By Hugh Maclean
Fifteen rounds of cut and thrust is now done, and finals are among us. And as if to prove the theory that the more things change the more they stay the same, the Division 1 match-ups are exactly the same as in 2016: Dingley v Heatherton Black in the qualifying final, Caulfield v Keysborough in the elimination.
Dingley finished the regular season four points clear of the chasing pack, but it’s important to note that the only team to take points from the Dingoes this season was the leading Heatherton side, a Round 3 draw being followed by a 47-31 Heatherton win in Round 13. It’s obvious to say that to stop Heatherton you need to stop Rahni Samason and Nat Billings from scoring, but unless Dingley can restrict supply by getting over the Mifsuds and Steph Peacock in the mid-court, then Britt Goldsmith, Chloe Sinclair and Alicia Wise are in for a long afternoon. The work rate and creativity of Shae Wonnacott, Sara Merkus and Taylah Fiddes will need to be strong to give Jess Payne and Bridget Furphy enough opportunities for Dingley. Will the injured Sarah Fischer be back to help their cause? As always this will be a great clash but I can’t go past Heatherton to go into the grand final first.
Keysborough needed extra time to end Caulfield’s season on this day in 2016. Since then Keysborough have struggled to get their best side on the court, but have strengthened at the right time of the season. They will need all their key players firing if they are to trouble a Caulfield side that has recruited well and developed their younger players. The battles between Caulfield’s Makayla Bulte and Keysborough’s ultra-consistent Amy Burns; and the perpetual motion of Caulfield’s Fotini Stavrou and Steph Clemons against Keysborough’s Megan Kennedy and Courtney Nash will be worth watching, but it could be the premier defensive partnership of Alice Pohlner and Phoebe Naughton that tips the scales in Caulfield’s favour. However, I expect this one to be in the balance right until the final siren.
Division 2 sees Heatherton looking to parlay an unbeaten regular season into a second successive Division 2 premiership. Dingley too have been unbeaten save for two reverses against Heatherton, and scorelines of 54-23 in Round 4 and 40-28 in Round 11 only serve to underline Heatherton’s dominance. Sophie Bartlett’s 507 goals have her outscoring all other sides in the division on her own (except for Dingley who are only four in front), but the defensive axis of Belinda Kay and Kirsty Mann is every bit as important. Dingley’s best bet is to hurt Heatherton going the other way, but it’s hard not to see a Heatherton win here. The elimination final sees Division 2 newcomers Caulfield and South Yarra square off in a fascinating clash that is much harder to pick. Caulfield have a considerably stronger record than the Yarras in both attack and defence, and have won both encounters between the two sides this season with both games being played in particularly strong wind. Neither side comes into the game with particularly strong recent form behind them, but all things considered Caulfield look slightly the stronger here.
Dingley snatched second place in Division 3 with the aid of a surprise Black Rock win over Heatherton, and will fancy their chances of upsetting Clayton this week. They come in fresh from a Round 15 bye, and coach Mel Ades has them trained to the minute. Clayton, however, looks like a side with very few weaknesses. The Collins girls combine brilliantly and in Penny Townley and Taylah Mackie they possess two shooters that can hurt you from anywhere in the circle. Clayton may be a little too good here. Heatherton play Keysborough in the elimination final with the injustice of losing the double chance flaring their nostrils whilst their opponents needed to pull out all the stops to clinch fourth place in the last round. Keysborough may have momentum but they will need everything to go right to go to the second week of the play-offs. Heatherton won by 47-38 in their only clash this season, and I see a similar result here.
Division 4 has been dominated by the two Heatherton and the two Dingley sides. Heatherton White took top spot by beating Dingley Gold in the final round by 47-43. Heidi Samason put on a shooting masterclass in that game, netting 36 goals herself in a tricky wind. She may need to do the same again if the result is to be repeated. Dingley Red play Heatherton Black in the elimination final, with the free-scoring Heatherton side contrasting with the tighter, more miserly Dingley combination. Defensive strength tends to be paramount in the big matches, and I think Dingley Red may be in a good position to repeat their Round 13 victory over Heatherton Black.
Caulfield take on Dingley in the Division 5 qualifying final having lost but once in 2017, and that to a Dandenong side that are now nowhere to be seen back in Round 2. Barb Traeger leads a side with plenty of experience but still the speed and agility to trouble the best sides in the division. Dingley come in on the back of four straight wins and will be confident that their best will be good enough, but it will take their very best to claim the win here. The loser will have the attacking forces of either Heatherton or Lyndhurst snapping at their heels. Key shooters Verity Sheppard and Melissa Mair both have over 500 goals to their credit this season for their respective sides – the team that feeds their shooters the best will get the chocolates here.
Division 6 is the tightest in the league, with all four sides being able to make a claim for competition favouritism. Heatherton and Dingley Red have won the right to take the crucial double chance. While Heatherton took top spot by two points, Dingley Red have often looked the most fluent side in the division, and won the only match between the two sides handsomely in Round 8. Dingley Red may have the game to win this one. There’s no tomorrow for the loser between Dingley Gold and Doveton, nor is there a struck match between these two sides. They’ve not seen each other since Round 5 – even that was close with the Dingoes winning by two goals. With both sides having similar recent form, I’ll toss a coin and say Dingley Gold.
Division 7 is one of the more interesting affairs in the SFNL. Dingley have led all the way and yet regular division seven watchers still have queries about them. Oakleigh District are the main challengers – they have finished just short in both meetings this season but have looked very solid aside from that, and if there is an upset it might be here that it happens. The elimination final is between Carrum Patterson Lakes and Lyndhurst, with many analysts thinking that CPL could go all the way in the next three weeks. CPL has won their last four matches but their last loss was to a Lyndhurst side that have been around the mark all year. With little confidence, I’ll tip CPL.
Division 8 sees Keysborough having been an impregnable force. They haven’t looked like losing a match, with no side having got within 14 goals of them all season. They face Mordialloc having been the only side to beat the ladies in red all season. Of course, finals are a completely different game but it’s hard to go past the Burras here. Dingley play Lyndhurst in the minor final with both club’s seasons charting a similar course. Both sides started the season like rockets but their form in the second half of their season has been somewhat more shaky. Dingley appear to have the happy knack of winning the close games, and given that this is likely to be tight, they’ll be my tip.
Good luck to all competitors this week!