Match of the Round
Edgeworth Eagles (2nd) vs. Weston Bears (5th)
Saturday 17 August, 2:30pm, Jack McLaughlan Oval
One of the most nail-biting finishes in competition history is set to take place over the next two weeks which sees the top six of the competition all still included in an epic finals and premiership race, and Edgeworth and Weston have been at the forefront of it for most the season.
Only one point separates the two on the table and although they both could still realistically attain the premiership if results go their way, there’s a chance that if they taste defeat this weekend, their finals hopes could be completely dashed.
Both sides enjoyed a week thanks to the catch-up round but before that stumbled in their results which halted what looked to be a premiership challenge.
The Eagles went down stunningly to Valentine ending a five-game win streak and throwing a major spanner in their quest for achieving a historic premiership.
For the Bears, although they’ve only experienced one loss in their past 11 outings, they’ve picked up three draws from their last four and given the tightness of the league, it’s seen the side has slumped down out of the top four.
Weston pulled off an impressive 2-1 win in the reverse fixture earlier in the year courtesy of a goal each from both Liam Wilson and Jason Tjien-Fooh – two of their mercurial goal-scorers and men the Eagles will be focusing on.
Edgeworth’s Oliver Smith was the lone scorer back in Round 10, but he won’t be featuring this weekend following a three-game suspension which only adds to an ever-growing ‘missing-persons’ list his side currently has.
Coach of the Eagles Damian Zane admitted his team’s form had taken a hit due to his unavailable stars, but that he was exceptionally pleased with how other, younger players had stepped up in their place and hopes they will again this weekend.
“I’m pretty proud of where we sit,” Zane said. “I’ll never make excuses. Everyone in that squad is there for a reason.”
“We base our team around four or five experienced guys and build a young team around it, but if you lose one or two of those leaders you suddenly become a very young team. But I’m proud of what they’ve done this year and how guys have continually stepped up done jobs.
“Whatever happens for the rest of the year, I think it sets us up well for a great season next year.”
Edgeworth not only have to worry about an intense finals and premiership fight, but will also be taking on the Newcastle Jets mid-week in the Round of 16 in the FFA Cup, but the Edgeworth Head Coach stated he and his team knew of the trouble Weston would bring this weekend and is confident his team will be ready.
“They know what I’m like,” he said. “If you start looking too far ahead to the next game, there’s a good chance you probably won’t be playing in it.”
“We’re not safe in the finals. I said to the boys before the Valentine time, a win secures us in the semis and takes the pressure off in a busy schedule but now, our games have become must-wins. We also don’t know how we’re going to pull up after the Jets game.
“If we get into the semis, I’m confident we can give it a decent shake-up.
“I think it’ll be a cracker on Saturday.”
Newcastle Jets Youth (8th) vs. Broadmeadow Magic (6th)
Saturday 17 August, 5:00pm, Magic Park
Having spent most of the year inside the top four and battling it out in the premiership race, a Red and Blue Derby loss for Broadmeadow last week has tossed them out of premiership contention, and also out of the top four momentarily at the crucial point of the season.
Six points from their last two matches is a must now for the Magic men if they want any chance of defending their Grand Final crown and sending coach Ruben Zadkovich out on a winner.
The good news for them is that the Jets Youth have been struggling in the back-half of the year having not picked up a win in six consecutive games.
With players unavailable due to international and senior squad representation, the young Jets have struggled to find the same attacking flow that saw them find early success in the first round of fixtures.
The Magicians won out in a high-scoring 5-2 affair last time around and that was without prolific winger James Virgili who is locked away in a battle of his own for the Golden Boot, however, he has a question mark placed over him as he battles injury.
While the Broadmeadow attack has fired this season as many expected, boasting the equal-best stats in the goals-scored category with 40, their defence has been the area that’s let them down having conceded 29 goals – the worst record of the top six sides.
If Magic don’t pick up the victory this weekend, they can wave their finals hopes goodbye so pundits can expect a team desperate to collect the three points.
Adamstown Rosebud (9th) vs. Maitland FC (1st)
Sunday 18 August, 2:30pm, Adamstown Oval
A late, late victory last weekend has seen the Magpies from Maitland flying high at the top of the table with the ‘favourites’ tag for the premiership, but their opponents this weekend are currently locked in their own fight to avoid the dreaded wooden spoon where they’re currently sitting atop of a three-way tie thanks to goal difference.
The Rosebuds are also playing their final game of the season and will be looking to do all they can to ensure the finish their year on a high, and as far as they can from last-place – maybe potentially spoiling a premiership finish along the way too.
For the visitors though, with the four sides below them all scheduled to face-off with another in Round 21, there’s the potential that winning this game could secure them the first title in 39 years with a week to spare.
Maitland managed a 2-0 victory in the previous fixture at home, but it didn’t come without it’s worries as Adamstown pushed them all the way, as they’ve done when encountering most of the top sides in the league this year.
The last three games have seen the Rosebuds pick up points, but they’ll need to be sharp, especially in defence as they face a team who have only lost once in their past 11 games and haven’t been kept scoreless once in that time.
The Rosebuds will need to bank on their defence if they want to spoil Maitland’s shot at the premiership this weekend, but if they can’t withstand the pressure from the Magpies’ front stars, it will certainly strap the visitors in the drivers’ seat for an incredible premiership.
Charlestown City Blues (3rd) vs. Lambton Jaffas (4th)
Sunday 18 August, 2:30pm, Lisle Carr Oval
They’ve been the two teams who have flown under the radar outside the top four for the majority of the season, but with a run of some top results and form, both Charlestown and Lambton have found themselves in finals positions, and even knocking on the door of the premiership.
The Blues have been undefeated in five matches while Lambton have only been beaten on one occasion from eight of their most recent games which includes three straight clean sheets.
The two couldn’t be split earlier in the year, playing out an entertaining 2-2 draw at Arthur Edden Oval and since then have impressed with their football, particularly in the defensive area – the Jaffas possess the best defensive record in the league having conceded just eight, while Charlestown goalkeeper Nathan Archbold sits atop the Goalkeeper of the Year standings with the most clean sheets (6).
While the equations are completely unpredictable for which teams could finish where in the top six, it’s a simple rule both will need to follow – win and put the pressure on the premiership, lose, and face the extreme risk of missing out on the finals.
Having moved into the top four for the first time since the early rounds of the season, Charlestown Blues’ coach David Tanchevski is pleased his side are hitting their straps at the all-important time but was cautious of the challenge Lambton will provide.
“We’ve never panicked about our position,” Tanchevski said.
“We’ve had games in hand for a long time and knew that if we won those games, we’d be definitely in the top four – potentially first.
“We’ve been taking it one game at a time and our attitude has been that we’re in a knockout competition – we have to keep winning if we want to play semi-final football.
“A game against Lambton is never easy. It’s a very tight history between us over recent years.”
Like most sides in the competition, injuries have provided a major hurdle for the Blues but Tanchevski admitted that his team’s reaction and ability to lift despite that has been a key contributor to their recent success.
“The boys are really playing for each other,” he said. “They’ve shown a lot of maturity and are united on the field at the moment. For me that’s one of the most pleasing things.
“The pleasing thing is we’ve had Goody out for the last four or five games plus we’ve had Smith out with a groin injury and Jamie Byrnes is overseas, so we’ve had no striker and Rene Ferguson has stepped into that role and done a good job for us.”
“We probably don’t have lots of high-level individuals on the team, but what we do have is a core group of players who work very hard for one another.
“There is belief is there now. The boys know we can mix it with anyone on our day.”
Lake Macquarie City Roosters (11th) vs. Valentine Phoenix (10th)
Sunday 18 August, 2:50pm, Macquarie Field
The Lake Mac Derby rounds out the week of NPL NNSW football and while it may not have any impact on the highly entertaining premiership and finals contest happening, it is all-important in deciding which of these rivals ends up with the wooden spoon.
While Lakes have put in a strong fight to avoid last-place with some decent recent results, the team still linger at the bottom of the table but only due to goals scored as they possess the same points and goal difference as the Phoenix.
Valentine won out in the derby last time in an enthralling 4-3 tussle, and will be hoping that they can showcase that same might in front of goal of which they also displayed when stunning Edgeworth 3-1, two weeks ago, and last weekend where they fell agonisingly seconds short of taking points from Maitland.
If they can’t though, they’ll need to look to make sure their defence can hold out for their first clean sheet of the year against what has been a rather lacklustre Roosters’ attack in 2019, however they possess one key, dangerous weapon: Sam Walker.
From the hosts’ 21 goals they’ve scored this season, their captain Walker has scored almost half and has certainly had a hand to play in almost every goal he hasn’t tucked away himself. He’ll once again be the main target for Lakes going forward and someone his opponents will need to pay extremely close attention to.
Valentine’s coach Sam Griffin confessed they are preparing for a tough, derby battle this weekend and expects the match to be a scrappy tussle but one he’s confident they will win.
“There’s heaps to play for. No one wants the spoon,” Griffin said.
“They’re [Lakes] going to be very hard to play against.
“I know it’s a cliché, but I think it’s going to come down to whoever wants it more and whose more desperate. They’ve got a lot to play for too and have a chance to get themselves out of trouble.”
“Last week obviously hurts, but it’s good to know we’re back in a bit of form… We still believe that we’ll win two more games of football.
“We just have to win the game. It’s as simple as that.”