Sydney AFL Round 11 Review

Article by Michael Shillito, Photos by Leigh Gazzard

Last week we thought the ladder may be taking shape. But a round of upsets in Round 11 throws the battle for places wide open and reminds us all that there are no certainties in footy.
All Premier Division games were played on Saturday afternoon. The mercury had plunged during the week, bringing the coldest weather this season; and although the sun was shining on the games, the chill in the air was there to feel.

Manly this season have been short of the premiership juggernaut we’ve seen the last few years. But they were still the hottest of favourites when they hosted UNSW-ES at Weldon Oval on Saturday afternoon. It was a chance for the Giants to move up the ladder into the top five; while the Bulldogs had won just two games so far this year and had never beaten the Giants at Premier Division level.
The first quarter was a scrappy affair, physical at times, as two determined sides faced off. The Bulldogs were giving as good as they got, refusing to let the Giants dominate the contest and denying the home side any easy possessions. Both sides created scoring chances, but under intense pressure were unable to capitalise. The Bulldogs scored the only goal of the quarter, leading by seven points at the first change.
Manly knew they had a fight on their hands, and attempted to put on some scoreboard pressure during the second term. There were no shortage of inside 50s, and enough shots at goal; but time and again the Giants put the ball wide of the big sticks. They would goal once, but the half time score of 1.7 reflected the litany of wasted chances. The Bulldogs made better use of their opportunities to land two goals in the second term, and take an 11-point lead at the long break.
UNSW-ES were in front at half time, but the Giants were within striking distance. More attacking football was called for when the teams returned to the field. But it was the Bulldogs who rose to the occasion, opening the floodgates to put on their best football of the season to date. It was a quarter of footy that will do much to boost the confidence of the young Bulldogs side, as they outran and out-skilled their highly-fancied rivals. Six goals to two for the quarter told the tale, the lead out to 37 points at three-quarter time; as a Bulldogs side that had been badly beaten many times this year found their groove and took control.
The game was safely won and lost by the time the last quarter started. The Giants salvaged something from the contest, winning the last quarter by three goals to two to reduce the final margin to 31 points. But every dog has his day, and this was the day for these Bulldogs as they claimed the scalp of one of the competition’s recent powerhouses. 
After winning just one game last year, the Bulldogs have tripled that tally so far in 2016; and this was a result that will do much to warm the spirits at UNSW-ES. Jared Deep, Joey Reinhard and Tom Banuelos were best for the Bulldogs; but there were many who played their role magnificently. Against all expectations, the Bulldogs are only one game out of the top five, and finals are still within reach.
For Manly, James Brain, Connor Pettersson and Gareth Benbow worked hard all day. But this was a disappointing afternoon for the Giants on a day when a win would have put them inside the top five.

It’s been a long and patient wait for Wests to bring up their first win of the season. They’ve copped some heavy defeats on the road, but have usually been competitive at home. And it was fitting that they were in front of their faithful at Picken Oval when they finally broke the drought with a thrilling five-point result against Sydney Uni.
The game opened with plenty of pressure being applied and some tough footy being played. There were plenty of players forming packs around the ball, refusing to concede possession without a fight. It was low-scoring, just two goals to one, with the Magpies leading by eight points at quarter time; not a quarter of footy for the purists but one in which neither team was prepared to concede any advantage to the other.
The open, running players who had been well held in the first term came into their own in the second, as the game opened up and both sides adopted a more attacking mindset. Four goals apiece were scored in the second term, the marking forwards being given opportunities to take the ball and line up shots for goal. The Students had been looking to get the lead, but were unable to; and at half time the Magpies were 12 points ahead.
With only a couple of goals in it as the game went into the premiership quarter, the Students threw everything they had at the Magpies, and on four occasions were able to goal. But the Magpies had the answers every time with four goals of their own. Punch and counter-punch, two sides defending their turf and looking to land a wounding blow on the other. It was enthralling football to watch, but the Magpies had held out against everything the Students had thrown at them to keep a 13-point lead intact at three quarter time. 
But the Students weren’t done yet, and kept coming in the last term. The Magpies goaled twice in the last quarter, each giving them valuable breathing space. But time and again the Students piled on the pressure. To the relief of the Wests camp, several Uni shots missed their target; but they would keep pressing and three goals would go through. The margin was back within a kick, the Students continuing to press forward, searching for the winner. But the Magpies defended grimly at the death until the siren gave them the win they had searched for.
Brenton Mumme, Patrick Wilmot and Dom Kannan had featured prominently for the Magpies; who at last had achieved reward for their efforts this season. It’s a breakthrough win, and although the Magpies are still at the bottom of the ladder, this may prompt the momentum to lift them to some more wins. And there was plenty of passion in the rooms after the game as the Magpies had cause to sing the song.
Tom Elkington spearheaded the Sydney Uni fightback, kicking five goals to be best on ground in a losing side; while Aron Everett and Luke Vella also picked up plenty of the ball. But the loss sees the Students drop to eighth on the ladder, two games outside the top five; and in need of getting a winning streak going to compete in their third straight finals campaign.

Meanwhile at Mortgage Choice Oval, fourth placed North Shore hosted second team St George. It would be another result that confounded the league ladder, as the Bombers would take the game by 29 points.
The Bombers had a strong team available for this match, and looked the better side around the ground during the first quarter; but would break down around the half-forward line and shots at goal would be rare. The Bombers would score the only goal of the quarter, leading by three points at quarter time after a term that never reached any great heights.
North Shore took the upper hand in the second quarter, dominating around the ground and creating plenty of opportunities up forward. But their inaccurate finishing would let them down at times, as time and again shots at goal would fly wide and only draw a single flag from the goal umpires. But the weight of possession would see the lead steadily increasing against a St George side that had inaccuracy issues of their own. The Bombers were leading by 20 points at half time; but the scoreline of 4.8 to 1.6 was more due to pressure and wasteful finishing than wind, which was barely a factor.
With the Bombers holding the lead, the Dragons were forced to throw caution to the wind in the third quarter, and a captivatingly exciting premiership quarter would entertain those in attendance. The Dragons created plenty of chances and scored four goals for the quarter, but the Bombers had the answers and replied with four goals of their own. For all the Dragons’ efforts, they were only able to make an inroad of one point into the deficit, and the Bombers remained 19 points to the good at the last change.
The Bombers had the scent of victory in their nostrils and weren’t letting go. They would go on with the job in the last quarter, showing some enterprising football as they added an extra four goals to two in the last quarter to complete a 29-point win. 
Charlie Parsons, Darcy Baron-Hay and Brodie Tebbutt played key roles for North Shore in creating the win. The Bombers have now won six games this season, double their total from last year, and have claimed the scalps of all of last year’s top three teams. The Bombers remain in fourth place, but are now just one win behind UTS, and the battle for the double-chance in the finals is very much alive. And just as importantly, there’s now a two-game gap between the Bombers and fifth-placed Pennant Hills; and their place in the top five is looking just that little bit more secure.
Nicolas Shaw, Daniel Tomkins and Jesse Mudge featured prominently for St George. The Dragons remain in second place, and still have an impressive percentage that keeps them ahead of UTS. But they’ve fallen two games behind top team East Coast, and even with a game in hand, will be relying on the Eagles to fall over to get back to top spot.

There was no upset at Trumper Park, as top side East Coast Eagles acted with ruthless efficiency in comfortably accounting for UTS by 63 points.
From the start, the Eagles were on top around the ground and were getting the ball inside their forward 50 with regularity while preventing the Bats from rebounding the ball into their forward zone. Although goals were rare, the Eagles scored the only three major scores for the quarter, to take a 23-point quarter time lead.
The Bats made a fightback of sorts in the second quarter. But their efforts weren’t helped by their inaccurate finishing, as several shots that could have been converted went wide. But the Bats were taking the fight up in general play far more consistently than they had in the opening quarter; and with three goals to two for the quarter had cut the margin back to 15 points at the long break.
The Bats were within striking distance at half time, but were blown away during the premiership quarter. The floodgates opened, and the Eagles were in control around the ground, finding loose men to run the ball forward and creating chance after chance for their well-credentialed forward line. And the scoreboard began to blow out, as one of the competition’s favourites were asserting themselves with some strong football around the ground. The scoreboard reflected the Eagle dominance as they scored five goals to one for the quarter, extending the lead to 42 points at three quarter time. 
The final quarter followed a similar trend to the third, as the Eagles continued the dominant theme as they cruised to another big win. Again it was five goals to one, the Eagles stretching the margin beyond ten goals. This was East Coast showing premiership form, the cold conditions being a backdrop for a red-hot Eagles lineup preparing for an assault on this year’s flag.
The final margin was 63 points, with Jamie Vlatko spearheading the charge up forward to finish with four goals. Around the ground, Damian Charleston, Blake Anderson and Kieran Emery were dominant forces for the Eagles. The win sees them move two games clear on top of the ladder, and the odds of a second straight minor premiership are growing shorter.
Jai Lyons, Rawson Kirkhope and Ben Nethersole were UTS’s best. But the loss sees the Bats lose the chance to leap-frog St George on the ladder and they remain in third place, just one win ahead of North Shore.

Next weekend all Premier Division games will again be played on Saturday afternoon; including a game which will be pivotal to the destiny of the minor premiership, as East Coast Eagles hosts St George at Kanebridge Oval.
In other games, UNSW-ES will be looking to continue their return to form when they host North Shore at Kelso Oval. There’ll be plenty of desperation as Sydney Uni play Manly at Henson Park, with the loser having a fight on their hands to stay in finals contention. And Pennant Hills will be back in action after a week off as they host wests at Mike Kenny Oval. UTS has the bye.

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