If you can’t make it to Jack McLaughlin Oval at Edgeworth to watch Belmont Swansea United FC and Wallsend Football Club battle it out for the NEWFM First Division Grand Final, catch it LIVE on BarTV Sports from 3pm!
Belmont Swansea United FC v Wallsend FC
Sunday, August 28, 3pm
Jack McLaughlan Oval
Head-to-head 2016: Round 11: Belmont Swansea 3-0 (Wallsend won 3-1 before points deducted), Round 22: Belmont Swansea 2-1.
2016 record: Belmont Swansea: 2nd (44 points; 14 wins, 2 draws, 4 losses, 48 goal for, 23 goals against).
Won semi-final 2-1 on aggregate (1-1 and 1-0) over Kahibah.
Wallsend: 4th (37 points; 12 wins, 1 draw, 7 losses, 38 goals for, 30 goals against).
Won semi-final 2-1 on aggregate (1-1 and 1-0) over Lake Macquarie.
A team built on experience who have overcome major setbacks to chase back-to-back major premierships.
The other, a side who have used a new-look defence to earn a shot at a first Grand Final win in 30 years.
It’s a mouth-watering NEWFM First Division Grand Final clash between Wallsend and Belmont Swansea at Jack McLaughlan Oval on Sunday.
Both teams have made the decider after 1-1 and 1-0 wins in the two-leg semi-finals; fourth-placed Wallsend knocking out runaway premiers Lake Macquarie and second-placed Belswans edging out Kahibah.
Both built their success on strong defence and both have tasted victory against each other, despite the ledger officially standing at 2-0 to Belswans.
Wallsend defeated Belswans 3-1 in round 11 but the Red Devils were later docked the points for fielding a player that was meant to be serving a suspension for yellow card accumulation. It was one of two victories Wallsend had taken away in a roller-coaster season, which featured the midseason departure of coach Josh Rufo, who ironically will take over at Belswans next year.
Wallsend turned to veteran striker Dave Hodgson to take on the coaching role, and he and the Red Devils have delivered on and off the pitch.
The 38-year-old scored in both semi-finals, including a stunning bicycle kick goal in week one, and has remained supremely confident in his team’s ability to again claim the trophy.
“It’s been up and down,” Hodgson said.
“You lose your coach, then you play on from there, then you lose six points and your goals, then you pick yourself up from that.
“But with the team we had, I was always confident.
“At the start of the year the goal was to win the premiership and the Grand Final and I was going to be disappointed with anything less, but you get to halfway and you realise the premiership is gone, then you’ve just got to focus on the Grand Final, and that’s what we did.
“The boys are up for it, and again I’m confident in the Grand Final.
“I think we’ve got the side, the experience and the ability to beat any side. I won’t be going into the grand final with any concerns.”
As well as the departure of their coach, Wallsend lost defenders Daniel Rufo and Cameron Hughes and attacker Gocha Abshilava in the mid-season upheaval but Hodgson has been impressed with the players who have filled the void.
“Danny Rufo and Cam Hughes, they are players who would make most teams in the division above, so it put our defensive structure into disarray for a few weeks,” Hodgson said.
“But a couple of guys from the 23s have stepped up well.
“Trent Richards, he played last weekend and every time we’ve called on him, he’s done a good job.
“Cameron Tapp has played every game since then and has done well for us.”
Tapp, though, will not be in the Grand Final after picking up a second yellow card late in the 1-0 semi-final win over Lake Macquarie last week.
“He’s been great for us ever since he came up from 23s,” Hodgson said.
“It’s super disappointing for him and he’ll be missed.
“His work rate in the middle of the park, his tracking back and his ball-winning and tackling, we’ll have to replace him.
“In saying that, we have got some good depth but it’s really disappointing for Tappy.”
Hodgson was undecided on who would replace Tapp.
Belswans have no such problems heading into the decider.
Coach Brad Paul said his side had come through the semi-finals unscathed.
Utility Hayden Hemson, who was out with work commitments last week, returns to bolster the Belswans bench for what is the club’s biggest day in three decades.
“The last time I can remember being in the Grand Final was when they won the state league grand final in 1986,” said Paul, who is also club secretary. He returned as a coach with assistant Mick Stafford after the departure of Graham Jones in pre-season.
“I think it’s been 30 years since we’ve won one and I’m pretty sure that’s how long since we’ve been in one, so it will be massive for the club.
“The boys have just had a brilliant season and they’ve worked so hard. Staf and I couldn’t be prouder of them.”
Belswans finished sixth last year, two points outside the finals and Paul said the addition of players like goalkeeper Nick Popel and Fletcher Price, and the influence of Stafford, had helped them make the jump to title contenders.
“We only just missed out on the semi-finals last year,” Paul said.
“It was just a penalty decision in the last couple of minutes, and three games where we drew after we were leading, but we went all right last year.
“The big thing this year was getting Nick Popel in goals. He was at Lambton Jaffas but I think he played out on the field with his mates in all age last year, but he’s come in and been really good.
“Fletcher Price has come in from the midfield at South Cardiff and into our back four and been really good. Corey Wilson came over after a few games from Valentine and he’s been really good as well.
“But I think another big one as been Ben Cox. He’s been unsung but he’s come through our grades and been here since 17. He was just playing in midfield in reserve grade last year, but Staf and I got him in the pre-season at right-side defence then the centre, and he’s just got better every game.
“And Mick Stafford, as a first-year coach, he’s been unbelievable for us. I think he and Nick Popel have been the difference in how well we’ve gone. Staf is always motivating the guys and he’s put on really intense sessions, and the boys have really appreciated it all year.”
Paul said his only problem in the Grand Final week was making selections, given he had a full-strength squad to choose from.
Belswans have built a reputation as a dangerous counter-attacking side, with the likes of Jamie Hadlow, who scored in both semi-finals, Josh Hall and Josh Sutton showing the way.
However, Paul said it was his team’s ever-improving defence, which had the best record in the league of just 23 goals conceded, that had been crucial to their success.
Wallsend, formed in 1887 and the oldest surviving club in Northern NSW, have strong State League experience in the likes of Hodgson, Paul Wheeler, Chris Gazzard, and Mitchell Cook.
They have progressed to another grand final, after beating Valentine last year, using their experience to maintain possession and control the tempo of games.
Hodgson was confident they would win again if they produced their best football.
Under 23s (1pm): Lake Macquarie City FC v South Cardiff FC
Under 19s (11am): Belmont Swansea United FC v West Wallsend SFC
Under 17s (9am): Lake Macquarie City FC v West Wallsend SFC