Preview- Finals Wk 1
Intense clash between successful senior sides
The start of the finals series at the BCU International Stadium pits the two sides that have won six out of the last eight premierships against one another in an elimination semi-final.
That is the scenario facing the reigning premiers Port Macquarie when they square up against old foes North Coffs, the most successful side this decade in the AFL North Coast first semi final.
Both had disappointing losses last start but the Pies were thrashed at home by red hot premiership hopefuls Sawtell in what was not a good sign on the eve of the finals. Port don’t drop too many at home, the Swans did it a few weeks ago, and you have to wonder whether they have what it takes to stay alive after this week.
Port have only won three games away from home this season, and only once against a top four side, that being the ‘Roos in Round 12 across the road at the Leisure Park.
They have lacked depth in recent weeks and need their entire squad to lift in the finals that tends to expose weaknesses. Matthew Newton has been a lone hand up forward and would love to play up the ground, but has only got support from big Jacob Hart in recent weeks.
They miss Jon Stephens who always shone on the big stage with his ability to drift forward a luxury for the Port hierarchy. Jarrod Brian has done well to fill his big shoes in the ruck and is one of the mould with his ability to win possessions over the ground. Matthew Lill is like a little prototype of Brian in the way he is able to win contested possessions and penetrate by hand and foot.
Port look to have an advantage up forward with Jessie Schmidt and Jacob Hart both classy players but they just may not get the fast delivery they need if the Pies can not get the ball out of the middle.
Alongside Giri the Roos will have Darren Funston and Sam Dawes and Josh Drum which is forms the best engine room in the competition. Funston and Drum missed last week and should be fresh for this one.
However, the Roos are a bit light up forward and will rely on Jordon O’Connor getting on top against a solid Port defence. This is where the Pies could win the game. Matt Lill, Zac Nankevill and Clayton Michiel are terrific defenders. Matthew Gleeson has the chance to stand up in a key defensive post for the 'Roos and needs to place tall and tight.
Jordan O'Connor needs to take leadership up forward. Sam Dawes and Funston will float forward and help out a forward line that needs more marking targets.
North Coffs will finally get a full-strength team on the paddock and had a good hit-out last weekend against the Swans. Although losing, there were some positive signs with the intensity and effort good across the board. Jamie Coad also returns for North Coffs to add some bite up front and he is a very experienced player who could make the difference if he can bag a couple. Of course the open expanses of BCU will aid the hard running Tom Merrick and Tim Heather who are enjoying good seasons and Tyler Ryan has good pace.
North Coffs will finally get a full-strength team on the paddock and had a good hit-out last weekend against the Swans. Although losing, there were some positive signs with the intensity and effort good across the board.
Jamie Coad also returns for North Coffs to add some bite up front and he is a very experienced player who could make the difference if he can bag a couple. Of course the open expanses of BCU will aid the hard running Tom Merrick and Tim Heather who are enjoying good seasons and Tyler Ryan has good pace.
It looms as an enthralling contest with neither side to leave anything out on the field. North Coffs seem to rise to the occasion but Port will ask them plenty of questions given their success in recent years.
Opening bounce at 2.30pm.
Grafton loom as dangerous competition for Swans
The reserves first semi final looks like being a beauty with the Grafton Tigers taking on the Coffs Swans. There is a good blend of youth and experience for both sides with players capable of causing havoc.
The senior experience of Blundell, who is hampered by a bad back nowadays, has helped the Tigers make the finals, along with Graham Blackwell who is a respected leader. Youngsters in Sam Morrison, who booted nine goals in the Under 18s last week, and Kelly Thompson add pace and a touch of unpredictability.
The Swans have been well served by Jason Sincock and Jason Phillips this season. They will need to stop the Grafton onslaught in the centre and are seasoned finals campaigners in both grades. Damien Elks and Matt Andrews are skilled ball players and will want to see plenty of the football for the Swans to prevail.
Sincock is the player the Swans go to and he will need support from big Leroy Maher around the ground. The Swans have all three sides in the finals but this is the last chance for the Tigers and I think that alone could drive them home.
Reserves games are always low scoring at the Stadium, expect this to be tight, yet again.
Nambucca strong favourites over baby 'Pies
Nambucca Valley have something to smile about in the calibre of their Under 18 squad, which is bridling with some decent talent.
The Lions will start strong favourites over the Port Magpies who come into the finals only having won three games.
Port are a very young side and will be heavily reliant on Matthew Hensley for the Magpies to progress. Owen Kozminski is a likely tall and Anthony Price has been good in recent times.
The Nambucca Valley Lions, their opponent, like the Grafton reserves is their clubs sole representative in the finals and I don’t think coach Heath Addison will let them drop this one.
Justin Saker is a gun midfielder-forward in this age group and will find good support from Jed Ellis-Cuff who is a skilful player. Tom Haskew must have tripped over a few black cats in his years given his run with injury, but looks set to return in a big boost to the Lions’ ruck division. James Boatfield will need to have a big finals series in front of goal for his side to make the final.
All signs point to the Lions winning well.