95%. Streak – L1

A crunch game in this year’s Womens Premier Division comes from Waverley Oval, where the Bats play host to the Wolves. The Bats have won their last two and are starting to hit their best form, while the Wolves have a little question mark hanging over them after their loss to the Goannas last week.

The Bats, consolidating on their Grand Final appearance last year, have built themselves into some solid form. It was one-way traffic at Olds Park last week, as the Bats held the Dragons to a solitary behind on their way to a convincing 98-point win. Catriona O’Brien, Hannah Cerezo and Aiofe Berry were the standouts; but there were many Bats players who played their role to perfection. The Bats are building their way up to something special, and they’ll be feeling ready and raring to go for this challenge.

Meanwhile Manly found themselves in a spot of bother last week, as they travelled to Gipps Road and were unable to score a goal against the Goannas, going down by 36 points. Zara Hamilton, Hannah Woolf and Elise Wallace kept working hard; but it was one of those days for the Wolves when the marks weren’t sticking and the game plan just wasn’t working out. But they’re a better side than that, and they’ll be looking to hit back hard this week.

There’s only one game separating these sides on the ladder, and both have strong percentages. This should be a closely-fought affair, and there’s plenty to play for; with the chance to gain a psychological advantage over a team they may well play again at the business end of the season. This game has the ingredients of a classic contest between two highly-credentialled teams; and one suspects there shouldn’t be much separating these teams when the final siren sounds.

UNSW-ES Bulldogs v Sydney University Students

Henson Park, Saturday 1:30pm

UNSW-ES – 7th. Played 6, Won 1, Lost 5, 66.04%. Streak – W1

Sydney Uni – 6th. Played 5, Won 3, Lost 2, 100.00%. Streak – L1

University pride is on the line as UNSW-ES play host to Sydney Uni at Henson Park. It’s 7th v 6th, although there is a gap of two games plus plenty of percentage separating these teams. But here is an opportunity for the Bulldogs to bridge half of the gap, or for the Students to increase the gap between the finals-contending top six and the botton three. The seasons of both clubs are in the balance; and if you can’t get to Henson for this contest, you can still follow all the action live on Streamer. [link – ]

The Bulldogs broke through for their first win of the season last week when they travelled to Mike Kenny and emerged victorious with an all-important 18-point win. Senna Gulden, Chloe Anderson and Shelby Koh were influential for the Bulldogs as they got out to a lead in the second and third quarters; and once they had the scent of victory they weren’t letting go. Now they have an opportunity to build up some momentum for the season; but to take that opportunity, they need to get the job done in this clash.

Sydney Uni fell out of the top five when they were unable to match it with the ladder-leading East Coast last week; held scoreless until the last quarter and going down by 56 points. Ella van den Borne, Rose Stuart and Ash Dribbus never gave up; but it wasn’t the Students’ day. They’ll be looking for a win here to re-enter the five; and they’ll be sure to hit back hard and make life difficult for the Bulldogs.

A UNSW-ES win would recover half the ground they need to make up if they are going to catch Sydney Uni and work their way into finals contention. This is their chance. But the Students stand ready and won’t be making it easy. The Students need the win to re-enter the top five; and they can make life very difficult for the bottom three’s hopes of entering finals contention. Still a long way to go, but if the Bulldogs drop this one, the chase for the finals already looks close to insurmountable.

Pennant Hills Demons v St George Dragons

Mike Kenny Oval (Top oval), Saturday 1:40pm

Pennant Hills – 8th. Played 5, Won 0, Lost 5, 43.90%. Streak – L5

St George – 9th. Played 5, Won 0, Lost 5, 4.35%. Streak – L5

The two remaining winless teams in Womens Premier Division face off at Mike Kenny Oval. For one of these teams, it will be such a relief as they get off the mark and sing the song with the feeling they’re finally getting somewhere. But for the other, it will be a stark reminder of what trials and tribulations they are facing in this 2024 season.

Pennant Hills hosted UNSW-ES at Mike Kenny last week, but were never in the contest and that breakthrough first win of the year remained elusive for another week. Held scoreless in the second and third quarters, the Demons found themselves too far behind to catch up and went down by 18 points, despite the tireless efforts of Kaitlin Quinlan, Natalie Pajor and Elly Rudd. None from five and with plenty of work to be done; and the fightback must start here for the Demons.

It’s been a hard entry for St George into Premier Division, and they remain winless with a percentage of 4.35. Last week at Olds Park was less than what they would have been hoping for, as UTS held them to one point and dished out a 98-point margin. Sienna Smith, Rachel Simpson and Sophie Matheson never stopped trying; but the Dragons didn’t have the firepower to compete with one of the competition heavyweights. But now they find themselves against a team with an identical win-loss record; and must go into this clash believing they can finally break their duck.

This will be a battle between two teams looking for that breakthrough result, a kick-start that will boost the morale and provide some confidence that they can turn their season around. A team in this position with the scent of victory suddenly provides a boost that the whole team can feel. But there’s no escaping the fact that for the loser of this clash, it’s going to be a long, hard season.