Match of the Round
New Lambton (1st) vs Merewether (5th)
Sunday 28 April, 2.30pm, Alder Park
After winning seven straight to begin the Herald Women’s Premier League (WPL) season, Keelan Hamilton and his New Lambton outfit could be forgiven for taking a moment to celebrate.
The Eagles boss is of a different mindset, however. For Hamilton, the road only gets harder as the fixtures keep coming, and their home clash with defending champions Merewether is proof of that.
“When you face Merewether, they never give you an inch,” Hamilton said ahead of the heavyweight matchup at Alder Park on Sunday.
“You have to earn everything you get against them, and we’re expecting them to fire up.
“Last week wasn’t a great result for them, but there were factors about why that result happened, and they’re a resilient side.
“We need to be in a position to fight hard this weekend, and be resilient to match them in those moments too.”
New Lambton has become, for many, the ‘team to beat’ in 2019 after the side collected the maximum 21 out of 21 points in their first seven weeks. Hamilton knows where they now stand heading into the second round robin, and believes taking it “game by game” is the best approach.
“Our intention is to perform to the best of our ability, and if we can do that and do the best we can do, we will get the results we deserve from that,” the Eagles boss said.
“We’re always looking to win the game, but there are lots of factors that come together to effect that, and we’re focusing on those at the moment.”
After a monumental 4-2 battle to start the season between New Lambton and the 2018 champions, it’s clear Merewether is going to be a major challenge for the title hopefuls.
United have had a difficult run in the first round of the year, winning four of their seven outings under a cloud of injuries and absences. Merewether’s champion coach Cass Koppen has called on junior reinforcements, with the outs-list reaching boiling point last weekend.
A “tough start to the season” may mould the champions into a fighting force come the tail end of the season, however. Koppen certainly believes so and thinks the difficulties the team has faced has only proved how strong they can be.
“This tough run will play into our hands come the end of the year when needing more results,” she said.
“The girls have gone through a lot of adversity and are staying really positive despite that. It’s been remarkable how we’ve done considering the absence list we’ve had.”
The absence list still exists for the club, but smaller than it has been in weeks – Katie Gray (suspended) is the only confirmed out, while Jaime Ellis and Sarah Hartree are both “to be determined” as their recent injuries are monitored ahead of the match.
The light at the end of the tunnel is now emerging for the however Llamas, as key figures begin to return. Rhali Dobson is a major return for the team after missing the match against South Wallsend. Tayla Braithwaite, who has settled into the club after re-signing with Merewether early on in the season, is another central star for the squad.
“New Lambton is the benchmark team this season, but last time we played them we didn’t have Tayla and she brings a lot of presence and intensity for us,” Koppen said.
“She’s going to be a big difference. New Lambton doesn’t have too many weaknesses across the park, so we’ll be adapting to their transition from defence to attack.
“I think if we shut that down and just play our own game then we can start round two with a positive.”
South Wallsend (3rd) vs Football Mid North Coast (6th)
Sunday 28 April, 2.30pm, John Street Oval
Football Mid North Coast (FMNC) has been on the ascendancy in recent weeks, collecting two wins from four in the past month to move into sixth place in the Herald WPL.
Part of their success has come from their rigid defensive structures, with coach Mick Grass focusing on the “from-the-back formations” so the team can “stay in games” for long periods of time.
Perhaps their biggest challenge of the season so far will come this weekend at John Street Oval, when they travel to take on South Wallsend side dripping with confidence after downing the defending champions 9-nil.
The Wolves recorded one of the biggest victories of the season when they came within touching distance of a double-digit haul against an injured Merewether outfit. With South Wallsend operating under a new gameplan from Cas Wright, they’ve turned on the attack and began to clock up goals.
In particular, the return of Matildas star Gema Simon, who came off the bench last weekend, has bolstered the side. Ashlee Brodigan and Maryjane Mason have both stood up as dangerous forwards too, collecting nearly ten goals between them in the first seven weeks.
“We’ve spoken about what our focus will be in this big game, and most of it will be concentration on our own team, and our own plan,” Grass said before the journey south.
“The team is looking at what we can do to try and match South Wallsend in our own way.
“With all these top teams – and there’s four or five of them at the moment that are real title contenders – we understand our main problem has been conceding goals against all of them.
“If we can minimise those goals conceded, and not let them in in blocks as we have been, then we can stay in the game and give ourselves an opportunity to take our chances and potentially get a result.
“We are aiming to just improve our results from the first round, and from that points will come.”
Adamstown Rosebud (7th) vs Warners Bay (2nd)
Sunday 28 April, 2.30 pm, Adamstown No.1 Oval
Adamstown welcome Warners Bay to Adamstown No.1 Oval in the third game of the eighth round. With the Rosebuds looking to keep distance from the bottom of the table, and Warners Bay looking to make up lost ground, it’s set to be tight battle come Sunday afternoon.
While the game on paper sees the seventh-placed side come up against second, Buds coach Paul Devitis feels like it’s a fixture where form goes flying out the window. Many of the girls on both sides of the park are good friends of it, Devitis revealed, which adds that “little bit extra” when it comes to wanting to score a result.
“My girls enjoy playing Warners Bay a lot, they’re a team we’re not scared to play because there are friends on either side, so it adds that excitement instead,” he said.
“We’re feeling good right now too, we understand it’s going to be a very tough battle because Warners Bay have a great squad, and some fantastic players, but we’re excited to bounce back after last week.”
After the 6-1 defeat at the hands of Wallsend last week, Adamstown’s coach said he took “a lot” away from the loss. For the team’s mentor, the five-goal defeat didn’t represent how much the side had grown over the first seven weeks.
“For us now it’s just about minimising our mistakes, and avoiding what Warners Bay is good at – rapid-fire goals, where they score a few in a row and put the game away in those few minutes,” he said.
“The team absolutely has to make sure that if we do concede, we don’t let them in again quickly. If we can do that, we can stay in the game, and we’ve shown that if we can do that we can come pretty close to getting a result.
“It just comes down to those ten-minute stints where we’ve lost games. In a ninety minute game, we have to challenge everything, and if we can do that we can have a much better second round.”
Thornton Redbacks (8th) vs Wallsend (4th)
Sunday 28 April, 2.30pm, Thornton Park
The last game of the weekend sees Thornton host Wallsend in their second meeting of the 2019 Herald WPL season. After pushing the league leaders New Lambton to their limits last weekend, the Redbacks are “buoyed” heading into the second round.
Despite that, Thornton has been dealt a cruel blow just a week after the inspiring result. Multiple absences in their key defensive structure have left coach Alan Primmer making changes ahead of the weekend, and knowing he maybe “starting from scratch” with a few of the combinations.
Kirstie Power-Walford, Anais Moore, and Allysa Hall have all been confirmed out for the fixture this Sunday, with Primmer confirming Redbacks juniors would be stepping up to fill the gap.
“There were a lot of positives from last game, but we’re down a lot this weekend so it makes it hard to capitalise on what we achieved,” he said.
“Our defence is going to look a little different in the game, so we’ll be looking to just keep the same structures because of the new faces that we have coming in.”
Primmer is prepared for a battle at Thornton Park and is fully expecting Wallsend to click back into their attacking football on Sunday afternoon.
“Wallsend is going to throw a fair bit at us, we did reasonably well against them the first time we played, but they got a few chances and put them away,” he said.
“We stopped focusing for about five minutes and they put four past us in round one, so that will be where we’re looking to improve this time around.”
Brad Jones is also looking to get his team back to “what they do best” after the Wallsend coach admitted they had strayed away from that plan in the last few games.
“To be fair to Mid North Coast and Adamstown, it was to their credit that they disrupted our flow of plans, but we want to get back to that this time around, and we’re focusing on how we can maintain composure no matter what the other team wants to do,” Jones said.
“We want to stay on brand, and that will get us results.”
Jones is wary of the last placed team when his Red Devils side faces them this weekend, however. With a 0-6 record after the first round, and with the result from last week propping them up, he knows the Redbacks could sting any team in the middle of the season.
“They’ve taken on the competition leaders and almost pulled points, so their belief is going to be sky-high,” he said.
“There’s no reason if they can do that to the leaders that they can’t do that to any other team.
“We have to ensure we’re prepared and ready to go because it was said last week – and I agree with it completely – that any of the three lower teams have the possibility to be ‘queenmakers’.
“This is game one of the second round, and we need to make sure that Thornton are not coming out of the blocks and making an example of that possibility with us.”