A host of upsets turned the A Plus Labour Solutions Division 2 season on its head last week and has set the scene for a gripping final two months ahead of the finals.
Among the headline stories last week was St Mary’s bringing Banyule’s eight-game winning streak to an end, Epping securing its first win of the campaign, Whittlesea heating up the race for a top-two spot, while Diamond Creek and Fitzroy Stars played out the season’s first draw.
Just six points separate second-placed Eltham from Diamond Creek in sixth place – ensuring that just about every game over the final eight rounds will have a major impact on the finals hunt.
Despite losing its first game of the year last week, Banyule still looks superbly placed to secure the minor premiership. The Bears sit first by two games and plenty of percentage, meaning they may only need to win four of their final seven games to finish the year in first spot.
The other three spots in the top-four remain wide open, which sets up a grandstand finish for both a spot in the top-four and a double chance. With bottom-three sides Watsonia, St Mary’s and Epping winning games in recent weeks, their doesn’t look to be any easy games for those in finals contention.
The pick of this week’s matches looks to be Diamond Creek’s clash with Whittlesea at Coventry Oval.
The sixth-placed Creekers sit just two points outside the top-four after securing two wins and a draw from their past three matches, while consecutive wins over Eltham and Thomastown have seen the Eagles go from a side looking vulnerable in the top-four to within percentage of the top-two.
Diamond Creek fans would be excused for feeling faint after several close finishes in recent weeks – with the combined margin from the past three games just 23 points. They may expect another close one this week, with Whittlesea victorious by three points when the sides met in Round 2.
Fortunately for the Creekers, they have taken 10 of a possible 12 points from their past three starts, which includes kicking the final two goals in the last minute of last week’s game to pinch two points against the Fitzroy Stars.
Importantly, the club’s best players are all in good form at an important time of the season, with Jacob Booth, Josh Marchbank and Tyler Barnes all instrumental in last week’s draw, while Jai Norman continued his strong campaign and Ryan Pingree kicked four goals.
Whittlesea has also been involved in its fair share of close games this year and the past two wins over Eltham by four points and Thomastown by nine have improved the Eagles’ record to 6-3, putting them equal on points with Eltham.
It has been an outstanding response after being humbled in the opening half of their Round 8 clash against Banyule – when the Bears piled on 11 goals to one to lead by 62 points at half time, before the Eagles responded to win the second half and close the final margin to 44.
Last week’s win over Eltham was certainly not pretty, with the game played in heavy rain and on a soaked Whittlesea Showgrounds deck. However, the Eagles finished strongly and kicked 1.5 to nothing in the last quarter to overturn a three-quarter time deficit.
The importance of this week’s game cannot be understated. A Whittlesea win would push it 10 points clear of Diamond Creek with six games to play and move the Eagles one step closer to another finals campaign. However, a Diamond Creek victory would close the gap to just two points and create an even greater logjam in the middle of the table.
Thomastown returns from its first bye of the season to host St Mary’s at Main Street Reserve in what now looms as a genuine danger game for the home side.
The Bears have lost their past three matches to sit just two points inside the top-four and now take on a St Mary’s outfit directly after claiming the upset of the season with last week’s win over Banyule.
The break may have come at the perfect time for Ben Chapman’s side, who looked destined to go into the Queen’s Birthday weekend one game clear atop the ladder when they led Banyule by 33 points in the last term, before being overrun.
Scoring has certainly dried up over the past two defeats. Thomastown remains the only side to kick over 100 points against Banyule, when it did so in Round 7, but has since kicked just 11 and six goals in its past two defeats to Eltham and Whittlesea.
The Bears romped to victory in their previous clash with St Mary’s, when they claimed a 75-point win at Whatmough Park in Round 2, but the Burra have improved out of sight since that encounter and Thomastown will need to recapture its best to return to the winners’ list.
St Mary’s proved once and for all that is up to the grade in second division with last week’s outstanding win over Banyule. The Burra led by nine points at the main break with nine more scoring shots, before bursting the game open in the third term and then holding off a fightback by the ladder-leader in the last.
It was a mighty effort by Fab Carelli’s side, particularly given in-form young star Jacob Yeomans was injured during the match and played only a minor part. In his absence Jackson Wolczko, Mitch Hocking and Thomas Cantwell stood up to steer their side to its second win of the year.
It would be hard to argue that a big scalp wasn’t coming for the Burra who had pushed the Eltham, Fitzroy Stars, Diamond Creek and Whittlesea in the week’s leading up to the win over Banyule – with the Burra having more scoring shots in all but one of their past four defeats.
Based on their recent form, St Mary’s would hold no fear going into any of its remaining fixtures in 2019 and would be eyeing off several more wins to round out its first campaign in second division.
Epping is off the mark and now returns to Epping Recreation Reserve to host Eltham in the first meeting between the sides this year.
The Blues led from start to finish in last week’s win over Watsonia at A.K. Lines Reserve, adapting well in tough conditions and kicking away in the last quarter despite being without skipper Leigh Judd, who was injured earlier in the game.
Tom Burnside continued his strong form and was best afield in the triumph, while Corey Middleton, Sage Dicello and Adam Rose offered strong support. Dicello was the game’s only multiple goal kicker with two majors.
With there no threat of relegation this year, Epping can use the next eight weeks building a platform to set itself up in 2020.
The final eight rounds will provide some challenges, with five of the club’s last eight games against sides currently inside the top-four, however they will look to cause a boilover or two which could have a major say on the finals make-up.
Eltham entered last week’s game against Whittlesea without the likes of Michael Still, Lewis and Bronson Glasgow, Brandon and Jesse Freeman and Adam Brovedani and the loss proved costly with Tim Currie, Jesse King and Brendan O’Sullivan all failing to see out the match.
The Panthers will still start a red-hot favourite this week, however the long list of unavailable players could prove a major problem in the run to the finals, with several crunch games to be played.
The positive is the depth the club has at its disposal, with the reserves atop the ladder with an 8-1 record, while the under-19 Division 1 team also sits in first place with a 9-1 record – ensuring the Panthers have plenty of talent ready to step up to the senior team if required.
Banyule returns home to Beverley Rd Oval to host Watsonia where both sides are looking to respond from upset defeats last week.
It will be the Bears’ first home match since the Round 7 thriller at Thomastown, which has been followed by the Queen’s Birthday weekend and then three successive away games against Whittlesea, Epping and St Mary’s.
The ladder-leader was far from full strength during last week’s defeat at Whatmough Park, with Brent Stanton, Scott Gumbleton and Ricky Dyson among the players missing. Nevertheless, it was a big turnaround from the Anzac Day meeting between the sides, which the Bears won by 112 points.
Despite the defeat, Reuben Blackmore-Moore and Riley Loton continued their strong form. Both have featured prominently in the Coaches MVP voting this season and sit in ninth and 11th place respectively on the leader board.
Watsonia’s faint finals hopes were dashed in last week’s upset loss to Epping. It was a disappoint result for the Saints just one week after comfortably defeating the Fitzroy Stars at Sir Douglas Nicholls Oval.
The Saints blooded a host of young Northern Knights stars in the match, however it was a tough day to make a mark given the heavy conditions. Josh Mazzarella was the pick of the bunch and featured in the best players.
At 3-6, the Saints attention will now turn to finishing above both of St Mary’s and Epping – who have shown improved form in recent weeks as they look to rise up the ladder in the back end of the year.
Banyule proved too good when the sides met at A.K. Lines in Round 4, storming to a 61-point win following an eight-goal to nil first term. Devin McDonald, Tim Martin and Daniel Kelly were best in the victory, while Jack Langford and Mannon Johnston kicked three goals each.