Match of the Round
Kahibah v Wallsend
Kahibah Oval, Saturday 2.30pm
Kahibah will look to consolidate their finals place when they host struggling Wallsend on Saturday.
The Rams climbed into the top five with an impressive 4-2 win over Toronto Awaba last weekend.
A win over the last-placed Red Devils at Kahibah Oval could even secure Kahibah’s finals place if Toronto Awaba fail to beat Singleton, with West Wallsend out of action thanks to the round 14 bye.
Kahibah have been buoyed by the return of former National Premier Leagues Northern NSW star Rhys Tippett, with the evergreen striker scoring five goals in Kahibah’s last four games to help the Rams go unbeaten in that time.
But Kahibah will also be looking up the table. Should Singleton or Belmont Swansea United slip up over the weekend, the Rams could climb as high as third heading into the final round.
Wallsend though will not be a walkover. The Red Devils scored one of the upsets of the season when they held leaders New Lambton to a 1-1 draw last weekend thanks to Tendai Chivizhe’s goal, potentially costing the Eagles the premiership.
The point also gives Wallsend plenty to play for over the final two weeks of the regular season as they attempt to catch Thornton and avoid a last-placed finish.
New Lambton v Cooks Hill United
Alder Park, Saturday 2.30pm
New Lambton and Cooks Hill United will play for the premiership on Saturday – and Doug West believes it is an opportunity for the reigning premiers to make a statement.
The Eagles host Cooks Hill at Alder Park having fallen from top spot thanks to their disappointing 1-1 draw with last-placed Wallsend last weekend.
The 2019 premiers took advantage, with Cooks Hill seeing off South Cardiff to climb to the top of the table for the first time this season with two games remaining.
It has been an incredible run of form from Cooks Hill, with the side winning their last five matches in a row and six of their last seven.
That run has given them a chance to win a fourth consecutive premiership, an unlikely notion just a month ago when Cooks Hill were simply battling to make the finals following a slow start to the campaign.
And Cooks Hill coach West said the clash against a young, ambitious New Lambton side was a chance for his experienced team to not just secure an impressive title but put down a marker ahead of the finals.
“As a club we know we’ve been very successful [in the last few years] and our objective is always to win the premiership,” West said.
“I think New Lambton will be up for it after dropping points against Wallsend. They’ll be very keen to turn it around.
“It’s no secret that it’s been no problem for them scoring goals. We’ve made a few adjustments and will do again for the weekend so hopefully we can steam their goalscoring potential.
“Going into the semi-finals its obvious teams have certain strengths and weaknesses. We feel we’ve got a squad that can comfortably deal with anything that’s thrown at us.”
The sides met in round three in July, the first match back after the suspension of football brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, with New Lambton securing a 2-1 victory that day thanks to goals from Joel Caldwell and Riley Taylor.
But West was adamant that result would count for little on Saturday.
“The first round we probably made too many individual errors and missed opportunities. But we learnt from that and it would be great to get one over them heading into the finals. And we fully expect to get points whenever we play on the road,” West said.
“I guess we’re excited and up for it, the squad is in a good frame of mind. And we’ll be expecting to go there and get a result.”
Toronto Awaba v Singleton
Lyall Peacock Field, Saturday 3pm
Singleton will look to secure their finals place, as well as secure the finals place of the other four teams in the top five, with a win over Toronto Awaba on Saturday.
The Strikers make the long journey south to Lyall Peacock Field knowing a win would end the Stags’ and West Wallsend’s seasons should fourth and fifth-placed Belmont Swansea United and Kahibah also win their fixtures.
That would finalise the top five ahead of the final round.
Singleton suffered their first defeat since the opening day of the season in March on Saturday when they went down 2-0 to West Wallsend.
The loss put the brakes on their own premiership charge, but a win over the Stags would ensure Singleton play finals football for the first time in 28 years.
Toronto Awaba meanwhile need to win and hope a number of other results go their way if they are to keep their unlikely finals hopes alive.
The Stags went down 4-2 to Kahibah last weekend, with the defeat potentially fatal to their finals hopes with Toronto Awaba handed a bye in the final round.
That means the Stags must win this weekend and hope one of Kahibah, Belmont Swansea United or Singleton lose their final two games while also losing their superior goal difference.
Thornton v Cessnock City
Thornton Park, Saturday 3.30pm
Pride will be on the line when Thornton host Cessnock City on Saturday.
The 10th-placed Redbacks are fighting to avoid a last-placed finish and a win over the Hornets would all but ensure that achievement.
Cessnock meanwhile have endured a terrible run of form at the wrong time of the year to all but slip out of finals contention.
The Hornets set the pace near the top of the table earlier in the season but have failed to win any of their last five games, with the run including two defeats and three draws with Cessnock only scoring three goals in that period.
Cessnock are still mathematically alive but would need to win their final two matches and hope a number of other results go their way to clinch a finals spot.
Belmont Swansea United v South Cardiff
Blacksmiths Oval, Sunday 2.30pm
Belmont Swansea United coach Mick Stafford believes a positive mindset will help his side overcome a tricky test against South Cardiff on Sunday.
BelSwans are in fourth place, three points behind leaders Cooks Hill United heading into the final two rounds.
But Belmont Swansea play the Gunners and Cessnock City in their final two matches, with both sides essentially out of finals contention. Meaning two wins could still see BelSwans secure a top two finish and a home semi-final.
“We’ve just got to turn up and be super positive,” Stafford said.
“We had a bit of a chat about just getting on with things and being positive. Everyone is pretty solid this year, there’s no real bad teams. You just have to really concentrate on the little things every week because a team like Southy can hurt you.
“You look at their team and they’ve got some good players. I can’t explain [where they are on the table].
“Good teams like South Cardiff and even Thornton just maybe haven’t clicked. We haven’t fully clicked either but we’ve still got results but that has been based on depth.”
Stafford paid tribute to that depth at BelSwans which he said had helped the club keep fighting near the top of the table in first and reserve grade despite a host of injuries.
“Our reserve grade side are still undefeated which is a great effort because we’ve had a heap of injuries across the grades,” Stafford said.
“[Winning the premiership in first and reserve grade] has definitely been the goal. Some people don’t think reserve grade is important but I think it’s arguably the most important because if you can have that depth you can push first grade further because you’ve got that great culture.”
South Cardiff battled hard with nine men before going down 3-1 to leaders Cooks Hill United on Sunday.
The ninth-placed Gunners will look to climb the table and finish their season on a high with a win over BelSwans.