Sydney AFL Round 14 Review

Article by Michael Shillito, Photos by Leigh Gazzard 

With four rounds to go, the permutations of teams to play in the first week of the finals is still very much in the balance. And for defending champions Pennant Hills, a surge in form in recent weeks has seen them back in the race for the double-chance.
The early rounds this season had seen the Demons struggling to get wins on the board, as they dropped games they would have expected to win. And when they did win, it was far from convincing. But gradually the Demons have built form and momentum, and after having been out of the five at times in the first half of the season, the Demons have regained their momentum in recent weeks.
Saturday afternoon saw the Demons travel across the Bridge to Waverley Oval for a clash against UTS. The Bats have never made the finals in Premier Division, but some impressive early-season form was seeing them challenge for the top three. The sun was shining, and although the mercury was cold conditions were good for footy.
The stakes were high, and the contest reflected that early on as neither side showed a willingness to concede any advantage to the other. The Bats were putting the Demons under plenty of pressure, but the Demons had the running game to put the Bats under the pump. Three goals to two in the first term saw the Demons leading by eight points at the first change, but the game was very much up for grabs.
The Demons remained in front in the second term, but the Bats were hanging in there. Whenever the Demons looked like running away, the Bats came up with the answering goals to keep within striking distance. Three goals apiece in the second term, and the Demons led by six points at half time. It was a game of contrasting game styles, but there was little that separated the two sides after an absorbing first half.
When the teams returned to the field for the second half, the Demons were looking the stronger team and had no trouble getting the ball inside their forward 50. There were scoring chances, plenty of them; but frustratingly for the Demons, their goal-shooting radar wasn’t working. It wasn’t a particularly strong wind, it was just a quarter when the Demons created chance after chance but could only land an inaccurate return of 2.7 for the quarter. But they had got on top around the ground, and the defence stood their ground to hold the Bats to just a single goal for the third term; and at three quarter time the Demons were 15 points ahead.
It was time for the Bats to stand and deliver, and they threw caution to the wind in the last quarter, giving their all to the cause of getting back into the contest. The Bats managed three goals in the final term, and the footy they played perhaps deserved more, but the relentless atttack left them vulnerable at the other end; and the Demons capitalised to land four goals in the last.
The siren sounded, giving the Demons a 17-point win. The Demons’ third win in a row consolidates their hold on the finals spot. Ranga Ediriwickrama, Damian Dell’Aquila and Tim Wales were influential around the ground as the Demons got plenty of the ball. Daniel Crouch, Jai Lyons and Ben Moyle were UTS’s best.
Pennant Hills’ win sees the Demons leap-frog UTS into fourth spot on the ladder; a game behind third-placed North Shore and with little splitting the two teams in percentage. The Bats’ third loss on the trot sees them drop to fifth, level on games with the Demons but with a poor percentage; and only a game ahead of Manly. Suddenly the Demons are in the race for the double-chance, while UTS’s spot in the final five is not guaranteed.

Sydney Uni hosted North Shore under lights at Henson Park on Saturday evening, but they almost didn’t. It wasn’t a great day for the iconic venue. The NEAFL game earlier in the day was canned at half time after a sinkhole opened in the centre square. And after the hole was filled with plenty of sand and mud being filled in, the lights went out late in the second quarter of the Division Two game. But the lights were back on for the third term of that game and the makeshift repairs to the ground held up; so the game went ahead.
The Students have been something of a bogey team for the Bombers in recent seasons, and had upset North Shore at Mortgage Choice Oval earlier in the season. But there was nothing in the first quarter to suggest a repeat of that boilover. It wasn’t a high-scoring quarter, but the Bombers seemed to have control of the ball around the ground and were able to find enough chances to put three goals to one through and lead by 11 points at quarter time.
Hopes rose for the University team when they goaled in the opening minute of the second term, but they were unable to go on with the job from there and would not score another goal until the dying seconds of the quarter. In the interim, the Bombers scored two major goals despite some indirect footy at times preventing them from getting reward for effort on the scoreboard. Thanks to that late goal by the Students, the second quarter finished as it began with the Bombers 11 points to the good.
It hadn’t been a game that reached any great heights, and the third quarter was nothing special. The Bombers were easily the better side, and peppered the goals in the third term but missed several kickable shots. But perhaps trying hard to avoid the sinkhole, even though the centre bounces were moved well towards the outer wing, players were minding their steps and the ball was out wide a lot. Two goals to one in favour of North Shore extended the lead to 21 points at the last change.
The result of the game wasn’t in doubt, and at last in the final quarter the Bombers were able to do what they’d been threatening to all game and put on some solid scoreboard pressure. A return of four goals to one was enough for the Bombers to more than double the Students’ score, and get some valuable percentage; which may well prove critical when the finals calculations are worked out.
The final margin was 43 points. Wayd Blackburne took control of the forward line to finish with four goals; while Brodie Tebbutt, Charlie Parsons and Will Bradley played prominent roles around the ground. The Bombers have eight wins for the season, level with St George but with an inferior percentage and the Dragons having a game in hand. But the Bombers remain in third place, a game ahead of Pennant Hills and UTS and with a better percentage than both.
For Sydney Uni, Monty Krochmal, Chris Reichman and Zac Fyffe worked hard all night. But the Students remain stuck on just two wins for the season, and this loss extinguished any faint hypothetical mathematical finals hopes.

Manly were the only team to beat East Coast Eagles in last year’s home and away season, but at Weldon Oval on Saturday afternoon it didn’t take long for it to be clear there would be no repeat.
From the start, the Eagles were controlling proceedings around the ground, and the Giants struggled to get a clean possession. The Eagle midfielders were accumulating possessions at will, and the lopsided number of inside 50s told the tale. The bulk of possession was reflected on the scoreboard as the home side was unable to score while the Eagles kicked four major scores to lead by 28 points at quarter time.
It was more of the same in the second, as the Eagles dominated possession and denied the Giants any coherent attempts to get the ball forward. One-way traffic in the midfield meant the ball again spent much of the quarter on the Eagles’ forward line; and reward for effort would soon come. The Giants would manage to eke out a goal, but that was dwarfed by the five goals at the other end as the East Coast lead was extended to 56 points at half time.
The pressure was off in the third quarter, and the Eagles would not repeat the first half domination. The Giants won the quarter by two goals to one, as they attempted to lift while the Eagles didn’t play to anywhere near the same intensity as they had shown before the long break. Not that it mattered in the context of the game, but it wasn’t a great quarter of footy; and when the three quarter time siren sounded the Eagles were still leading by 51 points.
The players were largely going through the motions in the final quarter, but the Eagles continued to show they were the better side as they landed three goals to two in the last term. It was another comprehensive performance by the ladder leaders.
Scott Pierce kicked five goals in a best on ground performance for the Eagles; while Bryce Joynson and Eugene Kruger were ball magnets all day, making significant contributions to the Eagle cause. The Eagles sit three games clear on top of the ladder, and the minor premiership is all but assured.
For Manly, Lachlan Behagg played a lone hand up forward to finish with four goals; while Angus Buncle, Ryan Wearne and Connor Pettersson kept working all day. But the Giants sit a game behind Pennant Hills and UTS in sixth place, and need to get some wins to get into the finals. They have a catch-up game against St George next week, and a win there would propel them into the five as their percentage is better than that of UTS.

The other Premier Division game of the round was played at Picken Oval on Saturday afternoon when Wests were at home to UNSW-ES. It was a game that has no bearing on the finals race, but it would be a thriller that would go down to the wire.
The Bulldogs went into the game clinging to the slimmest of mathematical finals hopes, and were the better side in the opening term. It wasn’t always pretty to watch, but the Bulldogs came into the game showing plenty of resolve and were looking determined as they contested every possession. With three goals to two in the opening term, the Bulldogs led by eight points at quarter time.
But when the teams emerged from the quarter time talks, the momentum rapidly changed. The Magpies emerged full of running, hitting harder and leaving the Bulldogs in their wake as they turned on some of the best footy they’ve showed all season. The scoreboard told the tale as five goals to one were scored, the Magpies finally showing a return on their potential and the efforts they’ve shown during the year that have so often gone unrewarded. But they were looking good by half time as the deficit had been turned into a 16-point lead.
But the Bulldogs weren’t done yet. The wind wasn’t favouring either team, but there seemed to be a scoring end as the tide turned again and the Bulldogs lifted their intensity. It was a hard-fought quarter of footy, but the Bulldogs were having the better of it as they outmarked and out-skilled their Magpie opponents to finish with four goals to two and regain the lead; holding an advantage of four points at three quarter time.
One goal apiece was scored in the final quarter, but the Magpies kept coming. They weren’t able to penetrate the big sticks again, but the ball remained on their forward line for much of the final term, and six behinds were enough to take the lead. But one kick could change the game, and the faithful of both clubs were left enthralled by a gripping final term. But the Bulldogs were unable to find a last-minute hero, and when the clock ran down the Magpies had cause to celebrate as they took out a thrilling two-point win.
The Magpie goals all came from multiple goal-kickers, with Ben Zoppo contributing five goals and Brenton Mumme four. Mumme and Zoppo, along with coach Lindsay Scown, were the Magpies’ best as they enjoyed the spoils of their second win of the season.
For the Bulldogs, Nick McGann, Thomas Chichester and Alex Foote were their best. But the Bulldogs were left disappointed, stranded on three wins for the season. And with the result, it’s now official that the Bulldogs will not be playing finals in 2016.

Next weekend is dedicated to catch-up games after washouts earlier in the season. There’s plenty of games across the divisions, including one Premier Division clash as St George hosts Manly at Olds Park. A Dragon win would consolidate their hold on the finals double-chance, while the Giants will be keen to take the points, which would see them enter the top five.


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