AFL Sydney Round 15 Review

Article by Michael Shillito, Photo by Leigh Gazzard

East Coast have the minor premiership wrapped up. St George look safe in second. And then we have three teams level on games, and only one of them can get the double-chance in the finals. The battle for third is intriguingly poised.

Pennant Hills returned to their old home at Ern Holmes Oval for their clash against North Shore. Demon premiership heroes from seasons past returned, creating a vocal backdrop for what would be a thrilling contest that would go down to the wire.
Urged on by a vocal home crowd, the Demons burst out of the blocks and had the better of the early exchanges. This was a keen battle between two sides that, not all that long ago, played each other in finals four years in a row; and both sides were keen to make an impression. But the Demons looked to have the edge around the ground, and they did on the scoreboard with four goals to two to lead by 11 points at the first change.
But within a few minutes of the second quarter starting, the Bombers had hit the front. It set the scene for a see-sawing quarter of footy, in which the lead would be up for grabs. The Demons have returned to form strongly in recent weeks, while the Bombers have been big improvers in 2016; and this was a contest worthy of Match of the Day billing as two sides threw everything they had at each other. The second term saw the Bombers outscore the Demons by three goals to two, but the Demons retained an eight-point lead at half time.
The Bombers weren’t done yet, and again took the lead during the third term, only for the Demons to get the quick reply. But for much of the term it was an arm-wrestle, as the ball travelled from end to end only for the defensive lines to stand tall and rebound. Packs formed around the ball, easy possessions were rare; and the Bombers again won the quarter with three goals to two, reducing the Demon lead to just four points at the last change.
Two early goals to the Demons in the last quarter could have put the game to sleep, but the Bombers weren’t giving up. They got one goal back, and kept pushing the ball forward as the last quarter drew on. The nerves were setting in, turnovers caused by the high pressure of the moment; as North Shore continued to press, and they had their chances to steal the game. For much of the latter stages of the quarter the ball was camped on the Bomber forward line. But the Demons’ defenders stood up to the task, hanging on for dear life until the final siren sounded to give the home side a hard-fought nine-point win.
Theo Moraitis contributed four goals to the Demon cause, and along with Matt Thomas and Tom Angel was among the Pennant Hills best. For North Shore, Danny Roberts kicked four goals while Brodie Tebbutt, Sam Carruthers and Selby Lee-Steere made key contributions.
The narrow Demon win sees them draw level with the Bombers with eight wins; but they didn’t win by enough to over-run the Bombers’ percentage; and so North Shore remain in third place, at least for this week. Both have important games coming up next week, with Pennant Hills at home to the second-placed St George while North Shore return home to Mortgage Choice Oval for a local derby against Manly.

UTS also are on eight wins for the season, the Bats joining the Bombers and Demons on that tally as they recorded a 39-point win over UNSW-ES at the Village Green on Saturday afternoon.
But it was far from a comfortable win, and for much of the afternoon an upset looked possible. The Bulldogs are out of finals contention, but in this contest they were keen to claim the scalp of a likely finalist, and got off to a flying start. The goals were flowing freely in a fast-paced opening term, the Bulldogs flying the flag as they pumped the ball forward and created plenty of raids into their forward line. And with five goals to three in the opening term, the Bulldogs had a 13-point lead at quarter time.
The game tightened in the second term, but the Bats were unable to make any inroads into the shock deficit. The Bulldogs were up for this challenge, and kept pace with the Bats during the second term. Two goals apiece were scored in the quarter, and despite a few late behinds for the Bats cutting the margin to ten points, the UTS side returned to the rooms at half time knowing they had a fight on their hands.
It was time to throw caution to the wind, attack the ball, and work harder to keep the scoreboard ticking over. And the Bats were able to do this during the third term, closing the gap on the Bulldogs. The home side weren’t going to go down without a fight, and would add two more goals during the premiership quarter. But the Bats kept coming and landed four major scores in the quarter, the last one giving them the lead for the first time; the margin being five points in favour of the UTS side at the last change.
The Bulldogs had been gallant warriors against the odds for three quarters, but to fall behind just before the break seemed to take the wind out of their sails. They had worked hard, but in the last quarter had nothing more to give. And the Bats took full toll, as they got on top around the ground for the first time and dominated proceedings in the final quarter. Six unanswered goals blew the final margin out, and got the Bats’ percentage back over 100.
UTS got the win; but despite the final margin, this hard been a hard-fought result. Daniel Breese and Tom Larby spearheaded the charge up forward with five goals apiece; while the Bats had numerous possessions around the ground from Josh Maddox, Jai Lyons and Anthony Herring. The Bats are in fifth place, with a percentage significantly lower than North Shore and Pennant Hills; but they don’t play another team currently in the top five before the finals. To get to third, realistically the Bats will need more wins than the Bombers or Demons, but with their easier draw in the last three weeks that is certainly achievable.
For UNSW-ES, Alex Foote, Joel Robbie and Jeremy Daniher were their best. It had been a brave fight for the Bulldogs, but they were unable to add to their win tally for the year and remain in seventh spot.

Manly had the bye in this round, and remain in sixth spot, two games behind North Shore, Pennant Hills and UTS and with a worse percentage than any of them. The Giants can still make the finals, but would need to win their last three games and one of the other teams lose all three. And the Giants have games against North Shore and UTS in those three games.

Top spot on the ladder was officially wrapped up at Picken Oval, with East Coast Eagles’ 103-point win over Wests making it impossible for anyone to catch them.
Knowing the minor premiership was theirs for the taking, the Eagles got off to a flying start, and by quarter time the issue was already beyond doubt. Five unanswered goals had put the game safely to bed, as the home side had dominated around the ground with a clinical exhibition of footy that the Magpies were unable to find the answers to. And with a 30-point quarter time lead, it was clear the Eagles were heading to a big win.
The Magpies’ season has usually seen them be competitive at Picken Oval, and they did show something in the second term as they stopped the Eagle juggernaut for long enough to score three goals. But the Eagles quickly resumed normal transmission of the ball into their forward line, and a high-scoring quarter saw the visitors land six goals and extend the margin to 50 points at the long break.
There was no stopping the Eagles during the premiership quarter, as another big win was scented, another opportunity to send a strong signal to the Sydney footy world that the Eagles mean business; and they put on another imposing display with a six goals to one quarter. Loose players were everywhere, running midfielders facing little resistance as they pumped the ball time and again inside the Eagles’ forward 50. By three quarter time the Eagles were 84 points ahead, and the only question was how far over 100 points they could get the final winning margin.
In the end, it was only just over 100, as the pressure valve was released in the final quarter and the Eagles were saving their energies for the battles to come. The Eagles scored the only three goals of the final quarter, a term that was largely going through the motions. But there was no doubt this was another comprehensive win by an East Coast side that are near unbackable premiership favourites.
Andrew McConnell took control up forward to finish with five goals, and along with Aaron Drinkwater and Bryce Joynson was among the Eagles’ best. For the Magpies, it was a disappointing day, but Brenton Mumme, Cameron Gordon and Dom Kannan never stopped putting in.

The round was completed at Olds Park with a Sunday afternoon game, St George at home to Sydney Uni. As was the case on Saturday, the sun shone brightly with the temperature not far short of 20 degrees, sensational conditions for midwinter footy.
A win for St George would put them two games clear of the three teams battling it out for third, and the Dragons wasted no time in establishing an early lead. They were clearly the superior side during the first term, but inaccuracy in front of goals would hold them back. There was no wind to speak of, but the Dragons squandered several shots at goal throughout the day that they normally would have expected to kick. But weight of possession ensured that there were enough scoring chances to build a lead, and three goals to two put the Dragons 11 points to the good at quarter time.
The Dragons took the upper hand in the second quarter, building enough of a lead to shut the Students out of the contest. It was St George’s best footy of the day, as one of the competition’s top teams found themselves with little resistance against a team that will not be part of this year’s finals. Four goals to one for the quarter told the story, as the Dragons were in control and 30 points ahead at the long break.
The premiership quarter wasn’t one that reached any great heights. The Students found a new determination during the break, and resolved to not let the Dragons pull any further ahead; and were successful in that objective. They weren’t getting close enough to get back into the contest, but against the odds it was Sydney Uni that won the quarter by a point; with one goal apiece being scored. The Dragons still held a 29-point lead at the last change, but the Students had prevented the game from becoming the blowout that it could so easily have been at half time.
It had been a comfortable enough game for the Dragons; not a massive percentage booster but they were in no danger of dropping the game. And they were again on top in the last quarter, as the defensive heroics of Sydney Uni in the third term were unable to be replicated in the last. The Dragons would go on to score four goals to one in the final quarter to extend the margin to 51 points; in a game that was far from a classic encounter, but easy enough for the Dragons to underline their finals credentials.
Former Western Bulldog and GWS Giant Dylan Addison enjoyed being back in the surroundings where it began for him, picking up heaps of possessions around the ground in a best-on-ground performance; while Daniel Tomlins and Bryce Addison also featured prominently for the Dragons. Allister Clarke, Nick Bowen and Oscar Osborne worked hard all day for the Students.
The win puts the Dragons comfortably in second place, two wins ahead of the chasing pack and with a much better percentage. The only way they will miss the double-chance in the finals is if they lose all of their last three games and two of the three chasing teams win all of theirs. They have Pennant Hills and North Shore in the next two weeks, wins in either of them will guarantee it.

Four Saturday games are on the program for next week. Pennant Hills host St George at Mike Kenny Oval in another game potentially of critical importance for how the finals order will shape up. Meanwhile at Mortgage Choice Oval, North Shore will be keen for a win to stay in third place; but will be up against Manly, a team they have never beaten in Premier Division and who will be desperate for a win to stay in finals contention.
Minor premiers East Coast have a home game against UNSW-ES; while UTS travel to Sydney Uni No 1 for a game against the Students which the Bats will be favourites to win and remain in the chase for the double-chance. Wests have the bye.


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