Saints to ascend again in grand final rematch

Grafton celebrates kicking a goal during the 2020 AFL North Coast Grand Final. Grafton 8.10 (58) def Sawtell/Toormina 2.8 (20). Photo: Green Shoots Marketing

SATURDAY will be 238 days since last year’s grand final and Sawtell/Toormina will finally get to once again meet the reigning premier.

The Saints meet Grafton at Richardson Park on the back of two substantial losses that have dropped Sawtell/Toormina back to sixth position on the ladder. But a win against the team that conquered them by 38-points in last year’s decider will bring the Saints to well within touch of a top-four berth.

Saints playing coach Brandt Lee said his team is ready to bounce back from on-the road 119-point and 110-point losses.

“An improved performance is on the cards with a lot more of the squad to choose from this week,” Lee said.

“We’ll be a lot stronger with most of the squad available. Being a home game with all four teams playing there’s going to be a lot better feel around the club on Saturday.”

Festival of Football 2021

Port Macquarie’s Oscar Gibson flies for a mark against Northern Beaches during the pre-season Festival of Football. Photo: Green Shoots Marketing

IT’S the classic eight point game as the season is set to reach its half way mark.

Both Northern Beaches and Port Macquarie can go a long way toward cementing themselves in the top four with victory at Centennial Oval while a loss could also see either side fighting it out with the rest of the pack.

Now that six rounds have been played, Northern Beaches coach Rory Evans admits that he can see the stakes involved in this clash have risen substantially of late.

“It’s a highly anticipated match for us, a really good challenge,” Evans said.

“We’re now starting to get a feel for where everyone stands and Port Macquarie is one of the teams we potentially have to beat to reach the finals.”

The Magpies took it up to the Coffs Breakers last round while Northern Beaches earned a comfortable yet possibly underwhelming victory at Casino.

Port Macquarie coach Matt Clarke said form in other matches is something he doesn’t take too much notice of.

“We don’t necessarily look at other scorelines we’ll just keep doing our thing and the scorelines will just improve themselves with us,” Clarke said.

Emmanuel Degle is finding his feet at senior level for the Coffs Breakers. Photo: Green Shoots Marketing

THE Casino Lions might still be waiting for their first AFL North Coast win but the rest of the competition is starting to sit up and take notice of them.

The Lions have lost their past two matches by an average margin of 42 points, much better results than what was produced in the season’s infancy stages.

The Coffs Breakers host the Lions this weekend and their senior coach Kevin Wilson is growing wary of what Casino can produce.

“It sounds like they (Casino) are on the improve which is great. So they’ll probably come down and force us to have some work to do,” Wilson said.

Casino coach Rod McKey said he’s noticed home ground advantage in the AFL North Coast is quite distinct and being the visitors on Saturday will make the task of facing the ladder leaders even more difficult.

“I think everyone is the same in that everyone is a much better team at home,” McKey said.

“We’ll have a few players missing this week but that’s not unusual. We haven’t been at full strength all year. Each week when we name our best 22 we always have a few missing.”

Nambucca Valley and the Lismore Swans met during the pre-season at the Festival of Footy. Photo: Green Shoots Marketing

NAMBUCCA Valley has struggled in the early stages of the 2021 season but the fortunes of the Lions may turn now that they have an extended period with limited travel.

Over the next nine weeks Nambucca Valley has five home games and two general byes. The only travel they need to do throughout all of June and July is one match at Port Macquarie and another at Woolgoolga.

The first of the home games is on Saturday against the Lismore Swans and playing coach Leif Stuart believes the Lions are ready to put up a strong fight against their more favoured opponent.

Nambucca Valley may be about to enjoy playing a string of matches at home but for the Swans it’s a different story.

Their next month consists of travel to Nambucca Heads, a general bye for the Queen’s Birthday weekend, then travel to Casino and Port Macquarie. It’s a stretch that their coach Ashley Pritchard said could make or break the team’s season.

“We’ve got to commit ourselves to travelling if we’re going to make sure that we’re going to be a good side this year and play finals,” Pritchard said.

ROUND 7 – Saturday, June 5

NORTHERN BEACHES vs PORT MACQUARIE at Centennial Oval, Woolgoolga
(11.50am – Women; 1.20pm – Reserves; 2.50pm – Seniors)
NAMBUCCA VALLEY vs LISMORE SWANS at EJ Biffin Playing Fields, Nambucca Heads
(2.15pm – Seniors)
COFFS BREAKERS vs CASINO LIONS at Fitzroy Oval/Old Camp, Coffs Harbour
(1.00pm – Seniors)
SAWTELL/TOORMINA vs GRAFTON at Richardson Park, Sawtell
(9.20am – Under-17s; 11.10am – Women; 12.40pm – Reserves; 2.50pm – Seniors)

** The Coffs Breakers Under-17s will be playing a cross-conference match against Inverell Saints at Inverell. The match starts at 11am.