By Tim Klingbiel
MEN’S RESERVE GRADE
Urunga Raiders vs Northern Storm Thunder
Urunga Raiders capped off a successful season with 9-0 and 6-1 wins over Grafton United in the final week to swagger through their Premiership victory lap in style. With their only two losses of the season coming in the form of back to back thumpings by Coffs (4-0) and Maclean (6-2), they will head into this weekend’s semi-final against 4th placed Northern Storm having won both of their earlier meetings in 2017 (5-2 and 3-2).
Under the expert guidance of Tom Campbell, the Raiders rezzies have been able to call upon the experience and quality of Kale Hopper and Grant Homes throughout the season to augment the skill of younger players like Jack Martin and Nick O’Mullane, and while the recipe has been a resounding success thus far, they will need to be at their peak to see off a credible threat in the form of the Thunder.
Storm’s season started off very positively and they occupied top spot on the ladder for some time until Urunga and Coffs completed their respective games in hand. In a razor thin competition, Coffs, Sawtell and Storm were separated by goal difference alone, though at +7, the Thunder were well behind their rivals’ +46 and +41 tallies.
Scoring only 2 goals more than the 8th placed Orara Valley Dingoes and conceding 1 more than 6th placed Coffs Coast Tigers, the boys from Korora haven’t been standouts in statistical terms, but have shown a knack for grinding out results when their backs are against the wall. A stirring comeback against Boambee a few weeks ago showed their mettle and in Enoch Marc and Manuel Rivera they have two danger men who are always capable of pulling out a piece of flair to break open a tight game.
Northern Storm Thunder’s reserve grade squad will look to book the club’s first grand final appearance in that division for over a decade as they take on Premiers Urunga Raiders in a two leg semi-final tie.
Coffs City United Lions vs Sawtell Scorpions
With 3 of Coffs United’s 5 total losses coming in the last 4 games of the season, they are hardly coming into finals football on the back of a stellar run of form, and they will need to stop the rot to prevent a repeat of last week’s 4-1 loss to Sawtell as they face the same opposition at the same venue for the 1st leg.
But the Lions’ squad remains one of the league’s strongest and should they get through the difficult test that the Scorpions present, they will back their big game experience to take out the grand final over either Urunga or Northern Storm, both of whom they have won and lost a game each against this season. These boys have been around the traps for a while now and have seen more finals action than most, and the tenacity of Dan Wiseman as well as the pace of Gum Dongrin and the distribution of Jeremy McDonald will be key to the Lions’ chances.
The Scorpions have been in the top four from start to finish this season and that consistency will please the brains trust at Toormina. They have looked in ominous form since their round 12 defeat against Boambee, clocking up 5 wins and a draw from their last 6 and perhaps most impressively accounting for fellow finals contenders Northern Storm and Coffs United 7-0 and 4-1 respectively in the past fortnight.
With a side built around youth but not without a sprinkling of experience with a few seasoned campaigners at the back, the Scorpions have played without fear in 2017 and will look to cause problems for their opponents by getting right up in their grill and taking the game to them. The panache is not without substance though, and their success has been built on a bedrock of solid play out from the back, which served them well during their win last weekend against the Lions. One would expect a very evenly matched contest over these two legs and the winner will certainly be thoroughly deserving of a place in the main event.
WOMEN’S SECOND DIVISION NORTH
Majos FC vs Maclean Bobcats
A dominant season for the Majos ladies saw them capture the Premiership by a 6 point margin, suffering only a solitary defeat in the process along with one draw and crossing double figures on three occasions. Perhaps most remarkably, their incredibly resolute defence allowed only 3 goals over the course of a 15 game season – a goal every 450 minutes of football. The girls have made Rushy a fortress this season and have not dropped a point in a home game, so a win this weekend at Wherrett Park will install them as unbackable favourites to progress.
Given the astounding nature of these statistics, along with the 5-0 and 3-0 results in Majos’ favour during the sides’ previous meetings this season, one could be forgiven for thinking the Bobcats will be intimidated heading into this weekend’s encounter, but the northern club always come to play and Col Stephens has a solid playing group to work with – the first division girls qualifying for last year’s grand final and finishing 3rd in the regular season this time around – so they will surely fancy themselves at least an outside chance of causing an upset on Saturday.
Westlawn Tigers vs Yamba Breakers
Westlawn have put together an impressive season and finished only two wins behind Majos, while inflicting their only defeat of the season in a 1-0 triumph at Barnier Park just four weeks ago. Though their first two meetings against the Breakers this season were fairly comfortable 4-0 and 5-0 wins, the most recent encounter saw them slip to a 1-0 defeat and this will certainly have Jo Powell’s squad sitting up and taking notice of the potential for a very strong season to come to an abrupt end if they don’t give the best possible account of themselves.
The Breakers slipped away slightly at the back end of the regular season and are currently on a slide of three losses on the bounce, but it is the aforementioned victory over the Tigers that will give them confidence heading into Saturday’s Angourie Road face-off. A 1-0 win over 4th placed Maclean Bobcats earlier in the season was another highlight, as was a great showing in a 3-1 defeat to the prodigal daughters of Majos, breaching their defence on one of just 3 occasions all year. A grand final appearance would be a massive success for the team and they will be quietly confident of their capability to cause a minor upset and make that dream a reality over the next two weeks.
WOMEN’S SECOND DIVISION SOUTH
Woolgoolga Wildcats vs Bellingen Victory
Woolgoolga Wildcats’ took out the Premiership over Boambee, finishing the season with a resounding 11-0 victory over an understaffed Urunga side at the Patch, and will take on Bellingen away this weekend. They have gone through the season undefeated, dropping only 2 draws all year and scoring 61 goals while conceding only 7.
One of those draws was against their opponents this weekend, the Victory, only a few weeks back, so they will be keen to avoid a slip up at Connell Park and take an authoritative stride towards a grand final berth. Under the mentorship of club stalwart Kim Batty, the Wildcats will be an ominous prospect and will be looking to put the disappointment of last season’s semi-final exit in Reserve Grade behind them.
The Bellingen squad finished their regular season strongly with a 2-1 win over the 2nd placed Eagles and a resounding 8-0 win over 3rd placed Macksville Stingers the previous week, and they will look to carry that form into a difficult encounter this weekend.
Along with the Men’s 2nd Division South side, the Bellingen girls have ensured the club will have both of their only two competitive senior teams represented in finals football in 2017, and this success will have the Bello faithful enthused about the club’s prospects for higher honours in the coming years.
Boambee Eagles vs Macksville Stingers
The runner up slot was secured by Boambee, who put in an excellent effort throughout the season to suffer only three defeats despite many of their players backing up for the 1st division Eagles side. They split their two meetings with this weekend’s opponents, Macksville Stingers, winning the first encounter 4-0 at home and then going 4-1 down at Bellevue Drive.
The defensive foundation of the Eagles will be key in securing a result this weekend, as they have definitely had no issues putting them in the onion bag with 46 goals at an average of close to 4 per game. They will look to get some decent work in on the training paddock tonight to prime themselves for a repeat of their successful 2015 campaign.
Macksville have been good value for fourth position this season, with a 3-2 win over Bellingen a couple of weeks back underscoring their potential. Two 5-0 defeats to Premiers Woolgoolga and an 8-0 reverse in the trip up the road Bellingen meant their goal difference took a hit, but the latter result aside, the other 4 wins in their last 5 have them carrying form into this one.
Breaching the normally solid Eagles defence, which conceded only 11 goals all year, 4 times will also give the Stingers confidence they can produce a result at home this weekend, and the stage has been set for a tight battle to keep the prospect of a C.ex International Stadium appearance alive.
Women’s 2nd Division semi-finalists Macksville Stingers
MEN’S SECOND DIVISION NORTH
Majos FC vs Yuraygir United FC
Equalling the successes of their female counterparts, the Majos 2nd division men’s side romped home to a comprehensive Premiership, taking the title by an 18 point margin despite playing two less games than their nearest challengers, Yamba Breakers (a quirk of the competition’s 5 team structure).
With 14 wins from 14 and a goal difference of +78 – averaging over 6 goals scored per game – the Majos outfit, which counts a couple of ex-Bobcats stalwarts among their ranks, have been devastating this year and will enter the weekend’s fixture as perhaps the heaviest favourites of any of the senior sides competing in finals in 2017.
The club formerly known as Tucabia Bears have had a middling season, with 5 wins, 9 losses and 2 draws in their 16 games, and the four previous matchups with Majos so far – 9-0, 7-1, 5-0 and 6-1 losses – won’t fill them with bravado heading into Saturday afternoon, but they have had 2 wins and a draw in their last 4 games and seem to have discovered some of their better form at the right time.
Their densely vegetated home ground has seen them win every game this season bar the two against Majos and they will need to muster every bit of the psychological advantage the Nanegai Street digs provide them with if they are to give their Grafton opponents a run for their money and offer themselves something to play for in the return leg.
Yamba Breakers vs Coutts Crossing Cougars
While the Breakers were unable to recapture the form of 2014 and 2015 that saw them take out consecutive iterations of the 2nd Division North competition, they fared quite well against opponents not named Majos, suffering only two other defeats (to Coutts and Yuraygir) through the season.
The head to head record between these two sides in 2017 makes for intriguing reading, with a win each and two draws meaning neither can stake a claim to any clear dominance during the home and away season. Both clubs have displayed strong home form, with Yamba dropping only one game at Angourie Drive to a non-Majos opponent (which was to the Cougars), and Coutts going undefeated against non-Majos opponents at Wajard Park.
Given these statistics, and the fact that last week’s meeting between the same teams yielded an entertaining 3-3 draw, one would suggest away goals will play a significant part in determining who will progress to a showdown with the winner of the Majos-Yuraygir tie, so the Cougars will have designs on shoring things up this weekend at Moe McIntosh Way to prevent needing to make up a deficit on the trip to Yamba Sporting Complex’s wide expanses the following week.
MEN’S SECOND DIVISION SOUTH
Nambucca Strikers vs Boambee Bombers
The Strikers have been typically dominant throughout the year, accounting for overmatched sides with ease on the way to another Premiership with a +83 goal difference over the 16 game season. The only thing that will bother them is their head to head record with the Corindi Breakers in 2017, which currently stands at a draw and two losses from three outings. They will hope that Bellingen do the job in the other semi-final as they have beaten them on all three occasions thus far, but will also be keen to avenge their prior hiccups should the Breakers emerge as their foes once again.
Attacker Clay Urquhart is a strong physical presence and hasn’t seemed to struggle in the absence of regular strike partner Ryan Flack, while Brazilian import Carlos Justo pulls the strings in the middle of the park to set the tempo and create regular goalscoring chances. This weekend’s trip to Ayrshire Park will see the Strikers go in as heavy favourites and look to repeat their display in the 6-2 win over the Bombers last time out at Coronation Park. Urquhart featured prominently on the scoresheet that night and will have designs on adding a few more to his tally this weekend, though the bouncy and bone dry deck will provide a slightly different environment to deal with as will a Bombers backline playing without the fatigue of a prior fixture.
The Bombers have struggled with numbers all season but now the club’s 3rd division and reserve grade campaigns are over, they should finally be able to get players on the park and possibly even have the rare luxury of substitutes to call on. With multiple players backing up after 90 minute showings directly beforehand in an understaffed 3rd division side or being called upon for a full match of reserve grade the day after, it has been a herculean effort from the boys in white to even reach this stage of the competition, though they will harbour aspirations of a colossal upset to extend their run one more crucial week.
A third tier senior side (behind 1st division and reserve grade) in the mix with three clubs for whom 2nd division is their top team, it would be an excellent achievement for Luke Matthews’ boys even to give the Strikers sustained problems over a two leg tie, much less advance past their well organised opposition. But midfielder Tom Frewen was involved heavily during the last encounter and came away with a brace from a free kick and a penalty, and Harley Parker looked dangerous despite absorbing a number of heavy challenges and eventually being carted off with a cracked rib in the second half, while Luke Mallia put in a gallant effort in a rare outfield appearance. It would be one of the biggest underdog stories in NCF’s senior history but a bit of belief can go a long way and the Bombers will do their level best to write their names into lower division folklore over the next fortnight.
Corindi Breakers vs Bellingen FC
The Breakers came within two points of a Premiership this season and gave the Strikers constant headaches over a three game series where they chalked up a superior head to head record of two wins and a draw. Their record against this weekend’s opponents Bellingen, however, will be of some concern. Suffering two rather emphatic 5-1 defeats either side of a face saving 2-2 home draw in round 13 will have them wary going into this encounter, but of some comfort will be the fact that the latter of the two defeats, a midweek catch up at Leisure Park, saw the Breakers going in with a number of regulars absent.
They will certainly need a full strength squad at their disposal to get through a very tricky assignment on Saturday afternoon at Connell Park, and they will be keen to draw on the experience of a few old stagers of the now defunct Woolgoolga Wolves Premier League side such as Anthony Baston, as well as the pace and trickery of Harmeet Shetra out wide. Should they progress, they will be very confident of being able to produce another result against the Premiers from Nambucca.
The Breakers warm up under blue skies at their home ground.
Bellingen were a trifle unfortunate not to finish higher than 3rd, being stranded with a game in hand as a result of the pandemonium surrounding Sawtell’s mid-season withdrawal from the competition. A vastly superior goal difference to the Breakers would suggest they will give the men from Corindi everything they can handle this weekend, though the top three sides are interestingly poised – Nambucca’s bogey team appears to be Corindi, whose bogey team appears to be Bellingen.
The Waterfall Way men’s high pressing style has yielded an imposing tally of 83 goals this season (5.53 goals per game, behind only Nambucca’s 6.06 goals per game), with former Urunga Raider, Ezra Malcisi, responsible for a substantial portion, though it has occasionally left them vulnerable to counter attacks when opposing teams exploit gaps at the back. They will look to their home support to spur them on this weekend and put them one step closer to ensuring next week’s post-match beverages at the Amble Inn are celebratory rather than commiserative.
MEN’S THIRD DIVISION NORTH
Yamba Breakers vs Westlawn Panthers
Yamba Breakers clinched this season’s Premiership to build upon the successes of 2016 where they took out the Premiership/Championship double. With only two losses (1-0 to Maclean Green and 5-1 to Coutts Crossing Maroon) and a home draw against Grafton United, the Breakers reaped the benefits of entering only one 3rd division side to open up an 8 point margin to their nearest challengers Coutts Crossing Blue (who themselves were only a point ahead of intra-club rivals Coutts Crossing Maroon).
With only 2 narrow 4-3 victories in their past 5 games (conceding 22 goals in that time frame), the Panthers will want to rediscover the formula that saw them start the season with 4 wins and a draw in their first 5. They haven’t had much joy against the Breakers this year, going down 4-0 and 3-1, but on a dusty surface at Barnier Park, Matt Cheney’s men will look to make their more fancied opponents work hard for every opening.
Coutts Crossing Blue vs Coutts Crossing Maroon
The two Coutts sides will face off twice at Wajard Park to find out whether Blue or Maroon will ultimately book a spot in the showpiece in a fortnight. Separated by only a point over the 18 game season, each holds a win over the other (5-1 to blue in round 1 and 5-2 to Maroon in round 10) as well as a claim to being the superior side – Blue’s attack is 23 goals superior while Maroon is one of only two teams to hold a win over the Premiership-winning Breakers this season.
Knowing one of their teams is guaranteed a 3rd division grand final appearance will be a source of pride for the Cougars, and the semi-final tie should be played in good spirits as both sets of players will no doubt head back to the Village Green for a few cold ones to dissect the many nuances of the encounter and regale one another with tales of Saturday afternoon heroism and feats of athletic mastery.
MEN’S THIRD DIVISION SOUTH
Woolgoolga Wolves vs Sawtell Scorpions
In the absence of the Wolves’ Premier League and reserve grade sides, the 3rd division squad is their top men’s outfit and it has shown in a 16 win season that saw them claim Premiership honours over last season’s champions, Northern Storm Troopers. Of their two defeats this season, one came against this weekend’s opponents Sawtell, and the fact that the aforementioned encounter was just 3 weeks ago will certainly add a sense of intrigue to the matchup.
Former Premier League players Billy Irvine and Adam Watkin, who turned out for Northern Storm and Woolgoolga respectively in the top grade some years back, have made an impact at this level and should give Sawtell some dynamism to worry about as well as the street smarts that experience in top level local football brings. Their 4-0 win over the Scorpions last weekend will restore confidence in their ability to deal with a tricky set of sparring partners and they will consider themselves favourites to progress.
The Scorpions have looked a stronger prospect during the season’s second half than they did in its opening stages. While their record was hardly shabby to begin with, a run of 7 wins and 1 draw between the start of July and last weekend signalled their intentions as genuine challengers for the Championship this season.
The dissolution of the 2nd division team has been a blessing in disguise for the Sawtell 3rds, meaning they can utilise the powerful shooting of Jake Reinhard and mazy, unorthodox runs of Stephen Maher in tandem without worrying about needing to conserve their energy for a second game. It has definitely paid dividends, and they will try to upset the Wolves’ apple cart in the semis off the back of this swashbuckling brand of attacking football.
Northern Storm Troopers vs Corindi Breakers
The Storm Troopers have followed up last year’s success with another quality season of football, but an impressive 44 point tally still wasn’t quite enough to overhaul Woolgoolga for the Premiership. They will now focus on grand final glory but to get there they will need to overcome a powerful opponent in Corindi Breakers.
Splitting their previous meetings with a 3-2 away win and a 2-1 home loss this season, the trends would point to the away sides being more successful in this pairing, so Storm will feel confident of getting away with a close one when they head up the road this Saturday. They will need Nathan Quinn to call upon the same speed and skill on the field that he exhibits in ‘Shirley’ through the bushland backroads of rural Australia in his other life, while the notorious Jason Boswell will have to be rock solid at the back to keep an eager Corindi attack at bay.
The Breakers were not far behind the Storm Troopers in 2017, with only a 5 point and 5 goal deficit over the 18 games, and the previously mentioned split of results would suggest the margins between these sides are as fine as can be. Without the benefit of cross-pollination with their fellow Corindi 3rd division outfit, the Waves, it is a solid achievement for a club who have also fielded a very strong 2nd division squad, and they will look to cause problems for their Korora opponents this weekend.
Coming off the back of 7 consecutive wins, the main chink in the Breakers armour would appear to be the fact that they have dropped 3 home games this season and one of those was to the Storm Troopers. They will need to improve upon that form on Saturday so they can enter the away leg with an advantage or at the very least parity, so they can give themselves a solid platform to work towards a grand final appearance.