Round 4: Where is Port at?
Sawtell v Port Macquarie
The Saints are on a roll and will look to continue their winning run when they face the enigma that is the Port Magpies at Richardson Park.
The reigning premiers were under-strength last week but still managed to easily dispose of the Swans after quarter-time.
In comparison, the Magpies were pushed till half-time at home against Grafton before finishing well, courtesy of an accurate showing in front of goal.
Both sides kicked a combined forty goals last weekend to demonstrate their potency in front of goal. Ben Hooke is currently the leading man in front of the sticks this season; however, the Magpies have their own sharp shooter in Jesse Schmidt.
Schmidt kicked nine last weekend and is widely regarded as one of the top players in the competition when on song across half-forward.
The Magpies will sorely miss the presence of hard on-baller, Shannon Skreja who is out for two matches through suspension. More will be expected from Matthew Lill who is of a similar breed to Skreja in terms of his role in the side.
Add to this, proven big men in Clayton Miechel and Greg Dean, and Craig Dicker and Beau Hawtin who have settled into the side well, Port look ready to make an impact this season.
This is by far, their sternest test yet, and will need to lift their intensity to challenge the premiership favourites.
Luke Matthews, in his second match for the season, was impressive for the Saints. He was well fed by ruckman, Courtney Tune, who was also prominent around the ground. Jack Gillingham and Ethan Kelly should be among those to return for the home side.
It is hard to see Port being this prepared early in the season to defeat a Saints side with great depth and hunger for another premiership.
North Coffs v Coffs Swans
The next episode of this cross-town rivalry at Coffs Coast Leisure Park will not be for the faint-hearted given the recent ill feeling between these two sides.
North Coffs have not been at their best but are still well placed leading into this match. Last weekend, they were challenged by the Lions before running out six-goal victors.
In contrast, the Swans are at one of the lowest points in their history, and are struggling to get troops on the paddock after a promising pre-season on the track. No side can expect to challenge for the premiership by having several players back up from the lower grades.
The ill-feeling stems mainly from the Swans recruiting Kris Rundell and Lachlan McLean, despite both having signed with the Kangaroos beforehand. Stories will differ from either side of the fence, but the truth is without Rundell, the Swans would be an utter mess on the field.
Rundell was the only Swans player able to challenge the Saints supremacy in the midfield with his pace. There are some other positives as Ben Miller showed some good signs around the ground and Peter Robinson was fantastic at fullback despite Hooke’s haul.
The Kangaroos have more class in the midfield through Darren Funston and Brad Giri. They also have picked up another good forward in Ben Sykes.
They still rely on the defensive pressure of their midfield to cover for some deficiencies down back but should still be far too strong for the Swans.
Nambucca Valley v Grafton
Nambucca Valley will start favourites in their clash against Grafton at Macksville Park.
It is a title the Lions are not used to but have earned it on the back of their performances to date. They threatened the Kangaroos at stages in their first home game of the season.
Luke Benson stood up in the midfield and will be asked to again to support the likes of Ray McGrath and Aaron Clarke. They will be encouraged by the fact they beat the Tigers in their previous clash in Round 15 last year.
The draw throws curve balls at every club and Grafton are definitely up at the plate this weekend as they face their second straight road-trip.
They finished their match against Port with a horrific injury toll, including their best player, Daniel Zacek who is likely to miss the rest of season with a shoulder injury.
Add this to the likely loss of Kieran Pascoe and Joel Sword (hamstring), Justin Darby (torn ankle ligament) and Jarrod Meake (cracked rib), the Tigers would do well to field a side, let alone a winning outfit for this match.