By Tim Klingbiel
Men’s Reserve Grade
Urunga Raiders vs Northern Storm Thunder
A tight encounter between Premiers Urunga Raiders and fourth place Northern Storm Thunder ended in a scoreless stalemate at the Cove on Saturday afternoon, leaving the tie delicately poised as the Raiders head back to their Morgo Street stomping ground tomorrow knowing only a win will do. Having failed to muster an away goal last week, the Raiders will need their defence to be watertight at the Patch as a solitary Thunder goal would break the contest wide open and require two for the maroon and gold to progress.
With the last matchup between these two sides at that venue ending 3-2 in Urunga’s favour, it’s definitely shaping up to be a cracker and Storm will be daring to dream as they attempt to book their first reserve grade grand final appearance in over a decade. The match will also serve as a curtain raiser for the Raiders-Bombers Premier League showdown so fans should be in for a real festival of football on the banks of the lagoon.
Coffs City United Lions vs Sawtell Scorpions
Coffs United turned in an impressive performance to register a 3-0 win over Sawtell at Toormina and make the second leg task for the boys from the 2452 a very tricky one indeed. Just six days after going down 4-1 to the same opposition at the same venue, the Lions went into this one unable to call on the services of some of their Premier League players who usually back up, courtesy of the first team’s simultaneous fixture at Dairyville, and having lost four of their previous six would have had reason to approach the first leg with a degree of caution.
But caution was not on the agenda this time around for the young Lions as they delivered one of their more assured performances for some time and put three past the Scorpions with no reply. The green and white will have their backs against the wall in tomorrow’s second leg at Forsyth Park and will need to recapture the level of play they were delivering in Round 18 if they are to overhaul the deficit and score four away goals. As their season’s hopes hang by a thread, there’s no better time than now for them to produce some magic that will be etched into local footballing folklore.
Women’s 2nd Division North
Majos FC vs Maclean Bobcats
Maclean Bobcats turned on their most impressive performance for some time as they secured a vital 0-0 draw at Wherrett Park against the near indomitable Majos side. Though they were unable to breach the miserly Majos defensive line, which has allowed only 3 goals in 16 games, they became only the third team this season to finish a full 90 against Majos without being on the wrong side of the scoreline. With the first division Bobcats all but out of the picture after the weekend’s 4-0 defeat to Woolgoolga, Col Stephens’ range of focus may be able to be concentrated a little more should his 2nd division girls progress and they may yet prove to be a real surprise packet in this competition.
The ladies in red and white will still very much fancy their chances at Rushforth Park tomorrow, but the importance of a result has become much more critical than they would have liked, and should their backline – whose goal is usually about as heavily guarded as Fort Knox – be prised open by a surprise Bobcats counter, they may live to rue not being able to pick up an away goal last week. Their home ground though has been paying some stratospheric dividends and they are yet to drop a point in 2017 when entering a fixture as the home side. After eight unanswered goals scored over two regular season encounters against Maclean, they will see last week as an outlier and should come into the second leg with their usual confident mindset and thinking only of victory.
Westlawn Tigers vs Yamba Breakers
Jo Powell’s Tigers ladies were able to turnaround a surprise 1-0 slip up against the Breakers – in the delayed round 2 fixture played at the back end of July – as they moved a few steps closer to a grand final appearance with a dominant 4-0 win at Angourie Road. Having thrice defeated Maclean this season without conceding on any occasion – two 2-0 results and a 3-0 – as well as holding 2017’s only win over Majos after two narrow defeats, the Westlawn girls will back themselves to cause major headaches for whichever team they meet in the grand final should they get through tomorrow’s game at Barnier Park without any major disasters.
Yamba will be disappointed not to have taken their first leg face-off right down to the wire and will face a gargantuan task this weekend as they attempt to score five away goals at Back Lane, a venue that has seen only one side – a rather unlikely source in Coutts Crossing Cougars, who scored only four all season – other than Majos able to even score a single goal. It’s still been a great season for the Breakers, with 1-0 wins over Maclean and Westlawn being the main highlights, but barring a miracle, one would have to think tomorrow afternoon’s trip to Junction Hill will be their final appearance in 2017.
Women’s 2nd Division South
Woolgoolga Wildcats vs Bellingen Victory
Woolgoolga Wildcats extended their unbeaten streak to 13 games this season in a great afternoon for the club when their first division side also registered a commanding win to move authoritatively into the box seat for a grand final appearance. The 2nd division Wildcats travelled to Connell Park having drawn their last fixture there in round 12, so it was never going to be a simple assignment and the final scoreline reflected the closeness of the contest. Regular coach Kim Batty was at High Street on first division duties but she will be pleased that her 2nds girls came away with the win and will carry an advantage into their own home fixture tomorrow afternoon.
The margin is still a narrow one though and the Victory will harbour ambitions of being able to throw a spanner in the works of the Wildcats machine. The Bellingen girls have been good value for their 4th place regular season finish, with a +13 goal difference and an exciting brand of football that has seen them chalk up wins over 2nd placed Boambee and 3rd placed Macksville as well as being only one of two teams to take points from the Wildcats. That being said, Woolgoolga at home is always a tall order and a 3-0 defeat in the corresponding regular season fixture means the Victory will head to High Street needing to play out of their skin to keep their grand final aspirations alive.
Boambee Eagles vs Macksville Stingers
A 4-1 defeat in round 11 meant the Boambee Eagles needed to sit up and take notice of their Macksville opponents on Saturday’s trip to Bellevue Drive. But the Eagles stood up when it counted, and an impressive 3-1 win will fill them with confidence going into the Ayrshire Park double header tomorrow afternoon – the first division Eagles take on Urunga immediately afterwards as both Boambee teams look to secure grand final berths. Training with such an accomplished side as the top grade Eagles has been enormously beneficial for this playing group and they continue to improve each week, looking formidable when they can get everyone on the park. Holding a 6-1 win over Bellingen and being one of only two teams to take points from the Wildcats this season in a 2-2 away draw, the Eagles will fancy their chances against either of their possible opponents should they get home this weekend.
The Stingers won’t have been as pleased with Saturday’s result but there is little doubt they will still be champing at the bit to prove their title credentials and produce a comeback for the ages tomorrow afternoon. A strong third place finish in the regular season saw them finish only 4 points behind the Eagles, and round 11’s result when the two sides met augurs well for Macksville’s chances of making the contest a close one. The Stingers struggled for goals at times this season but a late run of 16 goals in 4 games between rounds 11 and 14 – leading into the first leg of the semi against Boambee – suggested there is still some attacking potency in their locker. They will need every bit of that to come to the fore tomorrow afternoon if they are to overturn a 2 goal deficit and score a minimum of 3 away goals.
Men’s 2nd Division North
Majos FC vs Yuraygir United FC
A huge result for Yuraygir has sent shockwaves through the Men’s 2nd Division North competition as Majos’ 16 game winning streak was brought to an end at Nanegai Street on Saturday afternoon. The Bears got home 1-0 after losing all four regular season encounters against the red men, having scored only 2 and conceded 27 across that series. In probably the biggest surprise result across all senior grades in finals week 1 (closely followed by Maclean’s heroic draw against Majos in women’s 2nds), Yuraygir have given themselves every chance of creating history as they head to Rushforth Park tomorrow in what has now become a fixture of massive intrigue. Playing directly after the Majos-Maclean game on the same ground, it’s a must-see afternoon of football for Clarence-based fans with a pivotal double header to take place and two initially improbable underdog stories now appearing a very real chance of playing out.
While the disappointment of their streak being broken has probably well and truly sunk in for Majos, the professional approach that saw them eviscerate every opponent who was put in front of them en route to a Premiership by six clear wins with two games in hand will no doubt be back on display once again for tomorrow’s second leg. The aforementioned wide margins of their four prior meetings with the Tucabia-based side will breed confidence within the squad and they will still favour themselves to progress despite not being able to nab an away goal last week. It would be nothing short of devastating for the club for their premier side to fall short of a grand final appearance after such a dominant season and it is certain they will leave it all on the park this weekend and throw everything they have at the Bears.
Yamba Breakers vs Coutts Crossing Cougars
The Cougars will be delighted to have come away with a 1-0 win from their first leg fixture at Wajard Park, not least because their defence remained steadfast and did not give up an away goal. With potentially the most even head to head record in 2017 of any two sides across the NCF senior divisions – four regular season meetings with one win each and two draws – heading into this game, it was never going to be a blowout so the key to progressing always looked like being who would be able to get the one-percenters right and prevail in a tight one. On this occasion, that team was Coutts, but the Breakers too have displayed strong form at home this season and will be confident of getting the job done at Angourie Road tomorrow.
While both sides have lost all of their meetings against Majos this season – as had every other side in the competition up until Saturday’s boil over – Coutts have split their encounters with Yuraygir (2 wins and 2 losses) while Yamba have gone for 2 wins, a draw and a loss, so both the Cougars and Breakers will harbour confidence should their grand final opponents prove to be the plucky Bears. Such has been the closeness of the Cougars-Breakers rivalry this season that perhaps the most poetic outcome tomorrow would be a 1-0 Yamba win to send the teams into extra time and potentially settle matters in an exhilarating shootout lottery. Although any permutation of events is still possible, the one certainty is that this will be a game well worth attending and local football enthusiasts would do well to get themselves down to the Yamba Sporting Complex for a look at the action.
Men’s 2nd Division South
Nambucca Strikers vs Boambee Bombers
Nambucca Strikers certainly didn’t have things all their own way in a titanic battle on Saturday afternoon at Ayrshire Park, but they took their chances and made the home side pay in a 3-1 win. Carrying a two goal advantage down to Coronation Park has them sitting as virtually unbackable favourites to cap their season off with a grand final appearance and they will definitely fancy their chances to entertain the home crowd. The vociferous travelling faithful certainly made their presence known in an often fiery and physical first leg, as a 30 yard lob from Carlos Justo put them 1-0 up after half an hour and an early second half penalty doubled their advantage. The Bombers replied straight away to halve the deficit and Heads were forced to absorb waves of pressure from the young Boambee side to preserve their lead. Ultimately, a slick finish from just outside the box courtesy of Clay Urquhart – in off the post – got them home but they certainly had their hands full throughout the bruising encounter, with Brad Wilkes in particular tiptoeing along a disciplinary tightrope late on and very fortunate not to be sent to the sheds before time.
The Bombers gave an excellent account of themselves and on another day may well have picked up a result, as their finishing ultimately let them down. Alex Taylor put in an excellent shift at the back until he was forced off with a head injury early in the second half – failing a very rudimentary sideline HIA performed by a rag tag bunch who certainly did not resemble trained medical professionals – but Dylan Forbes deputised admirably in Taylor’s absence, despite his evident disgruntlement at having to put in a shift at centre back. Isaac Allen was lively in the middle of the park and Harley Parker came alive in the second half following a shift from 11 to 9, while Luke Mallia put in another excellent performance in goal with a number of quality saves and the lively Irishman Darren McCullagh ran hard in his final appearance for the club before hitting the big smoke. Haydn Smallwood should return this weekend to bolster the defensive stocks and Tim Aebi will look to build upon a solid performance last week, but it’s going to be a colossal task to overturn the arrears, with their season now on life support.
Corindi Breakers vs Bellingen FC
The week off as a result of the Bombers’ round 17 forfeit seemed to do the Bello boys the world of good as they continued their excellent run of form against Corindi with a 2-1 win. Undefeated against the Breakers this year – and having scored 14 and conceded only 5 in the four game series so far – the Connell Park side will travel north this weekend in search of an opportunity to finish their season with a crack at silverware and in doing so, derailing the progress of the biggest thorn in Nambucca’s side thus far in 2017. Should Bellingen meet the Strikers at the stadium next week, they will need to overturn a poor run of form against their fellow southside opponents that has seen them lose all 3 matchups this season, scoring 4 and conceding 13 in the process.
Corindi have been imperious at home this season and are undefeated in 9 games, their only two draws coming against Nambucca and their semi final opponents Bellingen. They will head to Pacific Street tomorrow full of confidence and with a valuable away goal in their favour, so even a 1-0 win will do the trick and allow them to progress. Should they overhaul their southern foes, they will definitely back themselves to get the job done if they are to face Nambucca in the final – barring of course a miracle Bombers fightback – owing to their excellent head to head record against the Strikers. The only side to have taken points from Heads this season, the Breakers possess both a potent attack and rock solid defence and they will definitely keep Bellingen busy trying to break them down this weekend.
Men’s 3rd Division North
Yamba Breakers vs Westlawn Panthers
The Premiership-winning Breakers side came away from Barnier Park with a win but their Junction Hill opponents made them work hard for the result and the 2-1 scoreline ensures the tie will go right down to the wire. After 4-0 and 3-1 regular season wins over the Panthers, the Breakers would have been hoping to clock up at least a two or three goal margin to carry into tomorrow afternoon’s home leg, but the two away goals will please the coaching staff and they will be strong favourites at Angourie Road having amassed a record of 7 wins and a draw from 8 games there this season.
The Panthers did well to improve upon their two regular season results against the Breakers and close the gap between the two sides somewhat, but conceding two away goals means they will need to score two at a minimum this weekend, and given the Breakers have conceded only 6 in 8 games at the Yamba Sporting Complex this season, the challenge ahead of them appears a tricky one. Chasing a deficit against the Premiers and playing with nothing to lose may allow the Panthers to attack with greater freedom and we could see some entertaining play this weekend as they go all out for a result.
Coutts Crossing Blue vs Coutts Crossing Maroon
Blue secured intra-club bragging rights – for this week at least – with a decisive 4-1 victory over Maroon. As the designated ‘away team’ for that fixture, Blue will carry the added advantage of four away goals into tomorrow’s matchup, but the prior meetings between the two sides in 2017 have been decidedly less than straightforward.
Though Blue took the first meeting 5-1, Maroon’s 5-2 triumph in the round 10 rematch offset things somewhat and it is that result that will give them hope this weekend of being able to do the unthinkable and pull out a four goal win – even a 5-2 or 6-3 margin would be sufficient for them to progress on away goals – and move forward at Blue’s expense. There will undoubtedly be a few fans at Wajard Park this weekend with conflicted allegiances and it will certainly make for an interesting atmosphere as it’s not every day a preliminary final takes place between two teams from the same club.
Men’s 3rd Division South
Woolgoolga Wolves vs Sawtell Scorpions
On a red letter day for Woopi that saw both their women’s sides come up trumps in their respective semi finals, the Wolves made it a triumphant triumvirate with a 4-1 success over Sawtell. Splitting their two previous meetings with the Scorpions – 2-1 down at Toormina and 4-0 up at home – both of which took place in the past month, the Wolves had reason to be wary of the men in green and white but ultimately they were able to turn on a dominant performance and put one foot in the grand final with a 3 goal margin and 4 away goals in the bank going into the second leg.
Sawtell face what would seem to be an insurmountable task this weekend, as they travel to a venue where the Wolves have won 8 and dropped only a single game this year needing four goals at a minimum, but there are still elements of verve and unpredictability in their arsenal that may cause the Wolves some problems. One would imagine they will need to harness an as yet unprecedented level of synergy in their ranks to beat Woopi by four, but perhaps they will throw caution to the (rather strong) wind at High Street and bombard the home side with an all out attack-minded assault. The only sure thing here is that they will need something very special if they are to stay alive in the competition.
Northern Storm Troopers vs Corindi Breakers
With a head to head record of one win each this season, the draw on the weekend leaves things still unresolved between the Storm Troopers and the Breakers, though the question of which of these two sides is the superior will finally be met with a definitive answer this weekend.
The away goal should prove valuable for Storm as they return to the Cove tomorrow afternoon, but the Breakers put two away there last time so it’s by no means a silver bullet. Though the Storm Troopers had the competition’s second sturdiest defence this season, they haven’t kept a clean sheet against a top 5 side, so one would imagine they will be contending with at least one Breakers goal tomorrow. This is where their competition-leading attack will come into play, and the key to victory tomorrow is likely to lie in which side is the more clinical up top with chances at a premium.
The Corindi boys will look to replicate the result they came away with last time they travelled down to the Cove, a 2-1 victory in round 14. With their 67 goal attack good for second in the competition – only 3 goals behind that of the Storm Troopers – they too possess some substantial firepower and off the back of 6 straight wins prior to last week’s result, they seem to be hitting their straps at the right time and will no doubt show up tomorrow afternoon locked and loaded for a final charge towards the main event next week.