West Wallsend Bluebells FC v Belmont Swansea United FC
Sunday 2nd September, 2:30 pm
Jack McLaughlan Oval
HEAD TO HEAD: Belswans 2-1 West Wallsend – Round 11; West Wallsend 3-1 Belswans – Round 22
WHERE THEY FINISHED: West Wallsend 3rd (34 points); Belswans 4th (33 points)
ROAD TO GRAND FINAL: West Wallsend def. Thornton Redbacks 3-2 on aggregate, Belswans def. Cooks Hill 4-1 on aggregate
At the half-way point of the season, there wouldn’t have been many that would have predicted either Belswans or West Wallsend to feature in this year’s Grand Final, let alone both of them.
Both sat in amongst the middle of the table and looked to struggle for consistency in the early parts of the year, but after hitting a purple patch of form in the back-end, they’ve spectacularly flown into the 2018 Grand Final beating the top two opponents along the way in the semi-finals.
For Belswans, they managed to complete the unthinkable after defeating Premiers and defending champions Cooks Hill in the semi-finals, progressing to their third consecutive Grand Final appearance.
After going down in the championship clash in 2016 and 2017 though, the Blacksmiths’ faithful will be hoping it’s third time lucky and they can win a Grand Final for the first time since 1986 when they beat West Wallsend for the State League title.
The club underwent a 13-game undefeated streak that sent them from finals pretenders to title contenders, but their run came to screeching halt at the hands of West Wallsend in the final round of the regular season.
The Bluebells will be looking to once again display that same quality of performance that they showed that day, as well as the grit they demonstrated to defeat second-placed Thornton in the semi-finals, in order to win what will be their first Grand Final match since 2007.
While their opponents have incredibly only lost one in 15 matches, West Wallsend has also gathered their fair share of form as well as they’ve only been beaten once in their past eight.
While both these clubs have experienced similar runs throughout the season, their strengths and weaknesses have been rather different.
Belswans’ offence has often struggled during the year, however, their defence has been rock solid – the best in the competition – and will prove a tough challenge for the Bluebells to overcome.
The attack of West Wallsend has been their greatest asset though as they’ve managed to score twelve more goals than Belswans over the course of the season including 26 from their past eight outings – an average of over three a game – but at times this year, their defence has been disappointing.
In their previous meetings this season, both of the teams have won a game each when playing at home. With this Grand Final being held at the neutral venue of Edgeworth, the result of this one is anybody’s guess.
Belswans and West Wallsend are two clubs with great history and sense of community and collecting the champions trophy will be an achievement that many fans will have waited some time for.
Players to Watch:
Commanding defensive midfielder and captain Jarrod Olivieri has once again been a standout for West Wallsend this year and his presence and physicality will be a major threat for Belswans’ attack and defence. Olivieri has shown strength whether he’s defending his goals or scoring them, and his tremendous leadership qualities have been felt right across the park.
Further up the field, Tye Jones has proven himself to be a handful for defenders and has highlighted his ability to score and assist crucial goals when his team needs them. Jones has been the leading goal-scorer for West Wallsend this season despite only playing just over half the matches and will certainly be a man Belswans will be paying extreme attention to in the Grand Final.
New, mid-season addition to the squad Josh Sutton has been a man that has terrorised opposition defences since his return to the league and will need to be shut down by West Wallsend if they want a chance of winning. Sutton didn’t play in their recent loss to the Bluebells, so it will be the first time that his opponents have faced him.
A player that often combines well with Sutton down the left-flank, is that of club stalwart Corey Wilson who has proven to be one of the toughest defenders in the competition. His ability to both scurry back in defence and get forward in attack has proven to be a crucial cog in this year’s revitalisation of Belswans.
What the Coaches said:
West Wallsend coach Gary Rowe said qualifying for the Grand Final is an achievement that is a credit to the whole of the club and that despite not being considered a heavyweight at the beginning of the season, the club was always confident they could make it.
“Five years ago, we were on the verge of collapsed and now we’re in the Grand Final in just four seasons,” Rowe said.
“It means the world to the greater Westy football community. It’s a proud club that’s fallen on some hard times so it’s nice that we’ve been able to battle away to at least put us in with a chance of doing something now.
“For me, the boys have shown a lot of loyalty and faith in me to come and play for free for all of these years.
“It’s a real credit to the boys that they’ve stuck together…but we’ve of course got a little bit to go.
“We’re not surprised that we got to the semis. But we always said once our boys got a chance and got a sniff of the Grand Final, we always thought they could do it.”
Rowe admitted that Belswans pose an incredibly tough challenge but believed that despite being highly inexperienced compared to his opponents, he’s sure in his team’s abilities.
“Belswans are a good football side. They’ve got some old, wise heads that we don’t have, they’re tough and play good football,” Rowe confessed.
“They’ve got some players who have done a lot of great things over the years and they’re going to be a big challenge.
“The difficulty is that we don’t know what starting eleven they’re going to roll out. If Josh could go and tell me what team he’s going to play, I could say exactly how we’re going to play. He’s got so many options up his sleeve, so it makes it hard for us to know how they’ll play.
“We’ve just got to worry about ourselves. As long as we’re disciplined when we don’t have the football, then I’m always confident we can score a goal.
“I think my boys will going to be full of nervous energy this week.
“They are where they are because of how they are collectively. But they’ll be buzzing around so we’ll just let them off the leash and whatever happens, happens.”
Belswans coach Josh Rufo echoed Rowe’s thoughts in believing that this game will be an extremely close encounter but admitted his side’s focus is fixed on their own game-plan.
“I’m expecting a really tough team and a good game,” Rufo said.
“I think both teams have deserved to be there. We both have worked very hard to get where we are.
“We’ve got a lot of respect for them [West Wallsend] as opponents, but ultimately we’re only interested in what we can control.
“They have very similar traits to us. They’re hard-working, physical, and they can play football. So, we need to match them in every area and every aspect in football – work harder, running harder and tackling harder.
Rufo’s time at Belswans will come to an end after this weekend, and although he stated it’d be amazing to finish off with a championship win, his main aim was to win it for the club.
“We set some very clear goals at the beginning of the season and we’re halfway there,” said Rufo.
“We’ve worked very hard over the course of the year. We’ve changed some systems of play, we’ve changed the principles of our play, we’ve brought some new faces in and changed it all up, and I think we ultimately deserve to be in the Grand Final.
“It would be nice to say I went there [Belswans] and did something and say that’s two clubs that I’ve won the Grand Final with.
“The club hasn’t won anything in a long time and for me personally, it’s always about the club and team.”
Key: There are many aspects and elements of this match and each team’s game that may have an impact on how it ultimately ends up, however, the efforts in the defence of both these two are looking to be crucial. Their forwards have proven all year that they know how to take the most of their chances, so whichever team can give that little bit harder extra in defence, may just give themselves the best chance of winning the championship.