Match of the Round
South Wallsend (4th) vs Merewether United (3rd)
Sunday 11 August, 2.30pm, Walker Fields
The fight for third is set to come down to the wire at Walker Fields this weekend as South Wallsend hosts Merewether in the final round of the Herald Women’s Premier League season.
There has been little to separate the two top-four sides in 2019. United hold the advantage in the race leading into the closing weekend with 13 wins and a single draw to their name, while the Wolves trail by two off the back of an extra draw.
For a season that has seen both clubs struck with injury crises at times, the fact they’re duelling for the third-seed heading into the postseason may be a major relief for both Llamas boss Cass Koppen, and South Wallsend coach Cas Wright.
For Wright, navigating injuries that are rife through her roster isn’t over just yet, however. Mid-season recruit Katie Olivieri and Wolves staple Kalitsa Hunter are both still facing fitness battles to be ready for the finals.
The Wolves have also been whacked with two absences for the final round that could stifle their goalscoring form. Ash Brodigan, who has netted 29 for the club this year, and Maryjane Mason, who trails Brodigan on 11, are both in doubt for Sunday’s meeting.
“We’ve got some fitness testing that we still have to do for Kalista, Katie, and Maryjane. We’re not 100 per cent sure on those three for this weekend yet, but if they don’t play against Merewether then we’ll have them back for the finals,” Wright said. “Ash is also out.”
Considering Mason and Brodigan have combined for 40 of the team’s 66 goals this season, Wright’s eyes will turn to where she can find other goalscoring opportunities. Gemma Harrison (seven in 18) and Gab Brodie (five in 18) sit in third and fourth for scorers.
Wright’s main focus outside of managing the injuries, however, is just to prepare for the finals. If the team can score a win against Merewether, all the better, but the Wolves boss says her side is ready for either of the two teams lying in wait in the playoffs.
“We do have a preferred opponent of course, that suits our type of gameplay better, but that stage we don’t mind who play in the semi-finals, we just want to get there injury-free,” she said.
“Our last game against New Lambton was significant, it showed us some of our deficiencies and we know that they’re definitely fixable. We’ve had a look at those, and we’re going out to win this weekend. No matter what happens though, we’re ready for the finals.”
New Lambton (1st) vs Thornton Redbacks (7th)
Sunday 11 August, 2.30pm, Alder Park
Thornton Redbacks travel to Alder Park this weekend with one aim in mind: stay off the bottom of the Women’s Premier League table.
The Redbacks have been locked in a battle with Football Mid North Coast for most of the back end of the season, as each struggled to find an advantage in points to wrench themselves away from the wooden spoon.
So far, Thornton holds the advantage over Mid North Coast via goal difference, with a four-goal gap in that regard. Both have chalked up two wins and a draw through their season, and now it’s a case of holding on for the Redbacks.
If the league leaders have anything to say about it, however, Thornton could be in for a major tussle. Eagles coach Keelan Hamilton doesn’t want to see his squad take their foot off the accelerator as they barrel towards finals, and the Redbacks are the last squad in their path.
“We’re feeling really good ahead of finals, the squad’s in a relaxed state and last week had a great performance that helped us bounce back which was good to see,” he said.
“The team is working on a few small things that might help us in the coming weeks, but first off we have to do a job against Thornton with a good performance and a strong result to close out the season. We don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves.”
While Hamilton still has his eyes locked on the Redbacks battle this Sunday afternoon, strategies and plans he’s been formulating for the team will “hopefully” come to a peak as they welcome the seventh-placed team.
“First and foremost the fixture is about Thornton, and we know they’re going to be tough with where they are on the ladder, but once we’ve got past them we can truly begin to focus on semi-finals. This will be the game where we refine what we’ve learned in recent weeks,”
Warners Bay (2nd) vs Football Mid North Coast (8th)
Sunday 11 August, 2.30pm, John Street Oval
The third match of the round, hosted at John Street Oval, sees a similar situation between two teams on opposite ends of the table. Warners Bay are bracing themselves for a massive semi-final battle next weekend, while Mid North Coast are fighting to avoid the spoon.
The Middies have had a rough run in recent weeks. A 3-3 draw with Adamstown in late July stopped their overall loss-streak, but the last time the team scored a win was in April as they strung together two critical victories.
In the final week, the squad will be looking to “finish the season on a high” with a positive result, but Mick Grass knows Sunday’s fixture will be just as much about “doing well for the future” as much as looking to earn points.
“We’ll go out there and give it our best this weekend, we want to try and salvage something out of this season if we can, and hopefully we can get a positive result,” he said.
“After the game, we have the chance to look back on the season as a whole and figure out what needs to improve, how we developed players along the way, and see if we’re doing well for future seasons. Right now though we’re focused on getting the points, we want a result.”
Panthers coach Craig Atkins has got one eye fixed on the future too, though just a short way ahead. With a major semi-final on their hands next weekend, the Warners Bay boss knows they have to be firing on all cylinders if they want to start off the finals strong.
First, however, they have to navigate what may be one of their trickiest games of the year.
“Mid North Coast are going to come out fighting, they’re in a tight battle with Thornton at the bottom of the table and play a very physical brand of football, so we’ve made sure we’re ready for that,” he said.
“We’ve had two good wins over semi-finalists in the last few weeks, so we want to keep moving with that momentum and lifting our game for the finals in the next few weeks. I think we’re ready, and we just have to prove that this weekend.”
Atkins also confirmed the squad would be without Sophie Stapleford, Nadja Squires, and Shannon Day for Sunday’s closing round: “We’re managing them. Sophie and Nadja will be back for semis, and Shannon has a niggling injury we’re working around. They’ll be back.”
Wallsend (5th) vs Adamstown Rosebud (6th)
Sunday 11 August, 2.30pm, The Gardens
Wallsend and Adamstown may already have locked their final standings in the Premier League for the year, but one final hurdle approaches on Sunday for the top mid-table clubs – a full day of fixtures to decide the Friendship Cup.
The Buds currently hold the silverware after three straight years of outpacing Wallsend in the intra-club rivalry. This time around, however, the Red Devils have taken an early lead in the first two gamedays, and are looking to clinch their second trophy for the year.
“The whole club is focused on making sure we win the Friendship Cup for the first time, we want to close out the season on the right foot and get three points,” Wallsend coach Brad Jones said of his team’s final fixture.
Wallsend holds advantage in the season-long competition, and Jones knows it’s a perfect opportunity to clinch the double. With the TAFE NSW Women’s State Cup already locked away in their cabinet, and a massive lift in the WPL, this weekend could be the icing on the cake.
“We hold a nice lead going into the final round so we want to make sure we deliver on that and lift the cup,” he said.
“Between that, and the fact that last season in the league we finished with nine points, and this time around we could be just a few points off a finals position, we want to make sure we finish on that high. It’s been a massive year of results for the girls.”
While Wallsend has already bagged competitive hardware for the year, Paul Devitis knows a recovery from the first-grade side in the third round of the Friendship Cup could net Adamstown their fourth consecutive trophy and polish off a decent season.
With Devitis and his backroom staff heading out the door at the end of the season, it would be a fantastic high note to finish on after his tenure at the club.
“It basically comes down to if we can win our game then there’s a high chance we win the Friendship Cup for the whole club,” he explained.
“We’ve won the last few years so we, of course, want to keep it. We’ll be relying on some fantastic juniors to get the job done for us on Sunday, with a few players like Sam Kelly already having played their last games for the club.
“That’s fine by me because it shows how good the players that have been coming through the ranks have been, and they’ve already had some experience throughout the season already. It should be a great final day of the season.”