Match of the Round
Kahibah FC (9th) vs. Cessnock City Hornets (6th)
Sunday 27th May, 2:30 pm, Kahibah Oval
With the league nearing its half-way point, Cessnock travels to Kahibah this weekend in a game where gaining the three points will be crucial for these sides in order to find some form and make something of this season.
Cessnock City started quick of out of the gates, putting the rest of the competition on notice early on, but have struggled to continue developing as a side and have only recorded one win from their past six outings.
Kahibah has too shown the same inconsistency as they’ve shown glimpses of high-quality football in beating top sides West Wallsend and Thornton, but also, are the only team in the competition who hasn’t been able to beat any of the bottom three teams (Belmont-Swansea, Toronto, New Lambton).
Historically, the Hornets haven’t beaten Kahibah in any of the six matches the two clubs have competed in against one another, but coach Brendan Slade was adamant that his team’s focus was on themselves and no other factors.
“We’re just concentrating on getting better ourselves,” Slade said.
“We’ve been practising on different formations and tweaking a few things here and there to see how we can improve in some areas but just concentrating on our own game.
“We need to start getting numbers into the box and forward. When it’s just one forward against multiple defenders, it makes it easy for them to win the ball, so we need to work on getting forward.”
Slade admitted the club had done fantastically to improve from the last few seasons, but that now was the time to take their performances and form to the next level.
“We’ve been discussing with all three grades on just keeping the intensity up for the second half of the season.
“We’ve gotten ourselves into a good position, but we can’t get complacent. We’ve got to push harder now to get into that top four.”
Belmont-Swansea United (8th) vs. West Wallsend Bluebells SFC (5th)
Saturday 26th May, 2:30 pm, Blacksmiths Oval
The Bluebells will travel to Blacksmiths Oval this weekend in an attempt to not only regain their position in the top four but to also win their first game at Belswans’ home turf since 2007.
Having gone on a spectacular four-game winning streak, West Wallsend now finds themselves on the end of back-to-back losses and in desperate need of a win, however, they’re facing a side who arguably needs one even more so.
Belswans have struggled in the first half of the season but have now gone three games unbeaten and will still be confident that they can turn their season around given the tremendous run they achieved in the second half of 2017 where they won nine of their last ten matches.
However, despite that, coach Josh Rufo confessed that last year’s dream run isn’t in his team’s minds and that they’re not relying on past results.
“That’s definitely not been in the conversations,” Rufo said.
“We’re just taking every training session and every game, week-by-week and if we turn up and do the right things, we hope to be there in the top four at the end of the year.
“We’ve now got a large number of those players we had missing back, which means it’s more competitive for places now…Cam Lodge is back, Mitch Harper is back, and we’ve signed some new player as well.”
Rufo admitted that although West Wallsend had lost their last two matches, that his side was expecting an extremely tough match and need to continue gaining results.
“Westy are a strong outfit, so we’re going to have to be at our best to compete with them.
“Obviously we had the bye, so it gave us an opportunity to freshen up and get ready.”
Toronto Awaba Stags FC (10th) vs. Cooks Hill United (1st)
Saturday 26th May, 2:30 pm, Lyall Peacock Field
This match between the Cookers and the Stags is a match between two sides on polar opposites of the table – Cooks Hill has flourished once again and sits four points clear at the top, while Toronto has struggled and sits second-last.
Toronto though pepped themselves back up with a win against West Wallsend last weekend and with the fresh direction of new coach Blake Glennie, they may begin to be a tough thorn in the side of the top teams.
However, Cooks Hill looks renewed and refreshed with the return of their coach Graham Law and will be outright favourites to take out the title again if they can keep up this form for the remainder of the season.
Law admitted that his team were aware of the test the Stags will bring and that his team is ready for a Toronto side that will be extremely eager to cause an upset.
“Every game the boys play, we have to be up for it because it’s our oppositions’ Grand Final,” Law said.
“I’m not saying we’re some world-beaters, but in sport and football, it’s just you want to beat the champions from the previous year, and I’m pleased that my boys have understood that.”
An interesting story to watch will that of Glennie returning to coach against his former side, as well as coaching against a counterpart he’s had much experience with as both he and Law were coaches at Adamstown Rosebud only a few years ago.
However, Law believed that it wouldn’t be a story which would have much impact on the match.
“I think he [Glennie] will be far more focused on his own team than anything that we’re going are doing.
“On paper, it may look intriguing and have some story to it, but I don’t see it. I just see it as two coaches trying to do their best for their team.”
Thornton Redbacks FC (3rd) vs. South Cardiff FC (4th)
Saturday 26th May, 2:30 pm, Thornton Park
Thornton host South Cardiff in the only top four clash of the weekend and it promises to be a showdown where the points could go in any direction.
The hosts are coming off the back of a disappointing draw against New Lambton and will be looking to once again have their potent attack firing against a South Cardiff defence that has drastically improved from the beginning of the year and has only conceded three goals in their past five games.
If the Gunners are to win this match though, the responsibility may lie on their attacking weapon, Nathan McCallister – who comes against his former club for the first time – to continue his fantastic goal-scoring efforts as they too face a great defensive side – the best in the league in fact.
South Cardiff’s player-coach, Denis Fajkovic is confident that McCallister, and the other multiple ex-Thornton players in his side, will be raring for a big game despite the cold welcome they’ll most likely receive from the home fans.
“Macca [McCallister] will definitely be up for the game…all of the ex-Thornton boys will be up for it and be there to prove a point,” Fajkovic said.
“I don’t think it’ll be an easy day for us, but I think we’ll be up for it.”
Fajkovic also stated that although confidence is quite high amongst the club at the moment, that this weekend’s fixture will be one of their toughest of the season so far.
“We’re still very inconsistent but there’s a unity in the side that’s always there. Even when we haven’t been playing well, the boys all play for each other.
“They’re [Thornton] definitely a side that raised some eyebrows and we’re preparing for them…we’re taking them very seriously.
“In my opinion, they [Thornton] and Cooks Hill are the sides of this competition, so it’s a big test for us.”
Wallsend FC (7th) vs. New Lambton FC (11th)
Sunday 27th May, 2:30 pm, The Gardens
After starting the season six games undefeated, Wallsend has now lost their last three and have tumbled out of the top four and into seventh.
New Lambton on the other hand, sit on the bottom of the table once again. However, since the induction of new coach Jim Foley, the Eagles have started to show some signs of the potential that their young team acquires, having only lost once in their past five games.
For New Lambton to win though, they’ll need to shut down Wallsend’s threatening attack, just as their last few oppositions have done.
In the first six weeks of the competition, Wallsend was averaging just under three goals a game, but in their past three losses, have averaged less than one goal.
When these two teams faced off last season, both sides collected a home victory so look for this game to yet again be another close one.
Singleton Strikers (2nd) have the bye.