Match of the Round
Merewether United (3rd) vs Warners Bay (2nd)
Sunday 18 August, 2pm, Myamblah Oval
After 21 rounds of the Herald Women’s Premier League, the two-legged semi-finals are finally here. Merewether and Warners Bay are set to open the postseason at Myamblah Oval early on Sunday afternoon.
The travelling Panthers hold the head-to-head record after the club’s three meetings this season, but it’s been close every step of the way. After Merewether claimed a 4-3 win in Round 6, Warners Bay edged the defending champions 3-2 in their next two fixtures.
According to Panthers coach Craig Atkins, the one-goal come from behind victory in the first week of August will prove most critical in the match-up. After United climbed to an early lead, Warners Bay were able to “hold firm” and regather the lead, and second place.
“Having played Merewether not too long ago, and being down a goal before being able to work our way back into that one, that gives us a strong mentality this time around,” Atkins said of the teams’ fourth meeting.
“The girls will be confident knowing that they had it in them to get the job done just a few weeks ago, and I have every belief in them to repeat that performance when it comes to Sunday afternoon as well.”
While the two-legged format of the finals gives both the Panthers and the Llamas a second chance to find their feet if they struggle in the first fixture, Atkins believes whichever team gets their nose in front at Myamblah will have a “major mental boost” for the battle.
“This has to be a massive team effort, everyone has to do their own individual jobs and then bring that together for the result,” he said.
“If we do that, everyone clicks, and that’s when we’re at our most dangerous. We have to be at our best to get that first-leg win, because it gives such a mental edge. It’s super important, and we’re working towards that. It’s all coming together, and we’re looking forward to it.”
Merewether come into the fixture on a one-game win streak, after a 4-1 victory over South Wallsend to end the season. Warners Bay have not lost a game since May, when they fell to league leaders New Lambton at Alder Park.
South Wallsend (4th) vs New Lambton (1st)
Sunday 18 August, 6pm, Lake Macquarie Regional Football Facility
South Wallsend are ready for their first-leg duel against premiers New Lambton, as their player stock swells ahead of the finals.
The Wolves have been left shorthanded for much of the season through injury, absences, and representative duties. Now they have nearly all players available for their relocated fixture at the Lake Macquarie Regional Football Facility.
While mid-season signing Katie Olivieri has been ruled out for the first leg, Kalista Hunter, Ash Brodigan, and Gabrielle Brodie are all set to return against the Eagles. It’s a boost Wolves coach Cas Wright believes will make them a “different team” on Sunday.
“We’re going to have a different lineup to when we played New Lambton recently in the 20th round, and maybe different again after the Merewether game last week,” Wright said.
“We chose to play that lineup against Merewether due to injury. While it was a loss, we felt our gameplay had improved again. Where we landed against United, the scoreboard didn’t really show that, but it showed a lot of positives that we’re taking into the finals.”
With New Lambton shaping as the favourites in the finals after just a single loss all season, Wright knows all eyes will be on their two-legged meeting. She has all confidence, however, that her squad are ready for the challenge.
“Our focus has been on preparing for New Lambton, and we knew we needed to adapt,” she said. “Apart from the last game against them, we have definitely been competitive against them and we’re not taking the last game we had into consideration at all.
“The game wasn’t any indication of the level that we can, and have played at. We’re looking to get back to that level this weekend, and give them a run for their money.”
While New Lambton finished nine points clear atop the Herald WPL standings, and 18 points clear of the Wolves, premiership-winning coach Keelan Hamilton said they may have the run of the green when it comes to squad quality in the finals.
“I wouldn’t read too much into where South Wallsend finished on the ladder, in my opinion they have the strongest roster in the league,” he said. “They’ve had a few problems with injury recently, but even when we played them last time out they had a strong lineup.
“We’re expecting it to be a pretty tricky fixture with all their strongest players out on the park. This game has been on our minds for a while now, and we’re just looking forward to getting into the fixture. The girls are relaxed and ready.”