Round 17 Review
Article by Michael Shillito
For a long time this season we thought we knew who the finalists were going to be. But with only one week to go, suddenly that’s been thrown into doubt.
At the beginning of the season, the top five teams quickly broke away from the bottom five; and those teams looked to be flying high. Sydney Uni then lost touch with the top four and the losses started piling up. But whenever a team from outside the top five looked set to challenge the Students, the challenger fell away. North Shore had a crack, so did UTS, so did Campbelltown. But the Students managed to hang on.
But the draw gave the Students a challenging final two weeks of the season, with clashes against the top two teams. So on Saturday afternoon they travelled to the north-west, to Mike Kenny Oval, to take on second-placed Pennant Hills.
The Demons sit comfortably in second place, having only lost two games so far this season. They’ve been in solid form, and were keen to maintain their winning momentum with the finals just around the corner. And from the start, they burst out of the blocks in their quest for keeping their winning form going.
The scoreboard was ticking over with regularity; and the Demons were at their imposing best as they blew the Student challenge away with ease. When the quarter time siren rang, the Demons had six goals on the board to the Students’ two; and a 37-point lead.
The time had come for the Students to dig deep and work harder to get back into the contest. And in the second quarter, they gave it their best shot. Applying more pressure than in the opening term, and stopping the free-flowing Demon run, the margin began to narrow as the Students put on more hard work to get back into the contest. And as the quarter progressed, they achieved some reward for effort as they won the quarter by three goals to one, cutting the margin back to 16 points at the long break.
It had been a brave fightback by the Students; but they needed to keep that work-rate going in the premiership quarter. They gave it their best shot, but the Demons had regrouped during the half time break and the Students were unable to replicate their second quarter effort. Instead it was the Demons who again asserted themselves as the quarter progressed; four goals to two extending the gap to 30 points at three quarter time. The challenge was over, and the Demons tightened the screws in a three goals to two final quarter to stretch the final margin to 35 points.
Ranga Ediriwickrama was the star of the show, the former Geelong rookie kicking five goals; and along with Tim Wales and Matt Carey was among the Demons’ best. Alex Dyson, Jack Caspersonn and Lachlan Maples provided excellent service for the Students. But in the end, the Demons’ skills were too good for the Students to match.
The Demons have a match to come against North Shore, but nothing that happens in that game can affect their second-place finish. But for the Students, the story is very different. They have a date with minor premiers Manly to come; and despite having been in the top five in every round this season, they are in serious danger of falling out in the round.
The danger for the Students came in an unexpected form, as UNSW-ES continued their late-season surge with a stunning upset win over Wests at the Village Green on Saturday afternoon.
The Bulldogs have played some better footy in the last few weeks, but few would have anticipated the devastating display they put on in the first half, as they locked the Magpies out of the contest. From the start, the Bulldogs were taking the game up to their more fancied rivals; and Magpie possessions were hard to find. Three unanswered goals and a 20-point lead in the first term sent a clear message that the Bulldogs had come to play; but they were even more impressive in the second quarter. Contesting every possession, denying the Magpies any use of the ball, and finding their targets when it was their turn with the footy. And with all of the five goals that were scored in the second term, the Bulldogs returned to the rooms at half time to a standing ovation from the Bulldog faithful and a 52-point lead on the scoreboard.
The Magpies finally broke their goal-scoring drought in the third quarter; but were unable to make any significant inroads into the massive deficit. The rain was getting heavier, ball-handling more tricky; and the game remained just as elusively out of the Magpies’ reach. Two goals were scored by each side in the third term; and although the Magpies narrowly won the quarter to cut the margin to 50 points at the last change, it wasn’t enough to create any danger to the Bulldogs’ chances.
The pressure valve had been released in the last quarter. The sting had largely gone out of the game, and a more open and free-flowing contest eventuated in the final term. The scoreboard operator was kept busy as the forwards from both sides began to make more leads and create more chances. A shootout in the final term went the Magpies’ way, six goals to five. Although the final margin was cut to 40 points, it was still a comfortable win for UNSW-ES.
James Pascoe finished with four goals for the Bulldogs; while around the ground, Peter Kefalas, Hayden Nichols and Tim Cummins made prominent contributions. Taylor Williamson spearheaded the Magpies’ second half revival to finish with six goals to be best-on-ground in a losing side; while Levi Sands and Hugh McLean were also significant contributors.
The Bulldogs won their first two games this season, but a seven-game losing streak had seen them sink to the lower depths of the ladder and even a few weeks ago had looked an impossible dream. But despite having won just seven of 17 games this season, they find themselves right in the finals mix. A win over bottom side Sydney Hills Eagles and a loss for Sydney Uni against top side Manly will be enough to get them into the playoffs. But for Wests, the result could cost them the double-chance in the finals; they’ll need to not only beat UTS at Picken Oval next week but hope St George go down to Campbelltown.
But the Magpies can’t write off their chances of a top-three finish just yet. Another upset result kept them in contention; as their rivals for that position, St George, suffered a shock loss to non-finalists North Shore at Gore Hill Oval on Saturday afternoon.
The first half was goal for goal, the lead changing hands several times; an arm-wrestle between two clubs taking the fight up to each other. Three goals apiece in the first quarter, with the Bombers leading by a point at quarter time. And with each side kicking two in the second term, the home side returned to the rooms at half time with the scoreboard showing a four-point lead.
With North Shore celebrating their past players’ day, a larger than normal crowd was in the clubhouse; and they were making plenty of noise as the Bombers took the upper hand in the third term. It was a shootout, both sides throwing caution to the wind in their attempts to build a winning score. But the Bombers, making up for a disappointing, injury-ravaged year by playing like they’ve rarely done this season; found the winners when they needed them. A marathon third term saw the Bombers kick six goals to four, leading by 13 points at the last change and confident of claiming their biggest scalp of the season.
The Dragons were hard opponents to shake, and put up some resistance to keep within striking distance. But this was North Shore’s day, and they weren’t going to let this one slip. The dark clouds which had threatened all day unleashed their fury during the last quarter, making it difficult to get a grip on the ball. But nothing was going to stop the Bombers’ grip on this game; and after two goals apiece, the clock ran down until the home side was able to celebrate victory.
The final margin was 17 points. Selby Lee-Steere, Sam Jackson and Adrian Harry were pivotal to the Bombers’ success; while the Dragons were well served by the tireless efforts of Jordan West, Ben Sharp and Andrew Sharp.
Thanks to Wests’ loss, the Dragons remain in third place. But they’ll need a win against Campbelltown at Monarch in the last round to stay there.
If the football gods had decreed that this was to be a round of upsets, they clearly forgot to tell Manly. The ladder leaders were ruthless and relentless, wrapping up the minor premiership with a convincing demolition of Campbelltown at a rain-soaked Weldon Oval on Saturday afternoon.
With the prospect of a week off in the first round of the finals up for grabs, the Giants wasted no time in controlling proceedings around the ground, pumping the ball to the waiting forward line with ease. It didn’t take long for the scoreboard attendant to be kept busy as scoring shot after shot was recorded; and although not all of them went through the big sticks, six unanswered goals opened up a 42-point quarter time lead.
The Blues did get a goal on the board in the second term, but it would be the only time they would draw two flags from the goal umpires all day. It was a rare moment of respite from the Manly juggernaut, who shrugged off any challenge the Blues would provide to record four goals of their own in the second term and finding themselves with a 62-point lead at the long break.
The lopsided nature of play continued when the teams returned to the field for the third term, and the Blues were unable to match the drive of the well-drilled Manly side. At times the Giants were their own worst enemy as some relatively straightforward shots at goal went behind. But it barely mattered, as the Blues were never a chance to recover and rarely entered their forward 50 metre line. Five unanswered goals stretched the lead to 98 points at three quarter time; and another six in the final term stretched the final margin to 136 points.
The Giants had plenty of avenues to goal; with Brayden Fowler’s five goals and Tyrone Armitage’s four being the most productive. And they had winners all over the ground; with Levi Brain, David Stroud and Gareth Benbow being the pick of them. It had been a challenging afternoon for the Blues; but Cameron Desmond, Bryce Joynson and Nathan Lomas refused to stop competing even when outgunned.
With this result, the Giants have ensured they’ll go straight through to the Second Semi-Final. But before that, they’ve still got a home clash with Sydney Uni to come to finish the home and away season.
UTS hosted Sydney Hills Eagles at Waverley Oval on Saturday afternoon in a game that had no bearing on finals placed. But the result opened up the possibility that the Eagles could avoid the wooden spoon and hand that unwanted utensil over to the Bats.
Wins for both clubs have been hard to come by this season, but here was a chance to get a morale-boosting result and salvage something from a disappointing season. And from the opening bounce, it was the Eagles who made the most of the opportunity. Bursting out of the blocks with a flying start, the contest was already effectively over by quarter time as the Eagles scored eight goals to one in the opening term to lead by 46 points at quarter time. It had been the best footy the Eagles had played in Premier Division since their premiership three-peat a few years ago.
The second term saw the Bats briefly stop the Eagle surge as they won a scrappy and low-scoring quarter two goals to one to reduce the half time margin to 44 points. But the premiership quarter saw the Eagles continue where they left off at quarter time, dominating around the ground and finding plenty of winners wherever they were needed. It was a high-scoring and free-flowing quarter, with the Eagles scoring seven goals to four to blow the lead out to 61 points at the last change.
The last quarter was largely going through the motions, but confidence was growing in the Eagle camp. The scent of victory was in their nostrils and they weren’t letting go. Three goals to two in the final term, and a 65-point win.
A two-pronged forward setup of Scott Pierce and Matthew Eastman worked a treat, with Pierce kicking five and Eastman four. Around the ground, Jack Dimery, Dean Costello and Josh Cass were ball magnets. The Bats were well served by the efforts of Ryan Kirkhope, Michael Murrell and Oscar Tate.
UTS remain half a game clear of the Eagles. The Bats have a tough clash against Wests to come. If they lose that, the battle for the wooden spoon comes down to Sunday’s clash at Bruce Purser. If the Eagles can upset UNSW-ES, they would avoid last place. And, although they won’t make the finals, achieving that result would decide who does.
So we have one round to go. A round in which Bulldogs will be cheering for Giants, Magpies will be cheering for Blues, Eagles will be cheering for Magpies, Dragons will be cheering for Bats; and then on Sunday we may have Students cheering for Eagles and Bats cheering for Bulldogs.
Potentially some interesting permutations of results. If the home and away season has one more upset in it, the makeup of the finals could be very different to how we all thought it was going to be.