Teams weigh up chances ahead of fi­nal five rounds

Pilbara News - - Sport - Ben Leahy and Ali­cia Per­era

With only five rounds left be­fore the 2016 North Pil­bara Foot­ball League fi­nals be­gin, the com­pe­ti­tion re­mains as fierce as ever.

While the South Hed­land Swans and Wick­ham Wolves have edged slightly ahead of the pack, the Kar­ratha Kats, Port Hed­land Rovers and Dampier Sharks are all still in with a shot at pre­mier­ship glory. The North West Tele­graph and

Pil­bara News have run the rule over each side to see how they are tracking head­ing into the busi­ness end of the sea­son. South Hed­land Swans League wins: 9 losses: 1 Re­serve wins: 1 losses: 9 Fresh off a his­tory-mak­ing 2015 sea­son in which they swept to a drought-breaking pre­mier­ship, the South Hed­land Swans are again look­ing omi­nous.

An imposing nine wins and only one loss have the Swans favourites to lock away the mi­nor pre­mier­ship and be­gin their tilt at back-to­back flags.

Yet while the Swans re­main the team to beat, they have also looked vul­ner­a­ble in re­cent weeks.

Af­ter a tight win against the Rovers in round 7, the Swans lost their first game shortly af­ter against the Wolves. Their reserves also re­main a worry, having posted only one win for the sea­son.

De­spite the form jit­ters, coach Troy Melville hopes the loss and tough re­cent matches will re­fo­cus his Swans on ex­e­cut­ing the “one per cen­ters”.

While the Swans reserves might not be get­ting the wins on the board, Melville was con­fi­dent they had been play­ing ac­cord­ing to team rules and pro­vid­ing a step­ping stone for play­ers to jump into the league squad.

“It is a to­tally dif­fer­ent chal­lenge this year be­ing the hunted as op­posed to the hunter … and it is hard to be at your best ev­ery week,” he said.

“So we are con­scious of build­ing mo­men­tum go­ing into the pointy end of the sea­son.

“The Rovers game was a good arm wres­tle … and we were a bit flat against Wick­ham … so we came away and re­assessed and of­ten a loss high­lights small prob­lems that you had known about but don’t hit home un­til it comes back to bite you.

“We pride our­selves on the one per cen­ters and team and con­tested footy … and that is go­ing to be the fo­cus go­ing into the last five games.” Wick­ham Wolves League wins: 7 losses: 2 draws: 1 Re­serve wins: 9 losses: 1 Boast­ing a team filled with tal­ented wolf pups hun­gry for suc­cess, pres­i­dent Paul Lott says his Wick­ham Wolves are think­ing big this year.

With a league side sit­ting sec­ond on the lad­der on seven wins, two losses and one draw and a reserves squad on top with nine wins and only one loss, Lott says claim­ing dou­ble glory is not out of the ques­tion.

“We are con­fi­dent we can make the grand fi­nal in league and reserves this year, we are set­tled and we have good young play­ers who are very hun­gry,” he said.

“Af­ter miss­ing out in last year’s league pre­lim­i­nary fi­nal, they want to go that one bet­ter.”

The Wolves’ strong po­si­tion this year marks a dra­matic turn­around from their bot­tom-placed fin­ish in 2014.

Lott cred­its the turn­around to the abil­ity of the club to grow and de­velop its ju­nior play­ers, who grew up lo­cally in Wick­ham and Roe­bourne.

“We are lucky in our area that we have a lot of 19-20-21-year-olds who have grown up to­gether,” he said.

“When you get 10-15 guys at that age, who are good footy play­ers and ma­tur­ing to­gether, it is great for the team.

“We were also for­tu­nate through the down­turn to mostly keep these young guys in jobs.

“And cer­tainly go­ing into the fi­nals it is im­por­tant to have that depth … to call on play­ers from the reserves who have al­ready played league footy and can fill a hole.” Kar­ratha Kats League wins: 5 losses: 4 draws: 1 Re­serve wins: 5 losses: 5 Kar­ratha Kats have been a dan­ger side as the most un­pre­dictable team of the 2016 sea­son so far, ca­pa­ble of go­ing toe-to-toe with the top two and record­ing some big score­lines against the rest de­spite their mid-lad­der po­si­tion.

Sit­ting in third place with five wins, four losses and one draw, but with a per­cent­age higher than the Wolves, the stats show the Kats are still a team to be reck­oned with at this point in the sea­son.

League coach David van Raalte said he had been im­pressed with how fast the largely new team had been im­prov­ing week af­ter week.

“With a new bunch of guys and a new play­ing style, I ex­pected things to take a lit­tle longer to come to­gether, but they came to­gether quicker than ex­pected,” he said.

“We’ve matched it with the best two teams. We drew with Wick­ham and lost to the Swans by one point.”

“(Fi­nals are) cer­tainly look­ing like a pos­si­bil­ity now, the way things are go­ing, but we’re not tak­ing any­one for granted.

“Port Hed­land and Dampier are ca­pa­ble of pulling out a win at any stage, and the Fal­cons … can still be a dan­ger side.”

Van Raalte said the side’s strengths lay in de­fence and play­ing ev­ery game as a true team ef­fort, though goal con­ver­sion was a key area to work on.

He said the Kats reserves had dug deep to re­cover af­ter an early string of losses.

“They got off to a slow start for the year, but again there’s been im­prove­ment ev­ery week and the guys are now on track to hope­fully, if they main­tain it, play a role in the fi­nals,” he said. Port Hed­land Rovers League wins: 4 losses: 6 Re­serve wins: 7 losses: 3 Long an NPFL pow­er­house, the Port Hed­land Rovers again find them­selves in the un­fa­mil­iar role of bat­tling to scrape into the fi­nals.

The Rovers league side sits on four wins and six losses just like its 2015 side, which ended up bow­ing out in week one of the fi­nals.

How­ever, coach Greg Mas­trangelo be­lieves it is not a case of his­tory re­peat­ing in 2016 be­cause his cur­rent squad have the tal­ent to threaten any of the top teams.

“We would have liked to have an­other cou­ple (of) wins up our belt, but I think we have (played bet­ter in 2016 than 2015),” he said.

“As a com­plete club, the reserves are play­ing well and it shows that we do have a strong squad.

“We just got caught short on a cou­ple of games against top sides, which may come to bite us in the end.”

With round trips be­tween Hed­land and Kar­ratha tak­ing five hours, all NPFL teams strug­gle to get their best squads to travel for away games.

But trav­el­ling has been es­pe­cially chal­leng­ing for the Rovers, who have of­ten been poor on the road while look­ing ca­pa­ble of beat­ing any­one at home.

“We ob­vi­ously pride our­selves on play­ing well at home in front of our sup­port­ers, mem­bers and spon­sors … but where (NPFL) teams gain the ad­van­tage is win­ning away and we haven’t been able to do it,” Mas­trangelo said.

“We re­ally need to im­prove, we have five weeks now to be play­ing our best footy by the end of the year and then any­thing can hap­pen.” Dampier Sharks League wins: 4 losses: 6 Re­serve wins: 3 losses: 7 Last year’s run­ners-up the Sharks have put in a solid sea­son de­spite some fal­ters to be one of a hand­ful of teams in the run­ning to flesh out the top four.

Ten rounds in, Dampier sit in fifth place, with the same win-loss ra­tio as the Port Hed­land Rovers, with whom they have been neckand-neck for most of the sea­son.

League coach Kris­tian Dic­ton said the side were “a bit dis­ap­pointed” with their cur­rent po­si­tion af­ter mak­ing the grand fi­nal last year, but had been sol­dier­ing on de­spite a big loss of play­ers since then.

“We’ve lost a lot of play­ers due to lack of work in the town and we’ve had a bad run with in­juries, but fin­gers crossed we can string a few wins to­gether in the last round and try to push for a fi­nal spot in both grades,” he said.

Pic­ture: Court­ney Fowler

Swans’ Josh Nan­nup takes a strong mark against the Rovers in the round 7 Hed­land derby clash.

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