It’s a make or break week in A Plus Labour Solutions Division 2 as the home and away season heads towards the final straight.
Last week’s results provided a breakaway for the top-three sides, with two wins and percentage now separating third-placed Whittlesea from Thomastown in fourth entering Round 12.
While the top sides all continued their winning ways last week, an upset win from St Mary’s over Thomastown created even more intrigue in the battle for fourth spot on the ladder, with the Bears, Fitzroy Stars and Diamond Creek divided by just two points.
Despite sitting out their second bye of the season, the Stars proved to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of last week’s results – with defeats to Thomastown and Diamond Creek keeping Hayden Heta’s in fifth spot and with a game in hand on the Bears and Creekers.
Sir Douglas Nicholls Round is headlined by what looks a mid-season final between the Fitzroy Stars and Thomastown at Sir Douglas Nicholls Oval.
The annual match for the NAIDOC Cup is always a big occasion for the two sides, however this year’s fixture looks even more important given how much hangs on the result.
Thomastown is looking to end a four-game winning streak, while a win to Fitzroy would put it inside the top-four for the first time this season and leave it in the box seat to play finals football in 2019.
The Bears were jumped early in last week’s shock defeat to St Mary’s and trailed by 26 points at quarter time. They managed to level the scores by half time but were held to just three goals after the main break in the 13-point loss.
The result leaves the club very precariously placed in its quest for back-to-back finals appearances, having not won a game since May 25. More so, it makes this week’s game vital, with a loss set to see the Bears fall outside the top-four for the first time since Round 1.
One positive for Thomastown is the fact that the Stars hadn’t been in great form either in prior to the bye – with a draw against Diamond Creek preceded by a loss to Watsonia and very tight wins over bottom-half sides St Mary’s and Epping.
The return of Peter Hood in the draw against Diamond Creek was a huge positive for the Stars, with the multiple club best and fairest winner expected to have a big impact in the back half of the year as his side chases a return to finals action.
But with so much on the line expect both sides to lift for the massive occasion.
Thomastown won an 11-point thriller in the Anzac Day meeting between the sides at Main Street Recreation Reserve, despite the Stars leading for much of the day. Daniel Caruso and Daniel Chadwick were instrumental in getting their side across the line.
Eltham returns from successive away matches to host Diamond Creek at Eltham Central Park.
Eltham returned to the winners’ list with a 58-point win over Epping last week, despite Anton Woods, Tim Currie, Brendan O’Sullivan and Jesse King all coming out of the side that lost to Whittlesea in Round 10.
The result stretched the Panthers’ percentage differential over Whittlesea by more than four percent, with the sides separated by 23.75 after starting the round at 19.48. Remarkably, the two clubs face five of the same sides in the final six weeks, meaning percentage could play a large part in determining second spot.
With leading goal kickers Michael Still and Jesse King both sidelined, the Panthers’ spread in attack would have pleased coach Paul King and could cause a potential headache for Diamond Creek’s this week. Eleven players contributed to the Panthers’ 16-goal haul against Epping.
Diamond Creek is still yet to beat a side inside the top-four and a loss this week would put another major dent in the club’s finals chances.
Aside from the Round 6 thrashing against Banyule, the Creekers have been far from disgraced in their other defeats against the competitions best – losing their four games against Eltham, Thomastown and Whittlesea (twice) by an average of just 18 points.
However, the time is now to secure a much-needed win, with a loss this week potentially ending the club’s finals hopes – particularly if Thomastown beats the Fitzroy Stars, which would leave the Creekers six points adrift from the top-four with five games to play.
Diamond Creek was all square with Whittlesea at half time last week but couldn’t stick with the Eagles in the second half to fall to a 23-point defeat at Coventry Oval. The third term was particularly costly – when they were outscored by five goals to one.
The third quarter was also costly for the Creekers in their most recent clash with Eltham, which the Panthers won by 18 points at Coventry Oval. Trailing by 13 points at the main break, Diamond Creek was outscored 3.6 to 1.0 in the third term to head into three-quarter time 31 points behind in the Round 5 clash.
Whittlesea will be hunting a fourth-consecutive win when it hosts Epping at the Whittlesea Showgrounds.
Having beaten sides placed second, fourth and sixth over the past three weeks, the Eagles will be wary of slipping up against the bottom-placed Blues as the battle for a double-chance in September heats up.
While the Eagles will start as warm favourites, Epping’s form has been promising over the past fortnight – with the Blues showing plenty of grit against Eltham last week despite being outclassed.
Whittlesea’s younger brigade passed another significant test with flying colours last week to run away from Diamond Creek in a telling victory at Coventry Oval. The win was made more meritorious given key duo Xavier Dimasi and Paul Higgins missed through injury.
Jaron Murphy was a clear standout in the victory and moved back inside the top 10 in the Coaches MVP voting with a best on ground performance. Murphy was also dominant in the Round 1 over Epping and looms as a key player this week, particularly if Dimasi and Higgins miss again for the Eagles.
Chris McCabe also enters in great form, with he and the likes of Matthew Atta, Nathan Stefanile and Mitch Andrews all playing central roles in their side’s strong form over the past month.
Despite now sitting two games clear at the bottom of the ladder, Epping has shown glimpses throughout the season and last week held its own during periods of the loss to Eltham.
The Blues trailed by 18 points at the main break and won the last quarter, although they were poor in the third term when the Panthers piled on seven goals to one.
Thomas Burnside is sure to draw plenty of attention after putting together an outstanding month. The defender was best afield in the Round 10 win at Watsonia and backed it up again last week to often keep Eltham at bay, despite the final scoreline. His intercept marking has been a feature of his game this season.
Whittlesea romped to a 91-point win when the sides met at Epping Recreation Reserve back in Round 1. The Eagles did most of the damage in the second half, when they piled on 12 goals to two, with Jaron Murphy and Sam Indian combining four eight goals.
St Mary’s and Watsonia are both hunting their fourth win of the season when they meet at Whatmough Park.
The winner will move one win clear in sixth spot, with both sides entering with a 3-7 record. The Burra currently occupy sixth place, just 0.01 percent above the seventh-placed Saints.
While the Saints made a better start to the year, the Burra’s recent giant-killing form will ensure they start the favourite this week as they search for a third-consecutive win.
The reigning Division 3 premiers backed up their massive upset win over Banyule with an equally impressive triumph at Thomastown last week – doing so despite losing Jacob Yeomans, Lee Minuz, Mitchell Hocking and James Todd from the previous week’s victory.
The Burra look too far back to make a serious run at the finals, with several close losses between rounds 5-9 now becoming more painstaking. Despite not looking in the finals mix, they have fast become a side that all top-four teams will want to avoid in the run home to finals.
Perhaps the most promising aspect of the improved form is the performance of the club’s emerging talent. Thomas Cantwell, Jack Dean and Tane Cotter have all played major roles in recent wins, assisting the established stars like Dillan Ronalds, Chris Petroro and Nick Dean.
Watsonia has experienced its worst two performances of the year in successive weeks, with the Saints following up their win over the Fitzroy Stars with a shock loss to Epping and a 134-point drubbing at the hands of Banyule.
The Saints couldn’t have come across the ladder-leader at a worse time following their first loss of the year and were made to pay from the outset – trailing by seven goals at quarter time against a Bears side keen to prove that they are the competition benchmark.
While the past two weeks have been forgettable, Watsonia will look to produce a similar performance to its Round 1 win over St Mary’s, where it secured a 32-point win to send off retiring club legend Matthew Crompton in style.
The Saints controlled that game from the outset – booting four unanswered goals in the first term, before powering away with a five-goal to one final quarter. Michael Perfetto and Kyle Kemp were best in the win, while Adrian Alfonsi booted four goals.