AFL Sydney Round 16 Review

Article by Michael Shillito, Photos by Leigh Gazzard

The weekend’s round of Premier Division games has seen our top five teams locked in. But the order of teams within the top five are still up for grabs, with the battle for third place and the double-chance looking set to go all the way to the final day of the regular season.
It had been a wet week in Sydney, and there were ground closures playing havoc with the scheduling. But some quick work to shuffle around the grounds that were open enabled all games across the divisions to be played.

The wet weather saw Mortgage Choice Oval closed, with the northern derby between North Shore and Manly moved to Henson Park. North Shore had never beaten Manly in Premier Division, but went into the game needing a win to stay in third place. For Manly, a win would keep them in the finals race; but a loss would end their hopes of being in the playoffs.
The rain stayed away on Saturday, and Henson Park was in good condition; with the repairs done to the sinkhole a few weeks ago looking to have held in place. As the game started, the Bombers were looking to be the better side around the ground, controlling possession and denying the Giants any easy use of the footy. And with four goals to one in the first term, and an 18-point lead at quarter time, the Bombers were looking good.
But it was in the second term that North Shore really got on top. The floodgates opened as scoring opportunities were presenting themselves with regularity. It was exciting footy to watch, as the Bombers got their running game going and were drilling goals through the big sticks from the tightest of angles. Manly did manage to get three goals against the run of play, but the eight goal haul from the Bombers gave them a 54-point advantage at the long break.
Manly were never going to get back from such a massive deficit, but they were able to turn off the leaking of goals during the third term. It was a much tighter quarter of footy, with the Bombers not able to find loose runners as easily as they did in the second. But the Bombers had the class around the ground to continue to dominate the possession stats; and with three goals to one for the quarter extended the lead to 68 points at three quarter time.
The Giants made a brief revival early in the last term, with four quick goals making some inroad into the deficit. But it was a brief moment of respite before the North Shore dominance resumed, and like the second term the Bombers were scoring at will in the latter stages of the contest. In the end, despite the brief Manly fightback, the Bombers still won the quarter, five goals to four; and a high-scoring game ended with the Bombers taking the game, their ninth win of the season, by 73 points.
It had been an entertaining game to watch, with some feeling in the contest; but North Shore were far too good on the day, and finally have the Manly monkey off their back. Wayd Blackburne was a dominant forward force to finish with five goals; while Charlie Parsons, Chris Murphy and Kane Latham featured prominently around the ground. North Shore’s participation in the finals is now assured, and the Bombers sit in third place, and the fate of the double-chance is in their hands. They have a tough last two rounds, playing top two sides St George and East Coast; but they’ve already beaten those teams once this year and would have to give themselves a chance to do it again.

It was a disappointing afternoon for Manly, who would have been expecting to have got closer to the Bombers than they did. Connor Pettersson, Eric Burke and Ryan Wearne kept putting in all day for the Giants; but it wasn’t enough to get anywhere near North Shore. And with the loss keeping them on six wins and a poor percentage; it is now mathematically official that for the first time since going up into Premier Division, the Giants will not be playing finals this year.

Joining the Bombers on nine wins is UTS, with a flying start by the Bats being enough for them to take the points against Sydney Uni at Sydney Uni No 1 Oval on Saturday afternoon.
The surface was damp and slippery at the Uni campus, but the Bats showed no sign of being troubled by the conditions as they burst out of the blocks in a dominant display of footy. Six unanswered goals were on the scoreboard, telling the tale of the Bats at their rampaging best as they took control of the possession count and shot the ball into their forward zone with regularity. The Bats were 39 points to the good and looked likely to run away with the contest.

But the first quarter dominance was not replicated in the second. It was to be a slow grind, but the Students lifted their work rate and began to work their way back into the contest. The easy touches for the Bats were shut down, the supply of goal-scoring opportunities was cut; and as the quarter drew on, the Students began to create some chances on their forward line. The Students won the quarter by three goals to two, and looked to have salvaged something after their poor first quarter; but the Bats were still a comfortable 29 points ahead.

The Students knew they had a lot more work to do, and all-out attack was the only way to make any dent in the deficit. And on the small Uni ground, it’s only one kick from the centre circle to well inside 50; so quick goals are on offer for a team that goes down the guts. And the Students threw caution to the wind in the third term, bringing on a quarter of footy that would keep the goal umpires busy and the crowd entertained. The Students were determined and quick around the path, as they raced through six goals to three in an enthralling quarter of footy that would cut the margin to just 12 points at the last change. 
Having led all day and after their huge quarter time lead, suddenly the Bats were in real danger of letting the game slip. But the three quarter time break gave them enough time to regroup, and the pause seemed to stop the Students’ momentum. It was another attacking quarter of footy in the last, as the Students kept attacking; but the Bats were able to come up with the answers and the Students were never able to take the lead. In the end, the final quarter produced four goals apiece, and the Bats had done enough to take the game by 15 points.
It wasn’t a totally convincing performance after quarter time, and the Students had subjected the Bats to some nervous moments. But the UTS side had done enough to prevail. Daniel Breese kicked five goals for the Bats and David Smith four; while Ben Nethersole, Josh Maddox and Adrian Morley picked up plenty of the ball around the ground for the Bats. The UTS side are now in fourth place, behind North Shore on percentage. The Bats have games against Wests and Manly to come, and will need to win them and hope North Shore drops one of their upcoming games against St George and East Coast to take the double-chance.
Monty Krochmal, Aron Everett and Leigh Maples were best for Sydney Uni. The Students won’t be playing finals this year, but on this occasion after facing a massive quarter time deficit they didn’t cave in and instead put in a solid effort to work their way back into the contest; and although they didn’t win the game, they lost no respect after their gallant effort against the odds.

St George wrapped up the double-chance in the finals, while making it hard for Pennant Hills to avoid sudden death, when the Dragons travelled to Mike Kenny Oval and took out a comfortable 44-point win. 
The ground was open, but wasn’t the easiest surface to play on, and at times it was hard to control the ball. Running was slowed considerably, and both sides piled on plenty of defensive pressure. It resulted in a physical, low-scoring contest. But the game was all but wrapped up by quarter time, as the Dragons put on a hard-fought first quarter to shut the Demons out. Incursions into the Demon forward 50 were rare; and with the bulk of possession the Dragons kicked four unanswered goals to lead by 26 points at quarter time.
The Demons worked hard to lift around the ground in the second term, and although they stopped the rampant Dragon attack of the first term, making any inroads into the quarter time deficit was beyond them. Two goals apiece were scored in the second term, the Dragons ahead by 27 points at the long break.
St George’s goal-kicking radar was offline in the third quarter, and there were plenty of shots that could have been kicked but sailed wide of the big sticks. In the overall scheme of things it didn’t really matter too much, as there was no danger of the Demons running them down. The Dragons still kicked two goals to one, to lead by 34 points at three quarter time; but in the run of general play the margin could have been considerably more. But it was comfortable enough for the Dragons, and victory was already assured.
The last quarter wasn’t one that reached any great heights. The Dragons had the game won there was less pressure applied in the final term. The Dragons still won the quarter, kicking two goals to one in the final term; completing a cruising win against a team that has caused them grief in recent seasons. And a 42-point winning margin, more than doubling the Demons’ score, was a result that the Dragons would have taken had it been offered to them before the day started.

Travis Martin, Ben Wharton and Alex Wynn were standout contributors for the Dragons; but it was a good all-round team effort on a day they recorded a solid but unspectacular win. The win keeps the Dragons two games clear in second spot. In the last two rounds the Dragons have games against North Shore and Wests. Nothing that happens in those games will prevent them from playing in the Qualifying Final in the first week of the finals; but of course the Dragons will want to continue their winning momentum.
The Demons were well served, as they so often are, by the efforts of Kieran Wright, Matt Thomas and Aaron Crisfield. But this wasn’t their day. The Demons’ spot in the finals is safe, but they currently sit in fifth place, a game behind North Shore and UTS with a percentage less than that of North Shore but more than UTS. Their remaining games are against Manly and Sydney Uni; and to get the double-chance they will need to win both of their games, hope UTS drop one and that North Shore either drop both of theirs or lose one by enough of a margin for their percentage to fall behind the Demons. Otherwise they’ll be playing the sudden-death Elimination Final.

East Coast Eagles already had the minor premiership wrapped up before they took the field at Kanebridge Oval to take on UNSW-ES. The hot competition favourites, who have dropped just one game this season to date, easily accounted for the Bulldogs with a comprehensive 80-point win. 

Taking control from the start, the Eagles burst out of the blocks and it wasn’t long before the inside-50 stats were becoming seriously lopsided as the home side had no trouble creating plenty of scoring opportunities and converting enough of them. Five goals to one in the first term saw the Eagles leading by 27 points at quarter time, and looking good.

The second quarter was also one-way traffic. The Bulldogs tried hard to get the ball forward, but were unable to score a goal in the second term as they were no match for a rampant Eagle defence that cleared the ball out of the danger zone time and again. At the other end, there were no shortage of players willing to put their hand up and make a lead, giving plenty of options to drive the ball forward. And with six unanswered goals for the quarter, the Eagles were 62 points to the good at the long break and had the game comfortably won.
With the four points not in doubt, nor the minor premiership, the second half was little more than a glorified training run; as the Eagles were willing to try new positions and give themselves some practice. The Bulldogs were to play the part of the witches hats, but they were able to cast a few spells as they scored two goals and restricted the Eagles to three; but it was still a 72-point lead at three quarter time.
It was four goals to three to the Eagles in the final term, as the Bulldogs managed to salvage some score out of what had been a tough afternoon. The Eagles remained dominant, a premiership fancy going through their paces; and although the Bulldogs never gave up, they have a young, rebuilding side that doesn’t yet have the firepower to match it against a competition heavyweight. And the Eagles were enjoying another big win on their quest for premiership glory.

Andrew McConnell spearheaded the 80-point win, kicking five goals in a best-on-ground performance; while Kieran Emery and Jack Dimery, currently featuring on The Recruit, also played their roles magnificently. The Eagles have the bye next week and then meet North Shore in the last round; but nothing that happens from here can deprive the Eagles of the minor premiership.
The Bulldogs found willing servants in Rising Star nominee Jake Bartholomaeus, Alex Foote and Jack McAnespie. But it was another heavy loss for the Bulldogs. Next week they have Sydney Uni, which will wrap up their season; as a bye in the final round means they finish their season a week early.

Two rounds remain in the home and away season. Next week will see all four Premier Division games played on Saturday afternnon.

St George have their spot in the Qualifying Final already booked. This week they play North Shore at Olds Park, in a game the Bombers will need to win to retain pole position for a re-match with the Dragons in the finals. Should the Bombers fall, UTS have a chance to move into third when they meet Wests at Trumper Park. 

Pennant Hills will also need a win to stay in the hunt for third, and travel to Weldon for a clash with Manly. And although having no bearing on the finals, university bragging rights will be on the line when UNSW-ES meet Sydney Uni at the Village Green. East Coast have the bye.


Full Article at Red and White Online


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