Getting tighter at the top?
With Nambucca the only side not in a position to challenge for the finals, all positions from 1 to 5 on the AFL North Coast ladder are up for grabs. This weekend's matches should help form a clearer picture as to the shape of the candidates for this year's finals series.
Grafton shape up as the dark horses of the competition, despite their status on the ladder. They sit fifth but with several first-grade players on the sidelines, were in a position to defeat ladder-leading North Coffs. New recruit, Tim Davis, from all reports is a gun; exactly what Grafton need to take that next step. With Justin Darby and Daniel Zacek in form, and Grahame Blackwell kicking goals up forward, the ingredients are there for continued success.
Sawtell had a gritty win over Port Macquarie and sit just outside the top two. If the Swans falter this weekend, a likely Sawtell win will see them sit second, and take them another step closer to a second chance. Players like Luke Matthews and Mark Couzens will only get better as the season progresses, as will Daniel Johnson and Daniel Pritchard who have been absent at different stages.
Port still have a core component of in-and-under players proven at Senior level. Shannon Skreja and Clayton Miechel are among players with premiership experience. Scott Payne and Tim Donohue seem to lead a strong leadership group. They always aim to keep a low profile but will need to play their best football to make the four. If they lose to Grafton this weekend, it will be very hard for them to play catch up.
The Swans have been good but are yet to face Sawtell. Their big litmus test will come this weekend when they face the 'Roos at home. They are all but guaranteed a top four berth but would dearly love a double chance, to give them the chance to erase last year's finals demons. The next few weeks will test their credentials.
North Coffs are still the competition favourites. They seemed to miss Darren Funston on the weekend but should have the class in the middle to cover his absence. Jordan O'Connor remains the key up forward. Grafton proved there are weak links, its just a matter of whether the opposition teams can exploit them over four quarters.
We will cover the Under 18 and Reserves competition in the coming weeks.
Coffs Swans v North Coffs
Port Macquarie v Grafton
Sawtell/Toormina v Nambucca Valley