By Will Hunter
As the 2017 home and away season reaches its conclusion, we bid farewell to the five sides that finished in the lower half of the ladder and turn our attention to what is shaping as one of the most exciting finals series in recent years.
Despite a final round loss, Dingley secured its fourth consecutive minor premiership and earned the week off, while the best of the rest will battle it out in two tremendous finals contests.
Mordialloc V St Pauls (Springvale Reserve)
Saturday 2nd September, 2:15pm
Round 14 –
St Pauls 4.7 (31) def by Mordialloc 13.9 (87)
Round 5 –
Mordialloc 9.13 (67) def by St Pauls 11.9 (75)
The Dogs have been the biggest surprise packet of 2017, surpassing all external expectations this year to secure the double chance. They have played an exhilarating brand of football along the way, and have shown their premiership credentials by besting the two sides above them in Mordialloc and Dingley (twice).
Their run-and-gun style has caught most opponents off-guard, as they sling-shot the footy from half-back to the forward 50 in the blink of an eye. More often than not, the ball finds itself into a very open forward line, which gives spearhead Steve Muller the best opportunity to mark on the lead in the hotspot.
To that end, the Dogs will relish the vast open expanses of Springvale Reserve.
It’s a formula that has worked very well so far this season, with Muller booting 66 goals for the season – ranked second in the competition behind Dingley’s Cal McQueen – and is the Dogs best chance of victory. With his sure hands and lethal right leg, Muller is one of the key danger men that Mordialloc must curtail.
There is plenty of youth in this side, with the previous two Sparrow Medallists Connor Byrne and Matt Brown having an impact at senior level, while Under 19 interleague reps Will Clarke and Brad Dolan have contributed at both ends of the ground.
Add in the talent of experience stars Matt Kreymborg, Kieran Knox and Brad Gilder, and it’s an potent mix that can take this St Pauls side a long way.
Mordialloc, meanwhile possesses one of the most powerful on-ball divisions in the comp, with the hard bodies of Todd Bastion, Danny Nicholls and Jordan Derbyshire in particular providing plenty of grunt at the contests. Although this midfield group has more than its fair share of polish, it’s the core strength of this group that will allow them to crack in harder and win more of the contested footy.
Another key advantage the Bloods have is in the ruck, with Tom McMahon amongst the best performed big men in the League this season. Up against Nick Halliday, he will certainly have the height advantage in the air. Halliday is a reliable battler and can hold his own against taller opponents, but McMahon should be able to provide his onballers with first use.
Expect another scintillating game of football, but the Bloods to win a thriller.
Mordialloc by six points.
Bentleigh V East Malvern (Springvale Reserve)
Sunday 3rd September, 2:15PM
Round 17 –
East Malvern 6.13 (49) def by Bentleigh 13.7 (85)
Round 8 –
Bentleigh 12.19 (91) def East Malvern 9.5 (59)
There are no second chances for Bentleigh and East Malvern as they go head to head in Sunday’s Elimination Final.
The Demons have come from the cheap seats to qualify for the finals, a remarkable achievement given their season was teetering on the brink of ruin. After six rounds, the Demons sat second last on the table with just one win, and with many of their stars in the medical room, their finals prospects looked decidedly bleak. But following Paul Dimattina’s resigned as coach to concentrate on his outside business interests, Chris Johnson and Pete Pirera have steered the club to nine wins from its last 12 matches.
The return of their big guns in skipper Tom Backman, reigning Ellis Medallist Scott Lawry and 2016 Interleague star Matty Troutbeck have been instrumental in the Dees’ resurgence, and the club enters the finals firing on all cylinders. Lawry has been instrumental since moving from the half back flank into the guts this season, while the Panthers couldn’t contain the dynamic Troutbeck up forward in their last encounter a fortnight ago.
East Malvern has battled their own injury and form issues during the second half of the season, but last week’s win over the Districts – one of their best of the year – would have allayed some of their concerns.
Nathan Robinson’s broken arm robs the Panthers of an elite ball-winner, but they still have plenty of midfield firepower in Ed Sim, Jimmy Downling and Ryan Mullett.
The classy Nathan Henley booted 46 goals before rupturing his Achilles, and with ruckman interleague Matt Terech back in the team we can expect former Hawk Simon Taylor to spend more time forward. He is a huge threat in front of the sticks, and Demons defender Justin Hall will need to be on the top of his game to keep him quiet.
While the veteran Terech is a big strong brute, his opposite number in Mitchell Smart will certainly have his measure around the ground. A super athlete, Smart will effectively give the Demons an extra number at the contests.
Bentleigh have had the wood over East Malvern in recent seasons, winning their last five head to head encounters, including last year’s cut-throat Semi Final. Unfortunately for the Panthers, I can’t see them bucking this trend in the form the Demons are in.
Bentleigh by 12 points.