TOMORROW afternoon marks 42 days since there was any action in the North Gippsland Football-Netball League.
A return to the football field sees a pair of top notch encounters beginning what promises to be an epic four-week finals series.
Things get underway with the qualifying final in Glengarry, where the league’s newest club, Yallourn Yallourn North does battle with perennial finalist and reigning premier Churchill.
On Sunday it’s off to Woodside for the elimination final featuring the side which has played in the past two grand finals, Yarram, against Traralgon-Tyers United. TTU in particular will be up and about for this match coming off the back of four straight finals losses over the past two completed seasons.
The winner of tomorrow’s match stays on Broadway, playing Saturday finals, and crucially holding onto its double chance, while for the loser it is a straight into sudden death for the remainder of its campaign.
WHEN Yallourn-Yallourn North and Churchill first met way back in round two, YYN was coming off what we all felt was an upset opening round win over Yarram and Churchill was kicking off its 2021 campaign. On that day, just two goals separated the sides with the NGFNL 2019 premier Churchill taking the win over the 2019 MGFL premier in an excellent game of footy played in front of a huge crowd.
Dean MacDonald and Mitchell Luck kicked eight of YYN’s 10 goals, while Ben Kearns and Blake Slater slotted six of Churchill’s dozen.
The Cougars also unveiled a handful of recruits that day, including best-on-ground Angus Mitchell. With the stop-start nature of the season, it will be interesting to see how the recruits have gelled and how they perform under the spotlight of finals footy.
Not to be outdone in the recruit stakes, YYN has included Mannon Johnston and welcomed back Keenan Hughes, among others, to its line-up since round two. Both add some firepower to the YYN front half and both have no question marks over their ability to perform in big games.
The addition of Hughes in particular will have the Churchill coaching crew scratching their heads. Covering both MacDonald and Luck was already a hard enough task, but when you add another strong marking forward who can bomb them through the big sticks from outside 50 it really stretches the defence.
Interestingly, it may be the Churchill ruckman and not a key defender which has the biggest say over how much scoreboard impact Luck will have.
If the Cougars rucking battery of Dillon Leys and Nathan McRae can dominate the YYN number one ruckman Campbell Staff, Jets coach Barrie Burnett will have no choice but to try his Luck in the ruck, so to speak. This obviously reduces his scoreboard impact, but it also means whoever the Cougars had earmarked for him can now be used on either of McDonald or Hughes if required.
With a wet end to the week forecast, the engine room for each side will be critical in gaining territory. Campbell MacInnes, Jai Massese and Burnett will lead the way in the YYN midfield, but the advantage may lie with the bigger bodies of Michael Diaz, Travis Brighton and any of Jake Roe-Duggan, Chris Williams or Ben Skinner who will run through the middle six for the Cougars.
With some uncertainty surrounding player availability, tipping a winner without seeing the team sheets is an exercise in futility, but for the sake of being a 50 per cent chance of being right, I think Churchill will come out on top in a close one.
The winner of this match will play Woodside for a place in the grand final.
IF tomorrow’s game is hard to pick, the Sunday game is entering broken nose areas.
When these sides last met nothing separated them at the final siren. Yarram’s rather inaccurate 10.10 (70) was worth precisely the same at TTU’s 11.4 when the final hooter sounded and the points were shared.
Factoring in the five additional scoring shots, the fact Yarram was charging late with the ball deep in the forward 50 when the siren went and that it lost ruckman Daniel Vardy for the day during the second quarter, you could perhaps mount a case the Demons were a touch unlucky on that occasion.
What is beyond doubt is TTU appears to have a tougher edge to it than the Bombers, which have gone 0-4 in their past two finals campaigns. The inclusion of Jayden Cutts and Kieran Jones in particular has really solidified the TTU midfield.
With the class of Ricky Cochrane and Jamie Aitken providing run from behind, if Brad Kelleher and Guy Sinclair can get the better of their match ups the Bombers will present Yarram with a tough task if they are to salute.
Whether or not some of the above mentioned names are able to play or not due to Melbourne’s extended lockdown remains to be seen.
Yarram has class across all lines and enough depth to cover the unavailability of several players rumoured to be potentially missing because of COVID restrictions, however it is how many it has to cover which will tell the tale.
Any side tough with a handful of Chris Bruns, Jack Weston, Jayden Shea, Boadie Motton, Griffin Underwood and a Vardy or two on the team sheet is going to be hard to knock over — even more so in a final. The one missing piece to the puzzle is perhaps a key forward the Demons can attack through and this is where the coach may come into his own.
It will be interesting to see if Justin Staley pulls on the jersey or is content to just move the magnets around the board on Sunday.
Again the absence of a final line-up for either side makes it hard to tip. If we assume however that both teams are nearer close strength than otherwise, I think Yarram has a few too many midfield match winners for TTU.
Blues and Dogs on court for finals
FINALS action begins in North Gippsland netball this weekend.
The run into this year’s finals series has been unlike any other, as a six-week lay-off and the decision to end the home-and-away season early because of the ever-changing COVID landscape has meant courts across the league have remained vacant.
Clubs have had to make do playing scratch matches in the lead-up, while others have been able to arrange practise games against other teams.
After playing Mid Gippsland club Yinnar last weekend to prepare for the finals, Glengarry will face perennial netball powerhouse Rosedale in the qualifying final tomorrow.
Glengarry will hold the home court advantage, and if successful, will progress to the second semi-final against Woodside.
The Magpies have so far been successful in going one better than their 2019 elimination final finish, but will know only their best will be enough to defeat the reigning premier.
Rosedale has no shortage of star players, and as the most successful North Gippsland netball team of the 2010s, enter the finals with a “been there, done that” mentality. Lorelle Lowe, Carly Johnstone, Taylor Hardman and Meg Gordyn make up some of the Blues line up which will give Glengarry coach Amy King plenty to think about.
Glengarry came out on top against Rosedale back in round 10, although both teams will take something out of that match if they wish to reference it for the final. The Magpies will go in with confidence knowing they have beaten Rosedale already this season, while the Blues will know they are close enough to topple their opponents having only lost to them by six goals.
ON Sunday it is do-or-die for Churchill and Sale City in the elimination final in Woodside.
If the previous game between these two sides is any indication, then the margin should be close as Churchill defeated Sale City by five goals back in round six.
Cougars coach Maddi Burney will be pitted against the dual coaching set-up of Jae Evans and Kylie James, and all will be gunning to outwit the game plan and style of the opposition. – with Liam Durkin