Under 17's Grand Final
Lake Macquarie City FC (1st) v West Wallsend SFC (2nd)
2016 Meetings: WWB 1-3 LMC & LMC 3-1 WWB
This is the Under 17's Grand Final neutrals have been hoping to see. The two best sides in the competition have warded off all challenges and now collide in the biggest match of the season. It should be one of the best U17's games this season and has a big chance of being the most entertaining match-up across the day on Grand Final day.
Lake Macquarie City have cruised at times this season in the Under 17's. A nine-game winning streak ended last weekend but they've only lost twice all season. West Wallsend on the other hand, come into the Grand Final with a nine-game winning streak in-tact and their only blemishes this year was a frustrating loss to lowly Thornton early on and of course, two losses to Lakes.
Semi Final Review: Lake Macquarie City were delighted to avoid the challenge of Cooks Hill United in the Semi Finals and overcame a lesser-attacking threat in Kahibah. A reasonably even 1st Leg was won 2-0 after some lapses from Kahibah's defence. The story of Lakes' Semi Final was their defensive line. Adam Mitchell and Adam Kenyon were ultra-solid at the back and kept Kahibah quiet for the majority of the two games.
West Wallsend didn't employ a defensive tactic like Lakes. They simply blew their opposition off the park. Derby rivals Wallsend were blasted 3-0 in the 1st Leg and then Westy cruised to a crushing 5-0 victory last weekend. 8-0 on aggregate and all the attacking confidence in the world. Their defensive line and goalkeeper Josh Snedden warded off any threat from Wallsend. They look incredibly solid across the park at the pointy end of the season.
Season Review: As mentioned, Lakes won both meetings this season. First-up wasn't a day where their reliable attackers shined. Instead players from midfield and further back produced the goods. Westy scored through Josh Knight but a brace to Kallum Garbett and a goal to Jack Smith gave the Roosters a 3-1 win in Round 3.
Defenders proved vital for Lakes in the Round 14 clash. Jaryd Hayter got a goal for Westy in the mid-week game but again a back scored a brace for Lakes, this time Adam Mitchell. Kurtis McRitchie rounded out another 3-1 victory in a game where Westy were without attackers Josh Knight and Khye Drayton.
Prediction: Lakes provided a defensive masterclass in both of their Semi Finals. As mentioned, Adam Mitchell and Adam Kenyon were both extremely solid throughout both games. They simply could not be broken and often started counter-attacks as well. It's a brick wall that Westy need to break through and then there's the reliable Brady McRitchie between the sticks.
West Wallsend though have the best attackers in the competition and the most in-form at the moment. Josh Knight and Jaryd Hayter in particular have been amazing this season and will take some stopping. They've got a rock-solid defensive line, a quality midfield and the best goalkeeper in the Under 17's competition in Josh Snedden. An all-round team that can strike from anywhere on the park.
This is a classic example of attack versus defence. Both teams possess incredible talent in both departments and it is going to be a highly-interesting contest. Attacking-wise, Lakes looked off in both Semi Finals whilst West Wallsend were clinical. It's Westy who'll have a huge crowd behind them and these players could bring a rare trophy back to Johnston Park.
My Prediction: Lake Macquarie City 1-3 West Wallsend
Under 19's Grand Final
Belmont-Swansea United (2nd) v West Wallsend SFC (4th)
2016 Meetings: BEL 2-1 WWB & WWB 2-2 BEL
The Under 19's Grand Final offers a major surprise packet. West Wallsend have overcome the odds and booked themselves a well-deserved Grand Final spot against a quality Belmont-Swansea side. It is a big time match-up on the biggest stage of all. Grand Final Day football at its finest.
Belmont-Swansea were arguably the best team this season. Ultimately they missed out on the premiership to Lakes due mainly to a 2-2 mid-week draw in the latter part of the season to West Wallsend. The Bluebells however started as the best side in the comp but their form has been patchy since then. Now they find themselves in the best form of the season at the perfect time.
Semi Final Review: Belmont-Swansea came out trumps in arguably the most entertaining of the eight Semi Final ties. Their clashes with Kahibah were fairly even and in the 2nd Leg, Dale Robertson's side found themselves under the pump before the reliable Joel Nicholson fired them into the Grand Final. A steely test over two legs that will have them primed for the big day.
West Wallsend were taken to the limit against minor premiers Lake Macquarie City. In the 1st Leg, the Bluebells won 2-0 despite being outplayed on the day and then they found themselves down 2-0 in the 2nd Leg within ten minutes. With some luck and some will they found what it took to down the Roosters. Matt Turner's Man of the Match performance and a vital goal from the #7 put them on the path to victory.
Season Review: These sides met for the first time all the way back in Round 2. James Barnes scored for Westy but goals from Will Dundas and Bien Simba gave Belswans a 2-1 lead. Dundas and Simba both enjoyed a quality Semi Final 1st Leg where they combined for the two goals once again and will be two of a few danger men for Westy to keep an eye out for.
Their second clash is the important one to note. By the time the Grand Final kicks off it'll be just past a month to the day that Belswans' saw their premiership hopes come crashing down as Westy drew them 2-2 in a hard-fought mid-week game. James Barnes and Sam Jones cancelled out an opener from Will Dundas but Joel Nicholson provided another crucial goal. That result proves that West Wallsend have every chance of grabbing a result on Sunday.
Prediction: A few weeks ago, this one would have been easy to call but West Wallsend's season has hit a high-point at the right time. After a mid-season slump, they've come from nowhere to make the Grand Final and send an impressive Lakes side crashing out.
With the Westy 17's playing before them, there'll be a huge contingent of Bluebells' supporters on hand. As much as one would say it doesn't play a part, it certainly did help drive them to victory last week at Lakes.
Belmont-Swansea enter as the higher-ranked side and favourites but Westy have proven the doubters wrong time and time again. Belswans have better attackers than Lakes so the test in my mind will be greater. The Belswans boy's look primed for a huge Grand Final win. Their attack just edges out Westy's defensive line.
My Prediction: Belmont-Swansea 3-1 West Wallsend
Under 23's Grand Final
Lake Macquarie City FC (1st) v South Cardiff FC (3rd)
2016 Meetings: SOU 1-1 LMC & LMC 3-4 SOU
Well here it is. The 23's Grand Final that for the better part of the season looked destined to happen. Lake Macquarie City were the runaway premiership winners and have sealed an expected spot in the Grand Final with the side looking to add the championship to their premiership trophy and complete the double.
Lakes no doubt have been by far the best side in this competition but not far behind them were South Cardiff for most of the campaign. The Gunners are a side that bring a hard physical game to every match they compete in but more importantly, an unpredictable style and they bring a real threat to Lake Macquarie City's double-winning plans.
Semi Final Review: Lake Macquarie City were frustrated by a testing Belmont-Swansea side in the 1st Leg but they came out 3-0 winners in the 2nd Leg with ease and were never really tested by a Belswans team that just imploded at times and fell away with no real challenge to the scoreline. The Roosters finished 5-1 winners on aggregate with the only blemish an own goal to defender Michael Wright who cancelled out that with the final goal of the game last weekend.
South Cardiff would have been delighted with a 2-0 win in the 1st Leg against a disappointing Cooks Hill side. Despite going down to ten men, the Gunners grabbed a lead and took that advantage to the 2nd Leg...a 2nd Leg that was completely one-way traffic as Southy smashed a poor Cooks Hill side with three goals in ten minutes to seal an easy spot in the Grand Final.
Meetings This Season: Interestingly, South Cardiff have not lost to the Roosters this season. Back in their first meeting, Southy's opener through Aaron Gunn was cancelled out in the 2nd Half by Jordan Harper. And then the infamous 2nd meeting finishing 4-3 to Southy and seeing them grab a finals spot thanks to a Trent Lamborn hat-trick. It's a good advantage for the Gunners to hold.
Prediction: Both of these sides love a physical battle. Lakes have been tested throughout the year and got into a fairly spicy match with Belswans last week that they of course came out winners. South Cardiff's got multiple players who try and get under the opposition skin. They've got a strong style to their game and they have attackers who can produce goals on their day.
The referee will play a key part nonetheless. If the officials crack down on the physical style early on then it will no doubt change the match. Neither side will back down though and it's sure to be an entertaining match up regardless of the result. Lake Macquarie City, despite not beating South Cardiff in two meetings this season will enter as favourites as they look to complete a trophy double in the Under 23's.
Attacking-wise, this may be the least entertaining of the four clashes as neither side possess a supreme striker. The 23's comp has often been a case of taking the chance when it comes. Defence will be crucial and the goalkeepers will play a big part. Don't expect more than two or three goals in this one.
My Prediction: Lake Macquarie City 2-1 South Cardiff
1st Grade Grand Final
Belmont-Swansea United (2nd) v Wallsend FC (4th)
2016 Meetings: WAL 0-3 BEL* & BEL 2-1 WAL
What a way to end the season! Belmont-Swansea meeting Wallsend in the Grand Final has to be arguably the best match-up on paper you could ask for. A brilliant way to end an era before the division is potentially re-structured and re-named next season. It's all come down to this and it doesn't get any better.
Belmont-Swansea have been the standouts of the season. After losing their coach and having to ward off rumours of a lack of players, they proved every single doubter wrong and have made their first Grand Final since 1986. And how about Wallsend. They just do not go away. The defending champions have lost their coach, lost players and lost points but still they remain and they make another Grand Final.
Semi Final Review: Belmont-Swansea overcame a challenging Kahibah squad last weekend. A horror referee performance allowed the game to turn into a physical slug-fest at times and on a bumpy pitch, it was Belswans who scored a scrambled-in goal to book a Grand Final spot in a very tight match.
Wallsend F.C's Semi Final matches with Lakes played out in almost exactly the same fashion. They had a 1-1 lead from the 1st Leg and came out 1-0 winners with a scrappy goal just after half-time. Like Belswans, they weren't tested that much after grabbing the lead by a disappointing Lakes side and the Red Devils booked a spot in a second-straight Grand Final.
Season Review: The Round 11 meeting between these two sides will be forever tainted. Wallsend came from behind in one of the games of the season but they were later found out to be fielding a suspended player. The result was reserved and Belswans were given a 3-0 win by forfeit. Nonetheless, Wallsend won on the day and proved themselves to be a team that never gives in.
The second game, just three weeks ago, took place in the final round. Jake Kepreotes gave Wallsend a lead but Joel Shearer evened it up before young gun Joel Nicholson took all three points for Belswans. A dramatic 2-1 win to seal 2nd spot and set-up what eventually helped them in the end, a 2nd Leg Home Semi Final.
Prediction: Wallsend will be without a key player in the form of Cameron Tapp. He was shown a second yellow card last week and will devastatingly miss the Grand Final. Belswans have no such worries with potentially too many players to pick from for Brad Paul and Michael Stafford. It's a settled line-up at Blacksmiths.
Wallsend have won ugly at times this year and are always involved in tight matches. They don't possess the same attacking prowess as their opponents but it's experience that drives them on. Dave Hodgson has been enormous this season; player-coach, top scorer, he's helped guide the way and along with Chris Gazzard and Paul Wheeler, brings years of experience and more importantly, calmness to some of the younger players.
Defensively this will be a key game. Two of the very best New-FM goalkeepers will go head to head. Nick Popel has been a lifesaver for Belswans at times and the same can be said for Wallsend and Luke Jennings. The goalkeepers will need to be in the zone from the opening whistle as there could very well only be one goal in it.
The referee has an important job. Both teams are known for a physical style and whilst no doubt it'll be an entertaining tussle; a lenient referee, combined with a wet and muddy field could prove to be a match-killer. The niggle has to be cracked down on early and then good football should prevail.
If 2016 has taught anything, it's never underestimate either of these teams. Wallsend have overcome the odds time and time again and they could very well go back-to-back. There's a feeling of opportunity in the air at Belswans though. It's been thirty long years, era after era, and here they are. Grand Final day and a chance to make history.
My Prediction: Belmont-Swansea 2-1 Wallsend FC