Singleton Strikers v Kahibah FC
Howe Park, Saturday 2.30pm
Singleton will break a 16-year finals drought when they host Kahibah at Howe Park on Saturday.
The Strikers earned a home qualifying final having secured second place on the table with a 5-0 thrashing of Wallsend last weekend.
Singleton, who have not featured in the finals since 2004, have been arguably the biggest surprise of the season as Brendan Slade’s side went on a 10-match unbeaten run to hover around the summit for the duration of the regular season.
Singleton won the only meeting between the teams so far this season, a 2-1 victory at Howe Park in their round eight clash in August.
Joel Barner and Lachlan Nicol scored the goals that day to cancel out Jamie Hadlow’s effort, though Singleton will again need to keep veteran Kahibah striker Rhys Tippett quiet.
Tippett has been in outstanding form, scoring seven goals in 10 matches this season including five goals in his last five games.
Kahibah earned their place in the qualifying final after jumping from fifth place to third after the final round last weekend thanks to a 1-0 win over Cooks Hill United with Tippett scoring the only goal.
The winner between Singleton and Kahibah will meet premiers New Lambton in the major semi-final next weekend, with the winner to advance directly to the grand final.
The loser will face the winner of the elimination final between Belmont Swansea United and Cooks Hill United.
Belmont Swansea United v Cooks Hill United
Blacksmiths Oval, Sunday 2.30pm
Belmont Swansea United coach Mick Stafford believes a return to a physical approach will be required to overcome Cooks Hill United in the elimination final.
The 2019 grand finalists meet at Blacksmiths Oval on Sunday with one to have their 2020 campaign ended by their fierce rivals.
Cooks Hill won the previous three premierships before New Lambton’s triumph this season, while Belmont Swansea have won the last two grand finals and featured in the last four deciders in a row as the pair have dominated the NEWFM Northern League One competition.
BelSwans and Cooks Hill have enjoyed a strong, and at times brutal, rivalry in recent years. While Cooks Hill have been the more cultured side, BelSwans have had a more workmanlike approach, rolling up their sleeves and digging in, doing whatever it took to win.
BelSwans had gone away from their overly physical approach against Cooks Hill in recent times but Stafford said a return would be necessary on Sunday.
“It’s exciting. My boys are keen, they love playing the Cooks Hill boys,” Stafford said.
“To be fair they’ve beaten us with some decent football this year. So I think we need to change direction a bit and go back to what we know. Which was always to try and bash them up a bit.
“We’ve proven it’s worked in the past. The last few years we’ve done it and they don’t like it, whereas my boys lap it up. I think they’ll be excited if I take the reins off them.
“It’s an elimination game at home. We’ve got to come out and get in their face. It’s the old cliché, the best defence is attack. We need to get at them from the get go.
“[Being physical] has unsettled them in the past. If we don’t unsettle them they get a chance to play their football and they’re good at that. I respect that.
“We can play too but I think a few of our boys are quite physical and that has always been a strength of the club, a blue-collar club that works hard. I think it’s a start for us, a base to work from.”
Stafford said there was pressure on both sides to achieve something this season based on their recent history, especially having missed out on the premiership to New Lambton.
“But at the same time, you can’t forget we’ve got different squads now. It’s different circumstances with a changed comp this year too,” Stafford said.
“It has been a hard year on and off the field for everyone. The club have achieved a fair bit with our youth teams so anything else on top of that is a bonus.
“Definitely winning a third championship in a row would be a massive thing and something no one has done in this league for a while I don’t think.”
While Belmont Swansea enjoyed bragging rights having beaten Cooks Hill 3-2 in last year’s grand final, it is Cooks Hill who have had the better of their meetings this season.
Cooks Hill thrashed Belmont Swansea 4-0 when the sides met in their rescheduled round one clash in August, with Cooks Hill also scoring a 1-0 win in their round 12 clash last month.
Premiers New Lambton have the bye.