Teams weigh up chances ahead of final five rounds
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.
Swans’ Josh Nannup takes a strong mark against the Rovers in the round 7 Hedland derby clash.