Banyule and Whittlesea go head-to-head at Preston City Oval this Saturday to decide the A Plus Labour Solutions Division 2 premiership.
The Bears will be looking to complete their incredible rise from Division 3 to the top flight after winning the third division flag just two years ago, while Whittlesea will be hoping to make its stay in Division 2 a short one and earn promotion straight back into first division.
The two sides separated themselves from the chasing pack as the home and away season extended, with Banyule occupying first place on the ladder right throughout the year, while the Eagles sat in second spot from Round 12 onwards.
The sides have meet three times in 2019, with their two most recent encounters decided by a combined total of 13 points – which includes the second semi final clash a fortnight ago that saw Banyule prevail by seven points and earn a week’s break before the grand final.
Banyule also prevailed in the first meeting between the sides at Whittlesea Showgrounds back in Round 8, however, the Eagles did win the return fixture in the regular season when they won a low-scoring battle in heavy conditions at Beverley Rd Oval by six points.
If the second semi final clash is anything to go by, this week’s grand final will be hanging in the balance right until the dying stages.
Banyule held sway in the semi final, leading at the end of every quarter before holding on for a seven-point win. However, the Bears didn’t hold a lead in excess of 10 points at any of the breaks and had to kick the last two goals to win after falling behind in the final quarter.
Whittlesea was outstanding in last week’s preliminary final win over Eltham when it kicked away in the final term, despite kicking into a slight wind.
The 28-point win against an extremely experienced opponent, who were out to make amends for their heartbreaking grand final defeat last season, will certainly give the Eagles extra confidence that the can take down Banyule this week.
Given the outstanding seasons the two clubs have produced, it came as no surprise they featured prominently among the 40-man squad announced ahead of the selection of the A Plus Labour Solutions Division 2 Team of the Year.
Banyule had the most representatives of any club in the competition, with eight Bears selected, while Whittlesea had six players named in the squad.
Jack Langford’s return from Macleod has been instrumental in the Bears improving on last year’s preliminary final finish. The versatile tall has excelled in several different roles during the year and looms as arguably the most important player on the ground in the grand final.
His addition alongside the likes of ruckman Tim Martin and key forward Mitch Lovell have ensured Banyule has the best tall timber in the competition and all three loom as players who can help the club succeed in the top flight next year, should they prevail this weekend.
Reuben Blackmore-Moore has also been a revelation in his first season with the club, while Riley Loton has emerged as one of the competition’s best midfielders. He and Brent Stanton have big roles to play this week, with the midfield battle set to determine where the premiership cup heads.
Paul Harris looks set to have some selection headaches this week. Key players such as Stanton and James Kroussoratis have made welcome returns in recent weeks, although the likes of Ricky Dyson, Riley Keath, Riley Hogarth, Kye Yodgee and James Clark all missed the second semi final win.
Whittlesea will be hoping for big outings from its top-liners, including Xavier Dimasi, Jaron Murphy, Paul Higgins, Matthew Atta and Nathan Stefanile to lead its young side to a premiership win.
Despite the relative youthfulness of its playing group, Whittlesea knows what it takes to have premiership success, having won the Division 2 flag in each of its past three seasons in the competition.
First-year coach Blair Harvey is also well versed on winning on the big stage and was a five-time Division 1 premiership player at Heidelberg, including four as captain, and also won a second division flag with North Heidelberg in 2017. There could hardly be a better mentor at the helm to guide these young Eagles into a grand final.
It’s been a monumental achievement to reach the premiership decider this season with such a young list, however the Eagles have improved rapidly as the season has progressed – with their only loss since Round 8 being the tight defeat to Banyule in the second semi.
Whittlesea may not have quite the extensive list of top-end talent that the Bears possess, but what the Eagles do have is a long list of strong contributors. They will believe that they bat deeper when you extend through their best 22 this weekend.
Xavier Dimasi has had another outstanding season after last year winning the club’s best and fairest, while Jaron Murphy’s fine form has improved even more in the finals – highlighted by a four-goal effort in a best on ground showing in the preliminary final.
Paul Higgins taken his game to another level and can provide damage through the middle and off the half-back line with his attacking style of play, while youngster Mitchell Andrews has had a fantastic second half of the year and can also hit the scoreboard.
Whichever way you look at it, the 2019 A Plus Labour Solutions Division 2 Grand Final looms as an exciting battle.
Banyule has been the side to catch all season after a dominant start to the campaign and enters this week as the slight favourite.
However, Whittlesea will hold no fears after its rich run of form in recent months and will be buoyed in the knowledge that five of the past six Division 2 premiers have taken the long route to the premiership decider via the preliminary final.
LIVE STREAM: A live stream of the A Plus Labour Solutions Division 2 Grand Final can be viewed on the Northern Football Netball League Facebook page, while a broadcast can be heard on 88.6 Plenty Valley FM.
DOWNLOAD: A high-definition digital download of the grand final can be purchased at www.nfnl.sportscastcloud.com.au seven days after the game for $22.00.
14 wins – 3 losses
Points For – 1709, Average For – 101
Points Against – 979, Average Against – 58
Average Winning Margin – 56
Average Losing Margin – 20
Leading Goal Kicker – Manon Johnston (35)
Most Times in Best – Jack Langford and Tim Martin (10)
14 wins – 4 losses
Points For – 1512, Average For – 84
Points Against – 1036, Average Against – 58
Average Winning Margin – 41
Average Losing Margin – 24
Leading Goal Kicker – Jaron Murphy (24)
Most Times in Best – Nathan Stefanile (9)
HEAD TO HEAD IN 2019
Second Semi Final: Banyule 11.9 (75) def Whittlesea 10.8 (68)
Goal Kickers: J. Kroussoratis 4, A. Barclay, M. Johnston, R. Loton, S. Gumbleton, R. Blackmore-Moore, A. Cabdi, L. Giles
Best Players: D. Kelly, T. Martin, J. Kroussoratis, R. Blackmore-Moore, J. Langford, A. Barclay
Goal Kickers: J. Murphy 2, B. Watson 2, C. Bland 2, M. Andrews, R. Dyson, X. Dimasi, M. Atta
Best Players: J. Murphy, B. Bell, P. Higgins, R. Carter, N. Stefanile, X. Dimasi
Round 16: Banyule 4.7 (31) def by Whittlesea 5.7 (37)
Goal Kickers: J. Langford, M. Johnston, D. Camilleri, M. Lovell
Best Players: D. Kelly, T. Martin, J. Langford, B. Embleton , D. Camilleri, K. Yodgee
Goal Kickers: N. Stefanile, X. Dimasi, M. Langford, C. Bland, J. Murphy
Best Players: B. Bell, N. Stefanile, M. Coen, P. Higgins, M. Andrews, N. Andrews
Round 8: Whittlesea 7.13 (55) def by Banyule 15.9 (99)
Goal Kickers: X. Dimasi, J. Russell, M. Andrews, P. Higgins, L. Beattie, C. Newport, B. Watson
Best Players: R. Carter, S. McAuliffe, P. Higgins, J. Russell, B. Watson, J. Eid
Goal Kickers: M. Lovell 6, M. Johnston 2, M. Italia 2, J. Langford, D. Camilleri, D. Kelly, J. Kroussoratis, R. Keath
Best Players: B. Embleton , M. Lovell, S. Gumbleton, J. Truefeldt, R. Blackmore-Moore, T. Martin