The Northern Football Netball League’s divsion 1 competition heads into the final five rounds of 2018 with a wide-open finals race and an equally compelling battle to avoid the drop to second division.
Whittlesea’s upset win over Montmorency last Saturday, coupled with Hurstbridge’s thrashing at the hands of West Preston-Lakeside, has thrown added spice to the relegation battle.
The Eagles now sit equal on points with the Bridges and made an 8 percent gain in the percentage differential following the Round 13 results. To add to the intrigue, the two are drawn to play each other in Round 18, making for nerve-wracking end to the year for both clubs.
At the top end of the table, Macleod has firmly established itself as the premiership favourite, while Greensborough and North Heidelberg have established a one-game buffer inside the top-three, ahead of four sides locked on 7-6.
Round 14 is showcased by a top-four battle between Macleod and West Preston-Lakeside at De Winton Park.
You can mount a strong case that Macleod’s achievements so far this season have been underappreciated. In a year that has everyone glossing over the competitiveness of the competition – the Roos continue to set the benchmark.
Not only have they won 12 games on the trot – they have also scored the most points in the competition, as well as conceded the fewest over the opening 13 rounds. And they’ve managed to do it while continuously blooding fresh faces into the side.
Most gave Bundoora a good chance to end the Roos’ winning run last weekend in the second grand final rematch of the year. However, the result was put beyond doubt in the first 30 minutes, with the Roos piling on six first-quarter goals to lead by 32 points at quarter time.
Anthony Doherty has always been highly regarded, but he has taken his game to another level over the past six weeks in the absence of some of his fellow forward stars. Doherty has polled the perfect 10 coaches votes in consecutive weeks and is arguably the competition’s most in-form player.
West Preston-Lakeside enters this week’s clash just percentage inside the top-five, however the Roosters have claims to be Macleod’s biggest challenger for the flag. They rank second in the competition in both attack and defence – having scored just 23 points less than the Roos, while conceding just 31 points more.
Last week’s 112-point thrashing of Hurstbridge was achieved without Ahmed Saad, Mark Kovacevic, Matthew Harman Garrett McDonagh, Liam McVeigh and Patrick Karnezis – with the Roosters still able to slam through 26 goals, courtesy of 12 different goal kickers.
Their cause is set to be aided this weekend by the return of Saad and, potentially, Karnezis, while Macleod captain Justin White will likely miss after suffering an injury in his return to the side last weekend – adding to the Roos long list of unavailable players.
The sides last met in Round 9, where the Roos kicked away in the third quarter to set up an 18-point win at J.E. Moore Park, with Patrick Martin the star with four goals. That result remains the Roos’ smallest winning margin over the past six matches.
The stakes are just as high when Bundoora travels to Warringal Park to take on Heidelberg. Both sides take 7-6 records into the game, with the loser set to fall one-game outside the top-five with a month left in the home and away season.
It is a second-successive home game for the Tigers, however they will be looking to reverse last week’s result after going down to North Heidelberg by 33 points. It was their second loss to the Bulldogs this year.
After conceding an average of just 59 points across the opening six rounds, the Tigers have been involved in much more open matches over the past seven matches.
Last week was the fourth time in the past seven weeks they have conceded more than 100 points in a game. They have coughed up an average of 105 points per match since Round 7, the third-worst in the competition, above only Whittlesea and Hurstbridge in that period.
The more free-flowing games are giving Heidelberg’s forwards more chances to score, with Chaz Sargeant and Sam Grimley both inside the top 10 goal kickers in the competition. Sargeant booted five last week to take his season total to 28, while Grimley sits sixth on the table with 35.
Bundoora is also on the rebound after last week losing for the first time since the first weekend of June. The Bulls took on Macleod with Kain Proctor, Andrew Sturgess, Joshua Iacobaccio all coming out of the previous week’s side and were no match for the Roos.
The next three weeks could set up Bundoora’s season, with all three of their opponents currently sitting outside the top-five – albeit Heidelberg sits adrift on percentage alone. A road win this weekend, ahead of consecutive home matches against Whittlesea and Hurstbridge, could steer the Bulls back on the path for a top-three tilt.
Heidelberg prevailed by 20 points in the Round 4 outing between the sides, with Jake Thomas proving the surprise match-winner with five majors, while youngster Matt Cecchin also excelled.
Whittlesea will take renewed vigour into Round 14, however the Eagles face a big task against a rampant North Heidelberg at the Whittlesea Showgrounds.
Just 48 hours after Jimmy Atkins announced he would not continue as senior coach in 2019, the Eagles produced their best performance in three months to beat Montmorency by nine points.
It was their second-consecutive win at Montmorency Park, after last year creating history to claim their first win at the ground. Ultimately it was that win that helped the Eagles avoid relegation in 2017. Will lightning strike twice?
The Eagles face a tough run to their final round clash against Hurstbridge, with their next four opponents currently placed third, fifth, fourth and first – however they will know that one upset win might just be enough to secure them a fourth-successive season in the top flight.
North Heidelberg continues to set new records in its return to the top flight and the Bulldogs are now well positioned to claim a double chance in the finals. Albeit, their short-term goal is simply to secure a place in the top-five.
The Bulldogs will start favourites both this week and then next week at home to Hurstbridge. Should they extend their winning run to seven game, as predicted, they could well be fighting for second place against Greensborough in Round 16. Remarkable.
Shane Harvey takes ripping form into this week’s fixture and sits seven goals clear atop the goal kicking table. The superboot put through eight goals against Heidelberg to take his season tally to 50. His fifth goal last week brought up his 900th for the Bulldogs – a testament to his excellence for more than a decade.
Northcote Park hosts Montmorency at Bill Lawry Oval, with both sides sitting outside the top-five heading into the fixture.
Since winning four-straight games between Round 6 to 9, the Cougars have gone on to lose three of their past four fixtures and currently sit in sixth spot. They remain winless in matches without Ash Close this season and the star forward is expected to be unavailable again this week.
Last week’s loss to Greensborough was very much a tale of two halves. The Cougars started well and held a three-goal lead during the second term. They took a one-point lead into the main break, but then added just one goal in the second half to lose by 54 points.
However, the Cougars will be buoyed by their outstanding record against Montmorency – having won their past seven matches against the Magpies. That includes a 37-point triumph in Round 6. On that day the Cougars piled on 14 goals in the second half.
Montmorency remains a mathematical chance to make the finals, however on current form the Magpies are far from a top-five threat. Last week’s shock loss to Whittlesea was their fifth-loss on the trot and they now sit two wins and percentage outside the five.
Ben Haynes announced earlier this week that the 2018 campaign would be his fourth and final season in charge of the club and the Magpies will hope for a spike in effort this week, as often happens when such announcements are made.
Ben Kennedy has remained a constant despite his side’s recent struggles and has still managed to feature among the Coaches MVP votes in each of the past five defeats. He sits second in the award voting and will this week square off against competition leader Paul Dirago and third-placed Jordan Perry.
Hurstbridge will be desperate for a response when it returns to Ben Frilay Oval to host Greensborough.
Hurstbridge last week put in its worst performance since returning to the top flight in 2017 and is now firmly entrenched in the relegation battle on the back of eight consecutive defeats.
The Bridges conceded 100 points in the first half alone against West Pres-on-Lakeside. They offered resistance in the third term, before coughing up seven final-quarter goals. Despite their long losing streak, the Bridges had been relatively competitive, up until last week.
This week will provide a strong test of the team’s character against an opponent it has matched up well against in their past three outings, despite each match ending in defeat. With plenty to play for over the next five weeks, every game is still vital for the Bridges.
Greensborough enters this week’s game in great touch and will be looking to continue where it left off last week after producing its best second half of the season. The win over Northcote Park again gave the Boro a one-game cushion inside the top-three.
Midfielders Chris Clark and Lachlan McQuilken have been in strong form over the past month and were last week joined among the best players by young forward Tynan Smith, who returned to great touch with three goals.
The Boro could well be bolstered by the return of reigning best and fairest Jack Johnston this week, in a welcome boost before the finals. Johnston was named among the Boro’s best players in six of his seven games before heading overseas following the Round 7 loss to West Preston-Lakeside.