AFL NORTH COAST: Season hangs in balance for bottom half
TWO huge matches in round 9 of the men’s competition have the potential to define the finals series.
The Coffs Harbour local derby sees second placed Sawtell Toormina Saints take on third placed Coffs Harbour Breakers at Fitzroy Oval.
A win to the Saints will see them all but secure second place and the chance to host the semi-final in three weeks time, but will also ensure they retain hope of catching Grafton if the ladder leaders drop points along the way.
Sawtell have won the two matches already played between these teams, including a win away from home, and will go into this clash full of confidence that they can continue recent dominance.
Coffs Harbour has endured a challenging season but somehow find themselves only one win behind Sawtell in third place. A derby win will see them position themselves with the chance to steal second spot from their biggest rival.
The last-start win over Port Macquarie Magpies was their best performance of the year and they’ll be planning to build from that effort week on week as the season draws towards its conclusion.
Although the Breakers are yet to beat Sawtell in 2020, they went within a couple of minutes and one kick to snatching a draw last time these two teams met and this should be another extremely tight encounter.
Port Macquarie are nearly at the point where they need other teams results to fall their way, so need to start winning to keep their destiny in their own hands.
The last thing a team needs when it finds itself in this position is an away trip to the ladder leaders, but that’s exactly what faces the Magpies.
To make matters worse, not only is it an away trip, it’s the longest away trip in the competition which always makes rallying the troops harder.
Grafton are in the midst of the club’s best season since it won the last of its two AFL North Coast Premierships in 2012.
In eight matches to date the team has had six wins, one draw, and just the one loss, which was by a mere one point. That narrow loss will provide the Magpies with some hope as they are the only team to have blotted the Tigers’ record.
However, that match was played in Port when the Tigers faced their own challenges around travel.
The Tigers have a focus born from years in the wilderness, struggling to find numbers let alone win matches, and won’t be looking to show the magpies any compassion.
The women’s match of the round sees first place Coffs Harbour at home to second placed Northern Beaches Blues.
Although the Breakers have currently played fewer matches than the other teams in the competition, they have all but guaranteed they will top the ladder and go straight through to the grand final.
A win in this match will secure the team its first ever opportunity to play in the season decider, which is the first major goal that was set prior to the start of the season.
The Blues are putting together an impressive season in their first year under the Northern Beaches banner.
Last season, the club fielded a team as a joint venture with Grafton and recorded just the one win. This season the record stands at six matches played for three wins so the progress is obvious.
With many players who are still learning the game, the team is developing week on week and they relish each clash with the Breakers as a marker of not only how far they’ve come, but also how much further they still have to go.