Stakes keep getting higher in Senior competition

Photo: Brad Greenshields, Coffs Coast Advocate

With five rounds to go in the regular season each match takes on added significance in the race for the AFL North Coast premiership.

Sawtell Toormina Saints have been the pacesetters in 2018 but suffered their first defeat of the season last week against the Breakers. Nobody expected the Saints to go through the season without dropping at least one match, but they will be desperate to ensure that they don’t lose two on the bounce.

This Saturday’s game against Port Macquarie Magpies takes on the status of a real danger match for Sawtell. Teams often travel to Port under strength but Sawtell can’t take any liberties if they are to return to the winners’ circle. Coach Brandt Lee will be issuing a rallying call to ensure a strong line-up travels south and will be hoping that players such as Leif Stuart, Mitch Napier, and Connor Perks are all available.

Port Macquarie Magpies had a fortunate victory last week and will need to perform much better against the Saints. This is a must win match for the Magpies if they want to stamp themselves as premiership contenders and they will be desperate to prove to everyone, themselves included, that they can compete with the ladder leaders.

The return of coach Tom Marmo from a knee injury last week was a timely boost for the team. Club champion Jesse Schmidt is in good form after his own early season injury woes, and young Ed Smith has had an outstanding first two weeks to his Senior career. These players can provide the spark that, when combined with the consistency of Craig Dicker, Rod Sonogan, and Blake Nelson, can lead to a tilt at the title.

The Grafton Tigers produced their best performance of the season last week and were desperately unlucky not to come away with the win that they crave. The big question is, will this effort provide the inspiration to lift the team to better things, or will they struggle to overcome the disappointment of the one that got away?

Making life tougher for the Tigers is the anticipated loss of Chris Curthoys who was close to best on ground last week until he suffered a recurrence of a knee injury.

The team has a strong youthful element and the influence of these players is increasing on a weekly basis as they continue to find their feet at this level and get used to the physical demands. Players such as Kade Bagnall, Ronan Leslie, Evan Whitty, and Clancy O’Neill formed the core of last year’s Under 18 Premiership winning team and are starting to bring that form to this season’s Senior Competition.

The Tigers play host to Coffs Harbour Breakers who are coming off their own best effort of 2018. It’s no surprise that their fortunes have improved with the return of key players such as Brett Vella and Ben Gibbeson from injury, as well as Royce and Shaydan Close who have been unavailable for parts of the season. Nick Stanlan-Velt has been a model of consistency all season and the inclusion of these others means opponents can no longer focus on nullifying him as a game plan.

Coach Kevin Wilson will be looking to consolidate last week’s win and build towards replicating the form that led to the club’s inaugural premiership in 2017.

In the Women’s match of the round, Port Macquarie Magpies host the powerful Sawtell Toormina Saints outfit.

The Magpies inflicted the Saints only defeat of the season last time the two teams met at Wayne Richards Park and will be hoping for more of the same this time around. Cambridge McCormick is one of the competition’s leading players and has a strong influence for Port each time she plays so much will depend on her output. Ricki Pomroy had a late start to the season but is starting to impact matches, and representative players Beth Rennes, Clare O’Dwyer, Britt Hargreaves, Fiona Bagley, and Anishah Burnes benefited greatly from that experience.

Sawtell have their own crop of representative players and are very focused on lifting the premiership cup. The Saints see the earlier loss to Port as a blemish on their season and will be looking to right that wrong. Keira Basset is the competition’s leading goal kicker and takes a power of stopping, but it’s in the midfield where Sawtell have the ability to really dominate. Players such as Kacee Uikelotu, Tiarne Saunders, Ahlani Eddy, and Liz Jennison are a formidable combination who provide the impetus for Basset and fellow key forward Alana Hanson.

Round 11 fixtures – Saturday 14 July

Port Macquarie Magpies v Sawtell Toormina Saints at Wayne Richards Park, Port Macquarie (Under 17 at 10:00am, Women at 11:50am, Reserves at 120pm, Seniors at 2:50pm)

Grafton Tigers v Coffs Harbour Breakers v Ellem Oval, Grafton (Under 17  at 12:30pm, Seniors at 2:20pm)

For full fixture details, click here.