Match of the Round
Belmont Swansea United v Cooks Hills United
Blacksmiths Oval, Sunday 2.30pm
Belmont Swansea United coach Mick Stafford is hopeful a morale-boosting weekend off will have his side prepared for their important clash with Cooks Hill United on Sunday.
BelSwans welcome the 2019 premiers to Blacksmiths Oval knowing they must win if they are to keep the pressure on Singleton and New Lambton in the chase for the premiership over the final four rounds of the regular season.
Belmont Swansea were handed last weekend off with the round 11 bye. But while they slipped from first to third while out of action, a night off training and the Father’s Day weekend to spend time with their young families has Stafford and his players in a positive frame of mind.
“Credit to the boys. We didn’t play well [against Wallsend in our last game] but they just knew how to get the three points no matter what,” Stafford said.
“That sort of allowed us to give them a night off training and to enjoy Father’s Day with their kids. We’ve got six or seven guys who have young families so they were able to have a nice week off and time away with their family before we get back into it with Cooks Hill at home.
“It’s a deserved break. I think we’ve got about 14 kids across our club so with the timing with Father’s Day it was a nice sneaky week off. We should be ready to go again.”
Cooks Hill, who Belmont Swansea defeated in last season’s grand final, will come into the game with plenty of confidence having turned their season around.
While Doug West’s side struggled for consistency earlier in the campaign, Cooks Hill finally climbed into the top five with a 3-0 victory over Cessnock City in their rescheduled round eight clash on Wednesday night.
The result leaves Cooks Hill in fifth place and with their destiny in their own hands. If they are good enough over the final four rounds, the reigning premiers will play in the finals.
Though things only get tougher for Cooks Hill, with Stafford adamant BelSwans had not given up on the premiership just yet.
“The goal from the boys at the start of the year was to win the premiership in first grade and reserve grade,” Stafford said.
“We know we can still improve if we apply ourselves a bit better. It’s definitely still up for grabs.
“It’s a great comp this year. There’s a few sides that can still sneak the premiership.
“Sides like New Lambton, Singleton and Cessnock have been building over the last few years and are finally clicking into gear. They’ve got good young players and it makes for a better comp. I think everyone is improving and it’s good to see sides like Singleton, New Lambton, Toronto [Awaba] doing well. It’s a credit to those clubs.”
Singleton v Cessnock City
Howe Park, Saturday 2.30pm
Singleton coach Brendan Slade knows how different this season could have been.
Earlier in the year, two of his most influential players were locked in to travel to Europe to attend the EURO2020 tournament.
But with the European Championships postponed and overseas travel suspended thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, their plans changed.
Instead, the availability of Joseph Civello and captain Hayden Nicol has helped Slade guide Singleton to the top of the table with four rounds remaining, with the Strikers likely to play finals football for the first time in 28 years.
“It could have been totally different,” Slade said.
“We were going to lose both of them but they had to change their plans. So from a team perspective that was fantastic for us.
“It was all locked in. They’d given me dates, they were booked in. They were going to miss about eight weeks of football. But I’m glad we’ve had them available because it’s helped us massively.”
Singleton host Cessnock City at Howe Park on Saturday knowing another win will see them take another giant step towards what would have been considered a hugely unlikely premiership at the start of the season.
And Slade, who coached Cessnock in 2018, believes his knowledge of the Hornets will give Singleton an advantage.
“It’s a big game for me. I basically rebuilt that side when I was there. Greg Anderson, Brad York, Tommy Stewart, Isaac Peek, Blake Roy, I’d say nearly 75 per cent of that first grade team I brought along.
“I know that Cessnock are going to be so pumped for this game to get one over me. I get along well with them but I know they won’t give me an easy game.
“Greg is a great captain on and off the pitch. We really need to be on our game. I watched them when they beat BelSwans. Willie Whitelaw at the back is one that really stands out for me.
“[But] what we’ve been doing has been working. We don’t need to change anything at all. Just keep ticking along and enjoying our footy.
“At the moment guys are rocking up to training with smiles on their faces and putting in the effort. They’re a really good bunch so as a coach you really can’t complain.
Kahibah v West Wallsend
Kahibah Oval, Saturday 2.30pm
Kahibah and West Wallsend will put their finals hopes on the line when they meet at Kahibah Oval on Saturday.
The Rams and the Bluebells have slipped outside the top five as the competition enters its final four weeks.
Kahibah are sixth, level on points with fifth-placed Cooks Hill United but behind on goal difference. While West Wallsend are a further point behind in eighth.
The Bluebells battled hard in their 4-2 defeat to New Lambton last weekend but will be desperate to bounce back to keep their finals hopes alive.
Kahibah maintained their finals challenge with a 1-0 win over Cessnock City thanks to Rhys Tippett’s volley, with the result dragging the Hornets back to the chasing pack.
New Lambton v Toronto Awaba
Alder Park, Saturday 3pm
It appeared Toronto Awaba’s season was slowly winding down a month ago.
But four wins in a row have not only catapulted the Stags into the finals places, but into genuine premiership contenders.
Toronto Awaba travel to Alder Park on Saturday knowing a win would take them above New Lambton and, if other results fall their way, the Stags could even finish the weekend on top of the table.
Steve Piggott’s side ground out an important 1-0 win over South Cardiff last weekend to keep their impressive run going.
But they will face a much tougher challenge against New Lambton, with the second-placed Eagles getting their season back on track with a see-sawing 4-2 win over West Wallsend last weekend.
South Cardiff v Wallsend
Ulinga Oval, Sunday 3.20pm
Pride will be on the line when South Cardiff and Wallsend meet for the Gallagher Shield at Ulinga Oval on Sunday.
South Cardiff saw their finals hopes all but ended with a 1-0 defeat to Toronto Awaba last time out, while Wallsend were beaten 3-1 by Cooks Hill United on Sunday to keep them rooted to the foot of the table.
But the Red Devils will sense an opportunity this weekend. With Thornton out of action with the round 12 bye, a win for Wallsend would see them climb to within a point of the Redbacks heading into the final three rounds. If Wallsend are to avoid a last-placed finish, a win over the Gunners is almost a necessity.
Thornton have the bye.