HIT106.9 Northern League One Finals Week Two Preview: Grand final spot on the line when the Stags host Westy before Singleton and South Cardiff fight to live another day

Major Semi-Final
Toronto Awaba FC v West Wallsend SFC  
Lyall Peacock Oval, Saturday 2:30pm

Premiers Toronto Awaba are back in action this Saturday when they host West Wallsend at Lyall Peacock Oval in a blockbuster playoffs match between the two top-ranked sides with a spot in the grand final on the line.

The Stags and Bluebells finished first and second on the table at the conclusion of the regular season and while the premiers enjoyed a well-earned rest last weekend, West Wallsend got the job done in the qualifying final with a 1-0 win at home against Singleton to advance to the major semi-final.

The benefit of playing in this Saturday’s game is that while the winners advance to the grand final, with the losers getting a second chance at home a week later in the preliminary final against the winners of this Sunday’s minor semi-final between Singleton and South Cardiff.  

But neither Toronto Awaba or West Wallsend have any plans of lining up in week three of the finals series.

A tight, competitive battle is expected when they go head-to-head in Toronto on Saturday, given they have met three times already this year and all three were close contests.  

Toronto Awaba won 2-1 at home in Round One all the way back in February, but West Wallsend won the next two battles as they prevailed 2-0 at home in Round 10 in May and 3-2 away in Round 19 in July.

Given that West Wallsend have beaten the Stags in their two most recent meetings Toronto Awaba are well aware that they will have a fight on their hands come Saturday.

Toronto’s coach Jarrad Hiles said his side are a great chance of knocking off the in-form Bluebells if they can limit their mistakes on Saturday.

“I’ve gone back and looked at some of the footage we’ve got from those games on the Veo camera and looked at some of the goals we’ve conceded, and I think we just have to rectify our errors,” Hiles said.

“I think Mick Jarvis gave a pretty good insight in his review on last weekend’s game; Westy like to play pretty direct. They get the ball up the field and then look to play. We know it’s coming, so it’s now about whether we are good enough to contain it and stop it. 

“The boys are pretty determined and I’m sure they’ll give a good showing at home. Our pitch is in pretty good nick so that won’t be an issue.  

“It’s always a good, fun game against Westy. Bailey (Cox) has done a great job with them.”

Toronto Awaba opted against training or playing a friendly match last weekend during their weekend off. Instead, they travelled out to Kahibah to support their reserve grade side at their 4-0 elimination final victory over West Wallsend. But the side are confident that the high standards at their mid-week training sessions will have them fit and firing for this Saturday’s clash.

The Stags get several players back for the game who all missed the 7-0 final-round defeat away from home against Singleton. Harry Relf and Jarrod Purcell are both looking good and are ready to return after limping off injured against Wallsend in the penultimate round, Connor Fitzpatrick is back from suspension and Nick Roberts, Bailey Snowden and Flynn Fittler all return from being rested while in card trouble.

“I’m back to having to make some tough decisions this weekend,” Hiles said.

“That last round loss is what it is. I moved on from that very quickly. The motivation is to make the grand final, and we’ve given ourselves a good chance to make it by finishing top of the table.

“A few boys haven’t played much footy recently, but the boys should be fit. I don’t think fitness will be an issue. Intensity has been great at training. The boys have been driving it and the finals series will make everyone lift.”

In the other camp, West Wallsend have not shied away from the fact that they want to play a home grand final at Johnston Park this year, and they can book that with a win this Saturday.

Westy will most likely be without experienced duo Bryson Cox and Quinn MacNeil and will definitely be without fellow injured teammates Josh Carroll and Josh West.  

But coach Bailey Cox said he was confident in the depth at the club and was sure everyone selected would rise to the occasion against the premiers. He is expecting a tough game on Saturday from a match that offers the winner a spot in the decider.

“It’ll be a hard game. They are a good side and they won the comp for a reason,” Cox said.

“They score goals, and we’ll be trying to negate them from doing that.

“Hopefully we can show up the same as we have been recently. We are on a roll at the moment and everyone is on a good high, so I want us to keep that going.

“I’d like to see us start a bit better this weekend. Against Singleton, I feel like we started a bit slow in the game and made a couple of errors early to give them chances. I think that the only chances they really got were from our mistakes. This weekend, we have to be pretty strict in the way we play because if we aren’t, Toronto will punish us because they are a good enough side.”

Cox said that there was a great atmosphere around his club at the moment and declared that his players cannot wait to throw everything at the premiers on Saturday.

“The vibes at training on Tuesday were high,” Cox said.

“Everyone knows what is at stake this weekend.”

Minor Semi-Final
Singleton Strikers FC v South Cardiff FC  
Howe Park, Sunday 2:30pm

It’s do-or-die for two teams at Howe Park this Sunday when the Singleton Strikers host South Cardiff in a highly-anticipated minor semi-final match.

The winner of this game will advance to week three of the finals series for a preliminary final clash against the loser of Saturday’s major semi-final but the side that loses on Sunday will be eliminated from the competition.

If there was ever a finals game from which an abundance of goals were expected, this one is it. 

The Strikers were kept scoreless last weekend but will be looking to recapture the form that saw them close out third spot during the final round of the regular season with a 7-0 win against Toronto Awaba, while South Cardiff have been one of the most dangerous teams all year in front of goal, having scored 60 times during the season.  

The head-to-head battle also suggests this Sunday’s match will have plenty of goals in it. South Cardiff won the first two league meetings between these two sides 4-3 at home in Round Eight and 3-2 at Howe Park in Round 17, before Singleton got up 3-2 in Round 26 last month. They also met in an Australia Cup Preliminary Round Four match back in April, which Singleton won 3-0 away from home.

This Sunday’s game will be Singleton’s last on home soil this season, with their possible preliminary final and grand final matches to be played on the road.  

The Strikers’ coach Mick Jarvis and his men are determined to farewell Howe Park in style for the year, and they are expecting a tough contest and a cracking final three weeks of the season.

“The last four sides that are left are very well led in my opinion,” Jarvis said.

“I think Jarrad (Hiles) has a very good culture at Toronto at the moment. They play football and they are very tough to play. Perry (Mellon), I’ve known for years, and he’s the same. I don’t know Bailey (Cox) from West Wallsend very well, but they leave everything out there on the field.

“I’m impressed with the four teams that are left. Very impressed. I’m glad they’re there.”

South Cardiff’s coach Perry Mellon said that he and his side were excited to be playing semi-final football and declared that they would go into Sunday’s game with the usual attacking mindset that has seen them score more goals than every side except the premiers in 2023.

“We’re really excited and the boys are in good spirits after our win on the weekend,” Mellon said.

“Singo is a tough road trip, it’s always tough up there and they always get a big home crowd. I’m sure it’ll be another large crowd there on Sunday, which will be a challenge in itself, but hopefully we’ll take a few up the expressway with us.

“It’ll be a tight game I imagine. All our games have been high-scoring against them, so I think it will be an entertaining game.

“We’ve scored one of the most amounts of goals in the comp, so we’re not going to turn around and try and score early and sit behind the ball. We don’t do that well. We’ll go all out like we have all year and back ourselves to end up scoring more goals than they do.”