BLK AFL Sydney Round 9 Review
SYDNEY AFL ROUND 9 2016
Article by Michael Shillito, Photo by Leigh Gazzard
Round 9 takes us to the half-way point of the home-and-away season. Still a long way to go; but it looks like we’re seeing the Premier Division split into three groups each of three teams. The front-runners, the second group fighting out for positions in the five, and three teams that look unlikely to make it to finals action this year.
The rise of UTS, who have never made the finals but now find themselves in the front-running group, has been one of the highlights of the season to date. They’re joined at the top by East Coast and St George. All should play finals and go deep into playoff action.
The second group sees Pennant Hills and Manly, the teams that have shared the last three premierships, joined by North Shore. But only two of them will make the finals.
Sydney Uni were in the finals in the last two seasons, but don’t look like getting there this year; along with UNSW-ES and Wests.
We had a good run with the weather in the first two months of the season, with not one ground closure or washout through April and May. But the luck ran out when June arrived and the heavens opened. Grounds around Sydney were closed, many matches through the divisions were washed out; and those that went ahead were played on very heavy tracks.
Conditions like that bring out new stars to shine. The fast-runners get bogged, the skilful players struggle to control the ball. But the hard tacklers, the big boys who play the physical footy, stand tall and exert their influence. It’s a whole new dimension compared to what we’ve seen during the early stages of the season.
North Shore made the call early, before the rain hit, not to play on Mortgage Choice Oval this weekend; a decision vindicated when the rain arrived and the often heavy Gore Hill track was spared from becoming a quagmire that would take weeks to recover. The Premier Division match between North Shore and UTS was moved to Blacktown International Sportspark, where despite the rain the surface was in good condition.
But the rain made ball-handling difficult, and both sides were struggling to get any clean possessions as the game got under way. The first quarter was a succession of ball-ups and boundary throw-ins as players struggled to get their hands on the ball; and an inconsistent wind was sending the ball towards the boundary more often than not. Just one goal apiece was scored in the first quarter, with the Bats leading by a point at quarter time.
The rain was tumbling down and the wind blowing harder in the second term. Neither end was favoured by the wind, but it made it a tough day for the willing combatants as easy possessions were denied. The Bats scored two goals to one in the second term, taking a six-point lead into the rooms at half time; but it had been a tough first half.
The Bats took the upper hand in the early minutes of the third quarter, as two more goals were on the board within the first three minutes. It set up what would be a match-winning lead; and there would be no way back for the Bombers. The Bombers were forced into all-out attack to attempt to erase the deficit, and a temporary break in the rain enabled them to get some clean touches. But those conditions enabled the Bats to come up with quick replies when the Bombers did get something going. The quarter finished with the Bats having scored four goals to two, the lead out to 15 points at the last change.
A North Shore comeback in the last quarter was unlikely, and if they were to get back into the contest, they needed to make every attacking post a winner. But they were unable to do this, three behinds before their first goal leaving them further behind than their attacking moves should have got them. And the Bats took control at the death with three late goals stretching the final margin to 27 points.
On a day when goals were hard to come by, Daniel Breese’s four-goal effort was pivotal to the Bats, giving them a focal target. Around the ground, Jai Lyons, Daniel Crouch and Thomas Perks got plenty of the ball all day. The Bats find themselves in third place, two games clear of their nearest challengers; and unless something catastrophic happens in the second half of the season, should be playing finals this season.
The conditions didn’t suit the Bombers, a fast-running side but much smaller than their UTS opponents. James Loneragan, Jimmy McKenzie and Mitchell Wright worked hard all day; but it wasn’t North Shore’s day. The Bombers are still in the top five; but after three losses in a row, a promising start to the season is in danger of slipping away unless they can regroup before their next match.
It was desperation stakes at Kelso Oval as UNSW-ES hosted Wests. With the Bulldogs going into the game with just one win so far this season, and the Magpies yet to open their account, this was an opportunity for a much-needed win. But the winner would have to work for it, with the ground being a bog after three games had already been played on it.
Wests had taken the fight up to Manly last week, and were looking to build on the momentum from that performance. And it was a promising opening for the Magpies, as they went in hard and put their bodies on the line in a physical opening term. There were plenty of muddy jumpers already as packs formed around the ball, but the Magpies were working hard and achieving reward for effort with three goals to one in the first term, leading by 10 points at quarter time.
But the quarter time break gave the Bulldogs a chance to steady and regroup, and they looked a lot more focussed as they returned to action for the second term. It wasn’t easy conditions to play good footy, and there was no shortage of dropped ball and players struggling to maintain their footing. But the Bulldogs had lifted, and the deficit was soon wiped away; and with four goals to one in the second quarter it was a 10-point lead to the Bulldogs at the long break.
The momentum had swung the Bulldogs’ way, and the half time break would not stop it. The Bulldogs went on with the job in the third term, building up a lead that would lock the Magpies out of the contest. It wasn’t easy, a slippery ball and changes to the wind making a long-kicking game unviable. But the Bulldogs were controlling the game, and five goals to one in the third term gave the Bulldogs’ a 32-point three quarter time lead; and it was clear that their second win of the season was on its way.
The last quarter wasn’t one that reached any great heights, as a long day slogging through tricky conditions saw some tired players going through the motions. The light was fading, the rain getting heavier; and just one goal apiece would be scored before the siren sounded.
The Bulldogs had won by 32 points, their second win of 2016. Tom Banuelos, Jeremy Daniher and Joel Robbie were best for the Bulldogs, consistently under the bottom of packs and putting in a solid effort in tricky conditions. The Bulldogs are still two games away from the top five and finals are unlikely, but still had plenty of cause to celebrate a hard-fought win. And they’ve already passed last year’s win total.
It was another tough afternoon for Wests. The Magpies received solid service from Pat Wilmot, Robert Bamford and Callum McEvoy-Grey. But it wasn’t enough to break their losing run. Sitting winless at the half-way point of the season, they’ll be keen to get a winning streak going during the second half of the season to avoid the unwanted wooden spoon.
Pennant Hills hosted Sydney Uni at Mike Kenny Oval. Neither team has yet been able to replicate their form from previous seasons so far this year, with defending champions Pennant Hills out of the top five and the Students having won just two games so far this year going into the game; although the Students did have a win last week.
But conditions weren’t conducive to quality football, and any return to form would be through a tough slog; struggling to control a greasy ball and trying to naviagate around a rapidly-swelling network of puddles and mud patches in which even standing up was an achievement beyond many of the on-field warriors.
Incursions into the forward line for either side were rare, especially for the Students who would be held to one scoring shot for the first half. The Demons weren’t able to get many inside-50s either, as most attempts to pick up the ball were thwarted by the slippery leather and the packs of players that would form around it; making clean possessions as rare as clean jumpers. But the Demons were able to eke out three goals to one through a challenging first half, leading by 15 points at the long break.
It had been a low-scoring slog, and the goal umpires wouldn’t be asked to do much in the third quarter either. The rain was bucketing down, both sides forced to gather in numbers around the ball in conditions where it was impossible to get any form of running or marking game going. The Demons would score the only goal of the quarter, extending their lead to 22 points; which was clearly more than enough to ensure victory on such a wet day.
Conditions improved marginally in the final quarter, and with the result of the game not in doubt, much of the pressure that had been applied in the first three terms was relaxed in the last. While still far from free-flowing, there was more open footy during the last quarter. But the Demons still had the game comfortably under control, and a run of three goals to one would complete the Demons’ fourth win of the season.
The final margin was 31 points, but in reality Pennant Hills were far more dominant than that. The Students had been held to just two goals for the game, and had rarely moved inside their attacking 50 metre zone all afternoon.
Matt Thomas, Damian Dell’Aquila and Theo Moraitis were best for the Demons, putting in the work rate in trying conditions and getting the job done for the Demons. Four wins for the season brings them level on games with North Shore and Manly, with a tight battle of percentages determining ladder positions.
Allister Clarke, Spencer Krochmal and Jacob Swarts were best for Sydney Uni. But it wasn’t their day, and the Students remain on two wins for the first half of the season; two games away from the top five. They’ll need to get a winning streak going in the second half of the season to keep their hopes of a third straight finals appearance alive.
A game was scheduled on Sunday, with St George to meet Manly at Olds Park. But the weather on Sunday was even worse than Saturday. Olds Park was covered in puddles, local roads were cut and there were blackouts around Sydney; and the only decision that could be made was made. The match has been postponed to the wet weather weekend later in the season.
AFL Sydney will take a break over the long weekend, other than the Rep team that will be travelling to Canberra next Saturday; and return in two weeks time as the second half of the season gets under way.
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