Preliminary Final Preview
North Coffs v Port Macquarie
The season draws closer to its conclusion this weekend with the challenger to Sawtell's right to the AFL North Coast premiership to be decided at BCU Stadium.
North Coffs were unable to get over the line last Saturday against the Saints and will have to earn their right to a rematch. In a topsy-turvy contest, the Kangaroos were able to compete for the majority of the contest.
Sam Dawes was North Coffs' best across half-back and will again look to replicate his form against the Magpies this time last year. He is worth a few goals wherever he plays, such is his ability to read the play and turn defence into attack.
Coach, Danny McFadden knows there is room for improvement. There were costly turnovers moving into a forward line that was outgunned at the other end by the Saints. Trent Cook held Mark Couzens in a tagging role. While he did a great job, the side lost his potency up forward.
Jordan O'Connor looked like a fish out of water playing up the ground and needs to return to his best against Port's defence, led by Dean Nankervill. Nankervill was exceptional in spoiling the Swans, operating almost as a spare man in defence. The Port midfield slowed the supply and forced the Swans out wide, making his job easier.
Shannon Skreja and Tim Donohue are big-match performers and will not take a step back against Josh Drum and Brad Giri, who were in the thick of the action again last week.
The ruck duel will again be one to watch. Michael Kemp is a clutch player for the Magpies and comes into the Preliminary Final with confidence and form on his side. Matthew Quinlan was servicable against Sawtell and should match up well with Kemp.
Jesse Schmidt is still the barometer for the Port Macquarie outfit. He is capable of brilliance, both on the ground and in the air. Glen Golsby-Smith might get the task on Schmidt after holding leading goalkicker, Ben Hooke to three goals. For the Kangaroos, Darren Funston had a quiet game by his lofty standards against the Saints, and seemed to be hampered by a groin injury, but is another representative star with runs on the board in pressure situations.
The recent record makes ugly reading for Port, with their most recent clash in Round 15, where the Kangaroos travelled south and came away with a 111-point win. This will be a much closer contest. Matthew Lill, Michael Kemp and Tim Donohue were missing in their last outing, as was Scott Payne, who will most likely play and add much needed experience to the Port attack. Lill may move into the midfield after returning from injury a fortnight ago.
However, given the points differential against these sides at the end of the regular season, the gap may be too large to bridge, with North Coffs starting clear favourites.
Coffs Swans v Sawtell
Sawtell have the best chance of any of the sides from the Elimination Final winners list to progress through to the Grand Final. They were imposing against North Coffs with Andrew Draper and Sam Johnston among the best on ground. Simon Bilsborough was accurate in front of goals booting three majors. The ingredients are there for Sawtell to be a threat again. Troy Britnell will be important around the ground as a tall, as will Dean Taylor across half-back.
The Swans went toe-to-toe with perennial Grand-Finallists, Port Macquarie last weekend. A final-quarter fadeout hurt the red and whites come the final siren. Missing their best on ground from last week, Sam Phillips will not help their cause. Jason Sincock is also in doubt with injury. The talent will come from their younger pool of players. Ben Miller was strong after backing up from the Under 18s. Miller booted three goals and will have a bigger tank this weekend to play in the ruck. He will most likely rotate with Daley Bear who is plucking the ball out of the sky better than any player in the competition.
After finishing top of the table, the Swans will not want to bow out in straight sets.
Sawtell v Nambucca Valley
Sawtell are favoured to set up a Grand Final replay with the Coffs Swans but will face stubborn resistance against Nambucca Valley.
Sawtell played well in stages in their three-goal defeat at the hands of the Swans last weekend, as they should after finishing minor premiers. Jack Gillingham and Ethan Kelly again played well but did not get the assistance needed from a side after finals success. Elliott Schmitt will be dangerous this week, whilst Codey Moran and Daniel Shipley are capable of more in their respective positions.
Nambucca Valley came from the clouds to defeat North Coffs in the Elimination Final a fortnight ago. They benefitted from putting their stars on the ball in the final quarter as they overcame a massive deficit to keep their finals hopes alive. They should be under no illusions that they need a noticeable improvement to win against classy opposition. Saying this, the Lions are capable of a strong performance. Jed Ellis-Cuff and Justin Saker are adept at Under 18 level. The duo showed glimpses of this against the Kangaroos and no doubt they will be the pivotal to the result.
PRELIMINARY FINAL at BCU Stadium
2.30pm (Seniors)- North Coffs v Port Macquarie
12.50pm (Reserves)- Coffs Swans v Sawtell/Toormina
11.00am (Under 18s)- Sawtell/Toormina v Nambucca Valley