It’s the best time of the year for a local footy/netball fan. The weather is improving and the finals are here. The senior football finals are arguably the most highly anticipated finals series since the inception of the Gippsland League. Five teams go in with a genuine argument to be a chance to be holding the cup in four weeks time. Wonthaggi go in as the one seed after holding onto the minor premiership late in the season which means the Qualifying Final kicks off with Moe and Leongatha.
The Lions go into the match with two wins over the Parrots in 2023. They are the first side to beat the Parrots twice in the home and away season since 2014 in a year which the Leaongatha side finished 7th. Moe enter their first finals series since 2019 where they were stopped in the Preliminary Final by the Leongatha side featuring many of their current stars. It has been a key recent rivalry in the Gippsland League and Saturday’s match could be the most important game for the Lions since that Preliminary Final. In their last meeting at Ted Summerton Reserve the Lions came away winners on the back of their quick ball movement and ability to convert in front of goals. Leongatha will need to find their championship DNA and an extra gear to challenge a team that looks to be running on top of the ground. Moe play through their stars and with those players in damaging form it will be up to Leongatha to find an answer on each line for the likes of Declan Keilty, Riley Balid and Billy Gowers. Gowers was a difference maker in both their regular season wins and he single handedly can turn a game like few others in the League. If he gets the ball inside 60 he will be looking to score and in a game that could come down to the wire an individual that can produce a moment of magic could decide it. The Parrots will be relying on the old guard with Marriott, Heppell and Maskell set to lead the charge. It should be a game that is won through the middle and the condition of the Wonthaggi ground may just tilt the scales either way going into the game. What a game to kick off the finals series.
Sunday’s Elimination Final is a case of déjà vu as the Marrons and Magpies lineup for their second meeting in consecutive weeks. It is a tale of two vastly different storylines with the Magpies coming into finals on the back of four wins and look to be hitting form at the right time. Traralgon limp into finals with four consecutive losses, albeit against 3 of the top 5 sides over the past month. Last weekend wouldn’t have filled them with confidence as Sale locked the game away by half time. Traralgon were a hot tip at the start of the season to go all the way and still look to have a crop of players capable of making a run. The League’s leading goal kicker Brett Eddy spears their chances up forward, alongside Billy Schilling they will need to hit the scoreboard and expose the Sale backline if the Maroons are to win. The Magpies as has been noted all year have a handful of players that are arguably top 10 players in the competition and throw in Jack McLaren who is having a team of the year season and their mix could go along way. Their first challenge is getting through this weekend and then they can return to finals in East Gippsland with the schedule ahead for the winners featuring games at Maffra and Sale. Jack Leslie has returned to the ruck and has dominated the last month while Shannen Lange is probably the best player in the competition at the minute. As with Traralgon a lot relies on their forward line. It has been tinkered with all year mainly due to injury but the hopes rely on the Dessent’s (Jordy and Brad) being available and fit. On form the Magpies go in as favorites but Traralgon is a winning club and that counts for a lot come finals. All eye’s on them come Sunday.
A GRADE PREVIEW
Morwell start their quest for Gap to back to back premierships with the 2022 grand final rematch set to take place on Saturday. Leongatha snuck into third place on percentage and will hope that their full team is available. Taylah Brown has missed recent games due to representative commitments and Nicola Mariott and Hannah Flanders have also missed games late in the year. On paper their best team can give the Tigers a tough challenge but Morwell will still go in as favorites. Much of Morwell’s chances rely on having Daisy Hill in goals. Claire Marks has been sensational season and will likely sit in the team of the year come Presentation Night but to win the title they need Hill’s height and experience. Losing Shannon Freeman has had an impact but probably the best ready made replacement in the competition in Anna Solomon has stepped in and filled that role perfectly. The Tiger’s strength is their defence and Tanya Budge has had the accolades this season after Freeman in 2022 and Garth in 2019 were the MVP winners. The Tiger’s should get the job done but expect Leongatha to be a chance if their goal ring is accurate.
We saw it in 2018 and it happens again with a Western Netball Derby set to kick off finals in an Elimination Final scheduled for Sunday. The Gull’s have had an interesting season and probably should have performed better in the home and away games. They finished fifth on the ladder, but on paper are a team that could be comfortably in the top 3. VNL stars like Ella Rees, Sienna Green and Selene Chadrawy compliment the 2018 League MVP Renee Cook and expect Cook to be a key player either in goals or defence. Matchups will be the key with Drouin also being a side that can move players around. If April Bethune plays in attack expect Cook to feature in defence. Much of the match will rest on Drouin’s shooters. Karina Proctor is vital up front and needs help to put up a winning score. Drouin should go in as slight favorites on their regular season form but it is a genuine toss of the coin.