Samuel Zito previews Round 16 of Northern Football Netball League Division 1 football.
The Roos sit first by three wins and percentage. While they look to already have first place sewn up, one win in the final three rounds will make a second-consecutive minor premiership a certainty.
The ladder-leader was quickly back to winning ways last weekend and scored a 17-point triumph over Montmorency. The win did come at a cost, with Nick Lynch suffering broken ribs in a case of friendly fire – a blow for the forward on the eve of finals.
The Roos play their final three matches on home soil and over the coming two weeks a host of stars are set to return to the side, including skipper Justin White, Brad Leggett, Jack Bianchin and Patrick Martin. This provides an opportunity for the club to finetune ahead of another finals campaign.
It’s difficult to mount a case for Whittlesea given the magnitude of the task it faces this weekend, however the Eagles past month has certainly been an improvement following its struggles between Round 2 to 11.
A quick glance forward to next week doesn’t make life easier – with a trip to West Preston-Lakeside to follow. However, facing two of the competition’s most in-form teams may prove a galvanising task for the Eagles, ahead of what is looming as its biggest game of the year in Round 18.
Two-time best and fairest Jai Robinson was in good form in last week’s defeat at Yulong Reserves and looms as a vital player in the Eagles’ quest for survival, while Paul Higgins continued his strong second half of the season and kicked a goal for the fifth-successive game.
Bundoora and Heidelberg share one of local football’s strongest rivalries and are fighting for the last remaining place in the finals.
With Macleod a lock, and Greensborough, North Heidelberg and West Preston-Lakeside all looking destined for a finals finish, the last spot in this year’s finals series will be determined over the next three weeks – with only percentage separating the Bulls and Tigers.
The 2018 season has thrown up plenty of curveballs and there are likely to still be plenty of surprises ahead, however Round 15 defeats look to have ended Montmorency and Northcote Park’s top-five hopes, meaning the race to Preston City Oval appears down to six sides.
This week’s marquee fixture takes place at Shelley Reserve where third-placed North Heidelberg hosts second-place Greensborough. The sides share 10-5 records, meaning the winner of this week’s game will move one-game clear in second spot with two rounds remaining.
It cannot be understated how important this week’s game is, with the winner to take a massive step forward in the push for a double-chance in the finals. Given how little has separated the best sides in the competition this year, that appears vital to win this year’s flag.
Heightening the excitement ahead of this contest is the memories of the last time the sides met back in Round 4. North Heidelberg raced to a five-goal lead, only to be pegged back by the Boro – who prevailed 16.12 (108) to 15.9 (99) in what has proven to be one of the best games on 2018.
The Bulldogs have lost just once since that meeting at War Memorial Park and enter this week’s clash on a seven-game winning streak and full of confidence. That includes a 25-point win over Hurstbridge last week, where the Bulldogs weren’t quite at their best, but did what was needed to get the points.
Greensborough has won six of its past seven and last week retained second place on the ladder with a three-point win over Heidelberg – thanks to an Andrew Stellas goal in the final 10 seconds. A loss would have left the Boro fourth on the ladder and vulnerable ahead of a tough final three rounds against sides placed inside the top-five.
Both sides look to have match-winners in top-form going into the contest and the midfield battle appears enthralling, with both sides blessed with plenty of talent through the centre of the ground. The ruck battle between Michael Florance and Jacob Pickett could prove telling.
Brent Harvey kicked six goals in a best afield performance last week. The AFL games record holder now has 48 goals for the year and sits third on the goal kicking table, just seven leader and brother, Shane.
Conversely, Greensborough on-baller Lachlan McQuilken has been his side’s best player in three of his side’s past five matches and was outstanding in the win over Heidelberg. Billy Murphy was again lively with four majors against Heidelberg and the Boro will sweat on the availability of the Box Hill-listed forward – who now has 18 majors in five games.
West Preston-Lakeside is on the hunt for its fourth win on the trot when it makes the trip to Montmorency.
The Roosters are arguably the form side of the competition, with their win over Macleod two weeks ago sandwiched between two thrashings of Hurstbridge and Northcote Park.
Their nine wins this year have come at an average margin of 11 goals, giving the Roosters the best percentage in the competition at 153.65. Currently a game behind both Greensborough and North Heidelberg, Rob Maiorana’s side will move inside the top-three with a win this weekend.
While Ahmed Saad provides the side’s X-factor and looms as one of the competition’s key players heading into the final series, West Preston-Lakeside has shown an ability to share the load this year.
Liam McVeigh returned to the side and booted four goals last week, while Sam Glover and Mark Kovacevic have provided plenty in their first year at the club. Michael Ercolano is also enjoying a breakout season after last year making five VFL appearances for Coburg.
Montmorency looks destined to miss out on the finals for a fourth-consecutive year but will look to put a dent in the finals aspirations of a number of its rivals in the final three rounds of the home and away season.
The Magpies were comfortably beaten by Macleod last week but showed pride in their performance with a strong fourth-quarter resistance – booting seven goals to two to cut the final margin to 17 points. It was the most points conceded in a quarter by the ladder-leader this year.
Ben Haynes’ side was victorious in its last match against West Preston-Lakeside, winning a low-scoring contest at J.E. Moore Park by five points in Round 5.
Heidelberg takes on Northcote Park at Warringal Park, where the Tigers will look to atone for last week’s agonising three-point defeat to Greensborough.
The Tigers currently sit in sixth position on the ladder, 17 percent behind fifth-placed Bundoora. With just three rounds remaining it is unlikely the percentage differential will be made up, meaning the Tigers will have to win one more game than Bundoora from here.
Heidelberg’s final three rounds pit it at home against two bottom-four sides in Northcote Park and Montmorency. Between those home matches they face the toughest assignment in the NFNL – Macleod at De Winton Park.
Two wins from those matches may be enough, given Bundoora’s run home – which includes matches against Greensborough and North Heidelberg over the next fortnight. Although a Bundoora side at its best is certainly capable of winning its remaining three fixtures.
While Heidelberg’s hasn’t yet secured a finals place – what it has proven is it can compete with the competition’s best. The Tigers have a 5-4 record against sides inside the top-five but are currently being left to rue early-season losses to Hurstbridge and Whittlesea.
Josh Gribben and Tom Sullivan head into this week’s game in ripping form, as does ruckman Sam Gilmore – who was very nearly the match-winner after taking a big grab and converting a checkside late in the fourth quarter, before giving away the free kick that resulted in Andrew Stellas’ goal. Footy can be a cruel game.
Northcote Park has now lost five of its past six games and must now win its remaining three matches and have other results go their way to feature in a fourth-consecutive finals campaign – a tough ask for a side battling with an extensive injury list.
While the Cougars are currently out of form, it is worth noting they led the Tigers by 108 points at three quarter time in their most recent encounter, just seven weeks ago.
However, that side featured Ash Close, Jackson Starcevich, Bronik Davies, Brock McLennan and Joel Donaldson – all of whom were missing in the weekend’s loss to West Preston-Lakeside, which was two-time club champion Nick Carter’s 150th senior appearance for the Cougars.
Bundoora plays its second-successive home game when it hosts Hurstbridge at Yulong Reserve.
The Bulls’ finals hopes ultimately rest in their own hands, with three wins in the final three rounds set to hand the club a finals berth for the 18th consecutive year – a cause which will be aided by the return of three-time Frank Rosbrook medallist Matty Dennis this week.
The reigning premier will start a warm favourite but will be wary of a Hurstbridge side that pushed it all the way in an eight-point result in Round 10. They were also scratchy during the opening half of last week’s game against Whittlesea, before hitting their straps with a six-goal final term.
2017 premiership players Nathan Thomas and Nick Grabowski were both among the best last week and are in form at the right time of the year, while the spread of 10 goal kickers would be pleasing.
Hurstbridge enters the game with a new coaching set-up after Trevor Little parted ways with the club for the second time this year. It’s been a difficult campaign for the Bridges, who started the year as finals aspirants but will spend the final three rounds scrapping to avoid the drop to Division 2.
The Bridges dug deep in last week’s loss to North Heidelberg. Staring down the barrel of a heavy loss at half-time, they managed to outscore the Bulldogs seven goals to five in the second half and will hope to carry that form into this week’s game.
This will be the club’s last road trip for the season ahead of home matches against Montmorency and Whittlesea. It’s hard to determine whether the final two matches at home is an advantage or hinderance, given the Bridges have lost all seven matches at Ben Frilay Oval this year, by an average of 37 points.