Round 14 Review
Article and Photos by Michael Shillito
It was a cold and windy Saturday afternoon as Round 14 was played out. A few upset results, with two university clubs pulling off unexpected wins. And the effect on the ladder is such that we may have our final five.
It’s been an inconsistent season for Sydney Uni. In their quest to be the first NEAFL-aligned club to make the Premier Division finals, they hit the ground running in the early rounds. But a drop-off in form saw them losing many more games than they won; but for several weeks they were only just clinging to fifth spot.
Saturday afternoon saw the Students travel to Picken Oval to take on third-placed Wests. The Magpies, after a big win against St George, were in good form and would have had high expectations of continuing along their winning ways. But such hopes were dealt a severe blow early, as the Students burst out of the blocks with a quarter of committed football that left the Magpies chasing the game.
From the start, it was the Students who were winning the clearances and getting the ball to their forward line with ever-increasing frequency. And the scoreboard quickly began turning over; as they ran in six goals to one in the first term, leading by 34 points at the first change. The Magpies had been shocked by the Uni charge in the first quarter, but rallied in the second quarter to stop the Students. It was a better second quarter for Wests, holding the Students to one goal while managing three themselves; but when the teams returned to the rooms for half time, the Students still held a 21-point advantage.
It wasn’t Wests’ day. The bounce of the ball wasn’t going their way, and the Students had the sniff of an important win and weren’t letting go. The third quarter wasn’t always pretty football; but it was effective for the Sydney Uni cause. Three goals to one for the quarter set up a match-winning 36 point break at three quarter time. The pressure valve had been released for a high-scoring final quarter, and although the Magpies outscored the Students by four goals to three, it wasn’t enough to challenge the visitors; and the final siren brought celebrations of an important Sydney Uni win.
The final margin was 30 points. Jacob Swarts, Jack Caspersonn and Aron Everett had been best for Sydney Uni; while Wests found good service all afternoon from Kristian Ericson, Tim Lambert and Levi Sands. In this bizarre season for Sydney Uni, they’ve still lost more games than they’ve won; but remain in fifth place. But with still a three game break between fourth and fifth, the double-chance looks out of reach.
But the full implications of Sydney Uni’s win came when combined with the result at Monarch Oval. After a three-game winning streak, Campbelltown had dealt themselves back into finals contention. But their finals hopes received a severe blow, and UNSW-ES kept theirs alive, as the Bulldogs took a convincing 71-point over the Blues; a result that opens up a six-point break between Sydney Uni and the teams challenging for the last finals spot.
The pressure was intense in the early exchanges, the tackles hard and the scores hard to come by. Just one goal apiece was scored in the first quarter, in a game that at that stage looked to be a hard-fought slog. The Blues were leading by a point at quarter time, but the Bulldogs emerged from the quarter time huddle full of running, and it didn’t take long for the look of the game to change completely.
On the massive Monach surface, suddenly the Bulldogs found room to move and targets began to present themselves up forward. Leads were being made, unmarked players running into space; and the Blues had no answer to the relentless Bulldog juggernaut. The Bulldogs were making it look easy as they completed a run of seven goals to one in the second term; leading by 37 points at the long break.
There was no way back for the Blues in the third term. They created more scoring chances during the quarter, and converted three of them into goals; but the Bulldogs had the form and momentum running their way to score four for the quarter and extend their lead to 43 points at the last change. And the final quarter was one-way traffic, UNSW-ES at their unstoppable best as they shut down the Blues completely to score four unanswered goals and turn the game into a comprehensive victory.
A 71-point win was fair reward for what had been a dominant performance for the last three quarters. The decisive goal-kicking boot was on the foot of Alex Foote as he kicked six goals in a best-on-ground performance; while Abayna Davis and Tom Dickson were also prominent performers for the Bulldogs. Aidan Bell, Jeconiah Peni and Luke Vella had toiled hard all afternoon for the Blues, but it was a disappointing performance for a side that had ambitions of a finals place. Thanks to their superior percentage, the Bulldogs leap-frog the Blues to sixth place; but are still six points behind Sydney Uni.
Campbelltown’s loss also means that, despite Wests and St George being beaten this weekend, there is no mathematical way for the Magpies and Dragons to miss out on the finals.
St George’s loss came at Olds Park at the hands of second-placed Pennant Hills. The Demons all but ensured themselves the double-chance in the finals, and are still challenging Manly for the minor premiership. The Demons won the match by 47 points, but for much of the afternoon the game looked set to be much closer.
Nothing separated the two sides in the first term. Two goals apiece, in an evenly-contested game around the ground; as two teams desperate for victory were unwilling to concede and unable to gain anything from their opponent. But when the game opened up in the second term, the Demons took the upper hand. Opportunities opened up for the Demons, and they made the most of them to kick five goals to three, leading by 15 points at half time.
The Dragons had some work to do in the third term, and in every aspect except one, they did what they needed to. In general play, the Dragons pressed hard, won plenty of the ball and put the Demons under sustained pressure. But the forward line’s goal-kicking radar deserted them when they needed it most. Shot after shot sailed wide of the big sticks as the Dragons scored 1.7 for the quarter; and although the Demons were only able to manage one goal for the quarter, the Demons were still in front by nine points when the three quarter time siren sounded.
The Dragons had their chances in the third quarter, but were unable to capitalise. And the Demons made them pay dearly in the last quarter. The Demons lifted their intensity in the last quarter, and a game that had looked set to be a thriller for three quarters became a blowout. It was a tale of complete control in the last quarter, six goals to one, as the final margin was stretched to 47 points.
Sam Zikman continued his purple patch on the forward line, finishing with five goals for the afternoon; while around the ground it was the experienced hands of Kieran Wright, Lloyd Shepherd and Seb Parker who led the way for the Demons. Jordan West, Nicolas Shaw and Karl Merson were St George’s best.
North Shore and UTS faced off at Gore Hill Oval. Both teams had struggled with injuries this year, often putting depleted teams on the park; but here was a chance to record a much-needed win. It was close and tightly-contested early, but two goals deep in time-on in the opening term gave the Bats a 13-point quarter time lead.
The winner would remain in the finals hunt, while the loser could kiss goodbye to any hopes of appearing in this year’s playoffs. And the second quarter was a shootout in the Last Chance Saloon. Both sides threw caution to the wind, attacking relentlessly and loading their goal-kicking guns for shot after shot. And it was the Bombers who would have the superior firepower; eight goals to four for the quarter turning the quarter time deficit into a 12-point lead at half time.
It was three goals apiece in the third term, as the Bombers threatened to run away with the contest only for the Bats to regroup and rally late in the term to cut the margin to 10 points at the last change. The last quarter was also three goals apiece as the Bats kept coming, briefly taking the lead, before the Bombers steadied in the final stages of the game to take the game by 11 points.
Tim Bransgrove, Tim Weston and Nick Foster had been the stars for the Bombers, getting them over the line. Adam Baker kicked seven goals for the Bats, being easily best on ground in a losing side; while Tom Sundberg and Joel Maddox had also been prominent for UTS. North Shore’s win puts them level on points with UNSW-ES and Campbelltown, six points behind Sydney Uni; but the Bombers’ percentage is well below that of the Bulldogs and Blues, their finals chances still alive but slim with games against Wests, St George and Pennant Hills in their last four.
The final game of the round was at Bruce Purser Reserve. It was last against first, and there were few surprises in Manly’s 88-point win over Sydney Hills Eagles.
But it took a little while for the Giants to get themselves going, as the Eagles put up some early resistance. The first quarter was tight and low-scoring, with the Giants scoring two goals to one to lead by four points at quarter time. But the floodgates began to open as the second quarter progressed, and the Giants began to assert their presence around the ground and leave the Eagles behind. Five goals to one in the second term, and the teams returned to the rooms at half time with the Giants holding a 36-point advantage.
Not much separated the teams around the ground in the third term, and the Eagles took the fight up to their more highly-fancied opponents. The Giants won the quarter, three goals to two, but the Eagles had given it their all around the ground and prevented the Giants from controlling the game during that quarter.
The Giants led by 39 points at the last change. The Eagles didn’t have the firepower to match it with the Giants, but had fought gallantly for three quarters. But in the final term, the home side had nothing more to give. They were unable to score in the final term, as the Giants stepped up and assumed a controlling role in proceedings. Seven unanswered goals in the final quarter blew the final margin out to 88 points; a reflection of the one-sided nature of the final quarter.
Braydon Fowler was again imposing up forward to finish with four goals; while around the ground, Jordan Weir, Tom Pyle and Connor Pettersson were picking up possessions at will. Damian Charleston, Tom Zdrillic and Tom Rivers battled hard for the Eagles on another challenging afternoon.
Next weekend, Premier Division takes the weekend off. There will be catch-up games in other divisions from games missed on weekends where grounds were closed; but no catch-up games are required in Premier Division. This column will also take a weekend off next week before we return for a four-week run home to the finals.