Match of the Round
Singleton Strikers FC v Toronto Awaba FC
Howe Park, Sunday 2:30pm
Singleton and Toronto will go head-to-head in their final game of the regular season at Howe Park on Saturday afternoon.
This match could potentially be the Strikers’ last on home soil in 2023 if they manage to score a win or a draw. They are ranked fourth, level on points with Kahibah but trailing them by goal difference.
Kahibah have the bye on Sunday, so one point will see Singleton jump above them.
This game will be the Stags’ last until week two of the finals series. They wrapped up the premiership several weeks ago and have a weekend off while the teams ranked second to fifth play next weekend.
Despite there being a lot of talk regarding Singleton’s chances of finishing in the top three and avoiding the elimination final, the side’s coach Mick Jarvis said that his attention was focused solely on his team producing a quality performance and taking momentum into the finals series.
“I know a lot of the guys have had the calculators out figuring it all out, but I’m just more focused on playing good football, and then the results and the ladder take care of themselves,” Jarvis said.
“I think Kahibah are more focused on third spot than we are to be honest.
“I’m not sure how it all works with playing home finals and that. I never get too far ahead of myself and figure that out. But it is always good for the club if you can get a home final.
“I just want to build momentum going into the finals. A win against BelSwans, a very tight loss against Westy, a win against Southy; if we pick up another win in the last round, I feel like we’re starting to head down the right track.
“I want to see good football and I want to see us competing on every play.”
Jarvis said that Jackson Cox was expected to return to the side either this weekend or the one after, which will offer a huge boost for the Strikers.
But they will be without Lachlan Nichol and Marcus Morris (suspension) on Sunday as well as Ben Henry (injury).
Toronto Awaba will be nowhere near full strength on Sunday, with Harry Relf and Jarrod Purcell both out injured, Connor Fitzpatrick still suspended, and coach Jarrad Hiles set to rest Nick Roberts, Bailey Snowden and Flynn Fittler who are in card trouble.
Hiles said he had faith in his entire squad to step up and get the job done while several first-grade regulars watch on from the sideline as the finals series approaches.
“Things like this give other people opportunities. Everyone who’s come into the team throughout the year has stepped up,” Hiles said.
“I’m not really sure what we’ll be lining up like, but we’ll be going out there to get the win.”
These two teams have met twice already this season and the Stags won comfortably on both occasions, prevailing 3-0 at Howe Park in Round Nine back in April and then getting up 4-0 at home in Round 18 in June.
Hiles’ men have already swept Cessnock and Belmont Swansea and were unbeaten against Thornton in 2023, and they are now hoping to add Singleton to that list of teams on Sunday.
South Cardiff FC v West Wallsend SFC
Ulinga Oval, Sunday 2:30pm
South Cardiff will play at Ulinga Oval for the last time this year in the final round of the regular season when they host West Wallsend on Sunday.
These sides will play finals football for the first time since 2019. They are hoping to put in a stronger showing and make it all the way to the decider.
This Sunday’s game is a chance for the sides to take momentum into the post season with a strong performance and result against a fellow top-five team.
The Gunners are not exactly fully guaranteed fifth spot as they sit three points clear of sixth-placed Wallsend.
But Perry Mellon’s men’s goal difference is 21 greater than the Red Devils’, meaning a minor miracle would need to unfold this weekend for South Cardiff to fall to sixth.
Mellon is confident that it will not come down to goal difference though as he is backing his boys to pick up at least a point on home soil against an in-form Bluebells outfit.
Mellon will be resting a few players to make sure they are ready for the following weekend. Jacob Morgan will also miss out on the match due to suspension for yellow card accumulation.
“There’ll be a few that won’t play. We’ve got a few players in card trouble, so we obviously can’t risk them for finals,” Mellon said.
“We don’t want to go into the finals on the back of two losses though. We have built good momentum recently, so we want to continue that on and go into the finals with a win.
“It’s a bit of a juggling act, I suppose.
“With Westy, they are always the same no matter who plays for them. They might rest a couple, I’m not too sure, but they are one of the best sides in the comp. They will be physical and they’ll test us out, but we know we can compete against them.”
West Wallsend have been in brilliant form during the back end of the campaign. They are on a four-game winning streak and have picked up three points in eight of their past nine matches.
The Bluebells prevailed 1-0 against Belmont Swansea at Blacksmiths Oval last Saturday as they kept their ninth clean sheet in 17 matches after conceding in all of their first seven games.
For the Bluebells coach Bailey Cox, that highlighted how well his side was gelling at the right time of the season.
“I’m super stoked with finishing second, especially considering we had a bit of a rough start,” Cox said.
“We had a bit of a mixed group at the start of the season. There were a few new boys in the group.
“Once we started to click though, we’ve just been flying. We gelled really well and figured out how we wanted to play, and we’ve been a lot better defensively and in attack as well.
“I couldn’t be happier with the lads.
“I’ve got a couple of injury niggles and card trouble for a fair few boys this weekend. We are still going to try and get the three points, but we’ll have a very different lineup to the last couple of weeks.”
Quinn MacNeil (suspension), Josh West (suspension) and Tyla Cook (injured) will be out for Sunday’s game, but Cox was still deciding mid-week who else he would leave out or include.
Goals can certainly be expected in this match, given these two teams have contested two high-scoring games already this year. They drew 3-3 at Ulinga Oval in Round Nine in April, before the Bluebells won 4-3 at home in Round 18 in June.
The Gunners are determined to finally come out on top against West Wallsend this Sunday.
Wallsend FC v Cessnock City Hornets FC
The Gardens, Sunday 2:30pm
Wallsend will host Cessnock at The Gardens in the final round of the campaign on Sunday in what is almost certainly going to be the last game of the year for the sides.
For Cessnock, it will definitely be their farewell game as they cannot finish any higher than last and are simply playing for pride come Sunday.
The Hornets have not been too far away this year, winning six games and picking up one draw.
For Wallsend, there is an extremely slim chance that they could play finals football in 2023. They are three points behind fifth-placed South Cardiff with just one game to go, but the Gunners’ goal difference is 21 greater than Wallsend’s.
The Red Devils require a massive swing to finish above South Cardiff, for example, if South Cardiff lose by seven, Wallsend would need to win by 15 to rise to fifth. Unlikely, yes, but stranger things have happened.
The Red Devils and the Hornets have won a game each against one another this season and both contests were both high-scoring and entertaining.
Wallsend outscored Cessnock 5-3 at home in Round Nine in April, then Cessnock prevailed 5-2 on their home soil in Round 18 in June.
More goals could fly in again this Sunday when two sides with nothing to lose line up opposite one another.
Belmont Swansea United FC v Thornton Redbacks FC
Blacksmiths Oval, Sunday 2:30pm
Two sides playing for pride will go head-to-head at Blacksmiths Oval on Sunday when Belmont Swansea United host Thornton Redbacks.
Neither team can qualify for the finals this season as they sit four points behind fifth-placed South Cardiff with just one round remaining.
But the two sides can finish as high as sixth and whoever loses this one would end the year in eighth, so they will both be going all out for the three points.
BelSwans are also holding their old boys’ day on Sunday and the hosts are determined to produce a positive performance for what is expected to be a large crowd to enjoy.
Mick Stafford’s men finished second on the table last season and went on to win the grand final, but their championship defence this year was derailed by a slow start, inconsistency during the season, and more recently a four-game losing streak on the run home.
Stafford has challenged his team to put a few goals away in the final round on Sunday and finish the season on a high.
The game will be Thornton coach Nima Nikfarjam’s last in charge of the Redbacks after he was told earlier this month that he would not be required in 2024.
Nikfarjam and his team are also determined to go out winners on Sunday in their final game of the campaign.
BelSwans won 3-1 when these two sides last met at Blacksmiths Oval in Round Nine back in April but Thornton won the return fixture at home in Round 18 in June 2-1.
Each team will be pushing hard to win the head-to-head battle in their final tussle of the year.
Kahibah FC have the bye.
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