Thursday, 24 August 2017

PREVIEW: New-FM Northern League One Grand Final Day 2017


Under 15's Grand Final:
Cooks Hill United (3rd) v West Wallsend SFC (4th)
Kickoff: 8:30am
2017 Meetings: CHU 1-0 WWB & WWB 3-0 CHU

For the very first time we welcome the Under 15's to the senior matchday and with changes next year adding 14's and bringing 17's to a junior matchday, this will be the only time the 15's get to play on the same day as the 19's, 23's and 1st. Needless to say, it's brilliant to see them added onto a big GF day and for them to get their much-deserved spotlight.

What Happened In Semi's: Last Sunday at Alder Park, the 15's produced two games that went the distance, all the way to penalty shootouts. Firstly it was Cooks Hill who with the help of top scorer Marty Willson and Nicholas Collins took a talented Toronto-Awaba side to penalties and prevailed. Brilliant for a side that have fought hard all year to make it this far.

Minor premiership winners New Lambton were stunned as West Wallsend came away with a penalty shootout win. Goalkeeper Shaun Simpson pulled off a vital save and Jacob Mason buried his former club. A fantastic result for the young Bluebells and both lower-ranked sides knocking off the top two in the Under 15's.

2017 In A Nut-Shell: Cooks Hill have enjoyed a free-scoring season where all but three outfield players have bagged a goal or more. Eleven different goalscorers and the Golden Boot winner in Marty Willson in their squad. The first half of the year saw them overcome all top four sides but they lost all three games in the second half. They need to turn that stat around on Sunday.

West Wallsend don't possess the same amount of different goalscorers but have two impressive attackers in Ethan Wright and Tom Maddock. They've defended gallantly in their run to the Grand Final. Only three goals conceded in the past nine games. They've got the belief they can bring West Wallsend their first Grand Final win in over a decade.

Previous Meetings: Cooks Hill won the first match between these two sides. It was a closely-though match-up at the AthField on a Friday night. The only goal of the game was a spectacular finish from range by Jimmy Nduwayesu. It was part of a run of four straight clean sheets for the Cookers at the time.

The return leg was featured on Newysports on a cold night at Johnston Park. That night saw Westy show all class as they breezed past Cooks Hill. An attacking masterclass saw two goals from Tom Maddock and a superb goal from long range by Ethan Wright. It was one of Westy's best victories of the season.

Potential Weak-Points: Due to not seeing too many 15's games this year, it's hard to come up with weak points but no doubt nerves will be a major issue for both sides. They'd be few if any players who've played in a major Grand Final at an NPL ground.

The possibility of yet another penalty shootout is indeed a big one. Goals will be tough to come by with both sides possessing solid defences. So if there is a potential weak spot, it is there. Both attacks are brilliant on their day so any slip-ups could prove very costly.

Key To Victory: It's pretty much the same thing for both sides. The attack. Cooks Hill's Marty Willson is top scorer but will likely be marked heavily which might mean some extra space for his teammates. The Cookers aren't a one-man show and they could prove that on Sunday.

Westy's key are their two leading scorers and their main attacking partnership in Ethan Wright and Tom Maddock. Like Marty Willson, these two possess a height and size advantage. They can definitely do some damage to Cooks Hill like they did last time they met them. To see Westy lift the trophy without one of these two on the scoresheet would be unexpected.

Prediction: It would not surprise to see this one go the difference. These sides are evenly-matched and the defences both got the job done last week. Based on their last meeting and current form, it's quiet possible that Westy are the slightly favourites despite finishing lower on the table.

My Tip: Cooks Hill United 1-2 West Wallsend

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Under 17's Grand Final:
West Wallsend SFC (1st) v Cooks Hill United (3rd)
Kickoff: 10:15am
2017 Meetings: CHU 1-2 WWB & WWB 2-1 CHU

It's the end of an era on Newysports as the Under 17's play on the senior matchday for the final time. Changes to the competition structure will see the 17's join the 15's and either 14's or 13's on a junior matchday. It's a significant hit to Newysports' audience but it is what it is. The good news is that plenty of the current 17's players will be 'ageing up' to the 19's.

What Happened In Semi's: West Wallsend won the minor premiership with an 8-1 flogging of Cessnock City but goals were so very hard to come by against a resilient New Lambton side. The Bluebells attack just couldn't find a way but eventually got the goal that mattered thanks to some luck and good positioning from centre back Brad Jackson. It wasn't pretty but they got to the GF.

Cooks Hill were cruising at 2-0 in the first leg against Toronto after a Nick Hart screamer but the Stags fought back to 2-2. The second leg was tight, scoreless at half-time and then complete carnage as Cooks Hill ran rampant over a hapless Toronto defence. Four goals later and a 6-2 aggregate win would seal the Cookers' path to the Grand Final.

2017 In A Nut-Shell: It's been a near-perfect season for West Wallsend. The equal-best attack, the best defence and only one loss all season. With just two goals conceded in their past six games, confidence is sky high at the back for the Bluebells. They're battled hardened from two tight tussles with New Lambton.

Cooks Hill also possess a dominating defensive record. 12 clean sheets in 22 matches this season. With last week behind them, they've now scored more goals than West Wallsend. With talent like Rory Kalnins, Bobby Carter and Nick Hart looking for goals, it's a tough ask to stop the in-form Cookers.

Previous Meetings: Westy won both meetings between the two sides this season. Blake Ciappara and Sam Whyburn scored at the AthField in a night game to see off Cooks Hill 2-1. Later in the year on a cold night at Westy, the Bluebells prevailed 2-1 again. A goal to Blake Arthur and a screamer of a free-kick curled into the goal by Jack Blomfield. With two victories over the Cookers this season, Westy will believe they can do it again.

Potential Weak-Points: West Wallsend's attacking confidence would have to be at arguably the lowest point of the season after being held out by New Lambton over two legs. A rebound goal for centre back Brad Jackson is what got them to the Grand Final. Their attacking threats were either off-target or stopped by a gallant defence. They need to tune up for the big game.

The two losses to West Wallsend will play in the minds of Cooks Hill. That's something that coach Bruce O'Donnell will want his side to forget. Focus could be a weak-point as well. They really dropped their bundle against the Stags in Week 1 of the finals. If they find themselves in front, they need to keep working on the job at hand. Unlike the Stags, Westy won't go away easily.

Key To Victory: It has to be the defence for West Wallsend. Their attack hasn't be firing over the last two weeks but their defenders and goalkeeper Josh Snedden worked so hard last week to keep a vital clean sheet. They're going to be difficult to find a way past. If the likes of Drayton, Ciappara and Whyburn can find the target, then it is no doubt Westy's game to lose.

Cooks Hill need their main threats to be on point. Rory Kalnins was arguably their best last week and has a good partnership going with their skipper Bobby Carter. Nick Hart has been super impressive and the threat of left-footer Louis Rothfield on corners and free-kick could cancel out Westy's lefty Jack Blomfield.

Prediction: Grand Finals are always difficult to predict. Westy are the minor premiers and deserve the favourites tag based on that but recent form shows Cooks Hill as a serious threat. Based on the Semi Finals, it's hard to go past the Cookers. It might just go the distance and from there who knows.

My Tip: West Wallsend 2-2 Cooks Hill United (WWB Win via PENS)

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Under 19s Grand Final:
Belmont-Swansea UFC (2nd) v New Lambton FC (4th)
Kickoff: 12:15am
2017 Meetings: BEL 2-2 NLE & NLE 0-2 BEL

Ask anyone two weeks ago what the Grand Final would be and most would have answered Cooks Hill v Belswans, possibly Cooks Hill v Westy. Few gave New Lambton hope but with some luck last week they got past the minor premiers to set up a date with the defending champions. It's simply a mouth-watering match between two highly-rated attacks in the 19's.

What Happened In Semi's: Belmont-Swansea's road to the Grand Final was an incredibly tough one, having to get past last season's runners-up West Wallsend. Two physical and testing Semi Final legs saw Belswans prevail thanks to a maiden goal of the season from Arch Johnson. So often the assist-maker, Johnson got his moment in the sun in a big way.

New Lambton did things a little different. They found themselves down 2-1 on aggregate to Cooks Hill last week thanks to poor marking. Thanks to a hugely controversial goalkeeper send-off, the game turned to the Eagles favour and they'd score twice before leaving hostile territory with a win on the away goals rule.

2017 In A Nut-Shell: Belswans' title defence got off to a poor start by their standards. Six draws in their first eight games left them frustrated but they started winning and in solid fashion. Their only loss was to Kahibah that finished their 29-game unbeaten run. With the best attack in the comp and the equal-best defence, it's a tough, tough team to beat.

New Lambton's inaugural season started with a bang, a 5-0 hammering of Westy. Their season had its ups and its down. They managed to hold off Thornton in the race for finals with some decent form late in the season. A highly explosive attacking threat in Golden Boot winner Luke Homer and Lachlan Jones did really well but their defence leaked a fair few goals. 

Previous Meetings: Their first meeting came at Blacksmiths when Belswans were going through their 'draw' phase. Jacob Stevens would give the Eagles the lead with a superb left-footed free-kick but eventually it'd finish 2-2. Goals to Matt Ellis and Lachlan McMaster earned Belswans a point.

Their second game saw Belswans show their class with a 2-0 away victory. Instead of the normal goalscoring threats it was two unexpected providers in Ned Gain and Jesse Harvey who won it for the visitors at Alder Park. 

Potential Weak-Points: It's very difficult, almost impossible to pick a weak point for the defending champions from Belmont-Swansea. If anything it's their mindset. They need to be firmly on the job. That one loss all year came at a time when they were losing their way a little. Their defence and goalkeeping has been superb.

New Lambton's weak point is a lot easier to pinpoint, their defence. 29 goals conceded in the regular season and just last week an example of poor man-marking as Cooks Hill opened the scoring early. Allowing openings like that will never win a Grand Final. With only three clean sheets in 22 games, it's truly a worry for them.

Key To Victory: Belmont-Swansea's squad across the park is very solid. It's hard to say where their best chances will be. If everyone plays to their potential then they'll like their chances. The danger man are always up top in Joel Nicholson, Will Dundas, etc but it's through players like Arch Johnson and David Swain where the chances are built up from.

New Lambton's two centre backs (Jack Fisher & Jack Neenan) scored last week but it's their attacking trio of Lachlan Jones, Luke Homer & Maurice Bechelli where the damage will come if it does, more so Jones and Homer. Their combination is superb and Jones in particular is a very tough player to handle, as Cooks Hill showed in that now infamous red card moment.

Prediction: With respect to New Lambton, this is the easiest tip of the 2017 Grand Final day. Any 19's players who've faced these sides in the second half of the year will agree. Belswans have the quality across the park, they have confidence, they're looking to go back-to-back. It's hard to be sold on New Lambton's defence.

My Tip: Belmont-Swansea 3-1 New Lambton

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Under 23's Grand Final:
Wallsend F.C (2nd) v West Wallsend SFC (4th)
Kickoff: 2:15pm
2017 Meetings: WWB 1-2 WAL & WAL 2-3 WWB

In the 'Newysports era', both 23's Grand Finals have been fairly boring walkovers. Thornton 4-0 over Lakes and Lakes 3-0 over Southy. This proves to be the best game of the lot and perhaps even a show-stealer of the lower grades on Sunday. The Wallsend Derby between two very fierce rivals in the 23's. It promises to be highly entertaining.

What Happened In Semi's: Wallsend did the double over the Thornton Redbacks. 2-1 wins in both legs meant a 4-2 aggregate victory. Last week they had some good luck with Trent Richards scoring a questionable free-kick and some bad luck with Calum Caldwell sent off for a "stomp" on a Thornton player. Nonetheless they got into the Grand Final like expected.

What wasn't expected was Westy's thrilling 4-3 1st Leg win over Cooks Hill. Many were calling them out for celebrating early but they shut everybody up (this reporter included) with a convincing 2-0 win at the AthField last week in tough conditions. The Bluebells simply out-enthused the minor premiers.

2017 In A Nut-Shell: Wallsend started slowly but they'd quickly get going with a win over previously unbeaten Cooks Hill. All year they matched it blow for blow with the Cookers and would beat them again in the second round. Back-to-back losses cost them a shot at the minor premiership, the first of which was a 3-2 loss to you guessed it, West Wallsend.

The Bluebells were in indifferent form for the first half. A 6-1 hammering by Thornton had them worried but the second half of the year saw them take off from the pack and stamp their spot inside the top four. It's a long way from where they were and they've made the Grand Final on the back of seven straight victories. Superb form.

Previous Meetings: The first 23's Derby of the season saw Wallsend prevail on enemy territory. Goals from Trent Milton and Ty Cousins handed the Red Devils a win whilst Westy returned the favour in the return game. The Maxton brothers (Mitch & Bailey) were joined on the scoresheet by Jackson Couper as Westy pulled off their best win of the year to that point to deny Wallsend a shot at the minor premiership.

Potential Weak-Points: Wallsend were fairly focused in their two games against Thornton but they do have some young players who might be overawed by the occasion of Grand Final day at Magic Park. The likes of Manning, Hall, Cousins, Karvelis, Sullivan & Meyrick are all young players. Experience in games like this in the form of Trent Richards and Cody Simpson will be vital.

West Wallsend's weak point is their defence. They've let in a fair few goals this year, almost twice as many as Wallsend. They were torn apart and error-prone in the Semi Final 1st Leg until they seemingly pressed a button and said enough's enough. They played well to keep a clean sheet last week but it's not the most confident defence/goalkeeping unit going round.

Key To Victory: It's amazing to look at the team sheet and see how young this Wallsend side is. Whilst it was mentioned their lack of experience, it could work in their favour. They'll be fired up for the biggest game some of them have ever played. They've got something up their sleeve with a proven and experienced goalscorer in Trent Richards in attack.

Westy's key isn't pretty football, it's not hard defence, it's the pure wave of emotion and will that has driven them the last two weeks. They're on a mission to prove everybody wrong and so far they've done just that. In terms of the game, keep an eye out for the Maxton brothers. Since Bailey's arrival they've combined for a lot in attack.

Prediction: As much as West Wallsend are probably craving another tip to go against them, it's not going to happen this time. They've been superb in the last two weeks and have fought tooth and nail to get this far. They've got the players to bully a youngish Wallsend side right out of this and that's exactly what could happen at Magic Park. The Bluebells are hungry for the title.

My Tip: Wallsend FC 1-2 West Wallsend

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1st Grade Grand Final:
Cooks Hill United (1st) v Belmont-Swansea UFC (3rd)
Kickoff: 4:15pm
2017 Meetings: CHU 6-2 BEL & BEL 1-0 CHU

For the most part of the year, plenty were expecting a Cooks Hill v Kahibah Grand Final. That was on track after Week One of the Semi Finals but last weekend Belmont-Swansea pulled off a comeback for the ages on a wild, windy day at the home of their rivals.

Cue the Grand Final where the two most entertaining sides meet, the two sides who play the best attacking brand of football. No defence-minded "boring football", no aimless long balls to no-one. Two sides that have proved to be highly entertaining in the back end of the year.

What Happened In Semi's: Cooks Hill United's job was done in the 1st Leg. They travelled to Thornton Park and scored three vital away goals. Once the first goal went in last week the Redbacks rolled over and were lapped by a ruthless Cookers' outfit. 7-1 on the day and a whopping 10-1 on aggregate for the premiers to secure a Grand Final spot.

Belmont-Swansea on the other hand did things very differently. They were average in the first leg and were pretty much "booed" for the lack of a better term by their own Old Boys'. Last week they showed sheer determination to prove doubters wrong and send Kahibah packing once again. Those two clubs do not like each other and last week saw wild scenes of celebration for Belswans.

2017 In A Nut-Shell: Cooks Hill were cruising for the first half of the season but endured a mid-season slump. Some frustrating results saw them almost lose the premiership but they got back in their best form at the perfect time to secure their first piece of NewFM silverware in their final regular season game. 

They brought in a proven coach in Graham Law and a lot of NPL experienced players. Their preferred starting 11 doesn't feature any players left from 2016. It's an entirely new line-up and they've delivered immediate success and a serious football culture that has trickled down across all five grades.

Belmont-Swansea recruited heavily too albeit more New-FM players than the "Cooks Hill Rosebud". A few faces from Wallsend joined up and despite probably having the oldest average age side in the league, they're all mates playing for a coach they like and a club they love. It's been a very solid year under Josh Rufo at Belmont-Swansea although it did start slowly.

The second half of the season has seen Belswans rocket their way up the table. A 9-0 victory over Wallsend was their biggest win in years and beating Cooks Hill and Kahibah were great victories for the side. It's such a similar story to last year but this time they have more experience and perhaps even more quality.

Previous Meetings: There's no bigger difference in prior meetings than this. In the first half of the season Belswans struggled to get going and an early trip to the AthField saw them brushed aside 6-2 in complete style. Lee Ashton bagged a hat-trick on the day and Belswans' keeper Ben Parmenter would have had nightmares about that day. It was the day Cooks Hill confirmed themselves as serious title contenders.

The second meeting was played on an overcast day at Blacksmiths. There was no sign of the flogging Belswans copped earlier in the year and this time they'd prevail in dramatic fashion. Defender Dan Rufo scored his first goal of the year to give Belswans their biggest win yet. Funny enough he'd be the one to seal their Grand Final spot too. He likes scoring in the big games!

Potential Weak-Points: Anyone who has followed Cooks Hill's results this year will know their defence has been leaky. They always find a way to do things the hard way. Although lately they've shut up shop. Goalkeeper Jake Hamilton has built up confidence in the past few weeks. 

His performance in the win over New Lambton was absolutely superb but they still let in three goals. Graham Law himself said after that game it's pretty simple, if the opponents net four goals then the Cookers will net five. It could lead to a more open Grand Final than the two previous years.

Belmont-Swansea need confidence. Their performance against Kahibah in the 1st Semi Final was poor and uncharacteristic. They replied to the questions being asked of their chances. For the best part of two years the club has thrived on being written off at every turn.

Their potential weak-point is their slow ball movement. They got caught once or twice by Kahibah in the 1st Leg and their back-line is simply nowhere near the pace that is shown by the Cookers attack. What they do possess is smartness to deal with that gap. Still, they will need to be extremely careful.

Key To Victory: Cooks Hill's scored more goals than any other side this season. 76 goals scored in 22 matches. It's some record and it's due largely to their quality in attack. Lee Ashton, Nick Russell and Cal Gallagher have been mentioned all year but lately Cal Lewis has been scoring goals for fun.

Lewis bagged three (apparently the other was an own goal) last week against Thornton. He knows exactly where to be when the chances come. The Cookers also have a stack of experience. Players who have been to Grand Finals and won them and indeed a coach who has claimed silverware before.

Belmont-Swansea don't possess the same amount of pure goalscorers as the Cookers but their best scorer is also the Golden Boot winner. Tega Marcus has been a threat in front of goal all season and bagged no less than 20 this season. With an NPL club or two apparently keeping tabs, he'll be keen to make the ultimate impact.

The Cookers cannot afford to focus all their defensive attention on Marcus. Last week Belswans proved to be deadly from the set-piece. Club captain Joel Shearer is a solid free-kick taker and lately they've focused on refining their corner routine. Big defender Dan Rufo in particular is a tricky one to stop.

Prediction: Let's hope firstly that there's goal. No repeat of last year's scoreless draw please! Belswans have the form and love the underdog tag. That tag stays the same this week. The Cookers are in goal-scoring form and have a lot of speed where it counts. It's been a near-perfect year for the club and this could cap it off with the greatest prize ever won for Cooks Hill.

My Tip: Cooks Hill United 2-1 Belmont-Swansea

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Thursday, 17 August 2017

PREVIEW: New-FM Northern League One Semi Final 2nd Leg


Under 17's:
Cooks Hill United v Toronto-Awaba
Kickoff: 9:15am
1st Leg: Toronto-Awaba 2-2 Cooks Hill
2017 Meetings: TAW 2-1 CHU & CHU 1-4 TAW

Both teams meant business last Sunday. Unlike Saturday's match which was somewhat nervy, both these sides were going all out as their finals series kicked off. At 2-0 down after a spectacular Nick Hart goal from range, it was safe to say Toronto were facing a very tough challenge to overcome. To their credit they'd do just that. Two Thomas Appleby goals sealing a 2-2 draw.

Cooks Hill still hold the advantage after two away goals but the Stags are well and truly in the fight. Toronto were annoyed with some of the calls that went against them and there was a fair bit of feeling in this game. As the away side this week, they'll be looking for a good start and to put pressure on the higher-placed Cookers.

Key To Victory: For Cooks Hill it is quiet simple. They need to close down Thomas Appleby. Toronto-Awaba isn't a one-man show but as the leading goalscorer and with two goals last week, Appleby is the target. The Cookers can ill-afford anymore lapses. At 2-0 up, they would have been disappointed at drawing last week.

It's the opposite for Toronto. They'll want to use Appleby to their advantage. Set-pieces will be a chance for him to use his height. Their defenders are the key to staying in this Semi Final tie. They got found out a little under pressure last weekend.

Prediction: Cooks Hill came out firing last weekend but were unable to go on with the job. Toronto will be playing for away goals and if they score early it's in their favour. Still, Cooks Hill have the better side on paper and a refined effort might see them get over the line.

My Tip: Cooks Hill United 2-1 Toronto-Awaba
Aggregate: Cooks Hill United 4-3 Toronto-Awaba

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Under 19s:
Belmont-Swansea UFC v West Wallsend SFC
Kickoff: 11:00am
1st Leg: West Wallsend 1-1 Belmont-Swansea
2017 Meetings: BEL 2-2 WWB & WWB 0-2 BEL

West Wallsend were facing a difficult task last week, playing as the home side at Blacksmiths Oval. They were able to take a lead through a tight-angled finish from Josh Knight and then survived some scares in the second half to come away with a satisfactory 1-1 draw.

Both sides had chances wasted in the game last week so expect a goal or two more here if they can produce better chances. Physicality was a repetitive theme in all grades at Blacksmiths and both sides will be up for yet another testing game. A cagey opening would not surprise with neither willing to concede early.  

Key To Victory: Defence is the best form of attack between two sides that like to score goals and possess some quality attackers. Goalkeepers Aaron Taylor and Will Reeves were both reliable last week and really that's probably where this Semi Final tie will be won or lost.

Belmont-Swansea need a refined effort and to get more ball to Joel Nicholson and Will Dundas. Their only goal last week saw Dundas pounce on a mistake at the back. They might not get that luxury this week. For Westy, a similar story. Josh Knight seemed to be involved heavily in their best attacking moves.

Prediction: It's a game where one moment will probably define the result. A set-piece, a defensive error, something along those lines. Newysports called a Belswans win before last week and will stick to the same here. The defending champs to edge it and make it to another Grand Final.

My Tip: Belmont-Swansea 2-1 West Wallsend
Aggregate: Belmont-Swansea 3-2 West Wallsend

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Under 23's
Wallsend F.C v Thornton Redbacks
Kickoff: 12:45pm
1st Leg: Thornton Redbacks 1-2 Wallsend F.C
2017 Meetings: THO 1-3 WAL & WAL 1-2 THO

Wallsend 23's are the club's lone side in the finals and thus they received a mammoth amount of support last week. The Red Devils produced the biggest and most colourful crowd of the weekend and the same can be expected at Kahibah Oval. Thornton did not have the same luxury and it does play a part.

Set-pieces were vital last weekend as they lead to all three goals. Wallsend got off to a 2-0 lead on away goals but a quality free-kick from Josh Colman would put the Redbacks back in it. Still, it is advantage Wallsend after the first leg but that said, Thornton scoring first would put some pressure onto the Red Devils.

Key To Victory: For Wallsend it is a case of repeating what was a solid first leg display. If they win 2-1 again then they go through. They'll need to be wary as Thornton will have different ideas and structures to try and open up the Red Devils. As mentioned in the 19's, defence for Wallsend will be the best form of attack. T

he longer they stay 2-1 up, the more desperate Thornton become and the gaps will start to form. For Thornton that's what they need to avoid. It's a game of patience and there's absolutely no need for them to come out aiming for a goal in the first ten minutes.

Prediction: As mentioned, set-pieces will be vital and that's probably where the best chances to score will be. Thornton have some quality but Wallsend are on a high after the first leg. The Red Devils were good enough to win it last week and they're definitely worth a shout to do it all over again here.

My Tip: Wallsend 2-1 Thornton Redbacks
Aggregate: Wallsend 4-2 Thornton Redbacks

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1st Grade:
 Kahibah F.C v Belmont-Swansea UFC
Kickoff: 2:30pm
1st Leg: Belmont-Swansea 0-2 Kahibah F.C
2017 Meetings: KAH 2-0 BEL & BEL 2-1 KAH

After a fairly one-sided result last Saturday, all eyes were on Belswans v Kahibah for a much tighter and perhaps much more dramatic Semi Final 1st Leg. It got off to a very entertaining opening as Jamie Hadlow fired Kahibah ahead with a superb finish against his old side.

Belswans battled well but lacked penetration. Their attack force simply couldn't find a way through and Kahibah were slightly unlikely to not stretch their lead. The hammer blow would come for the home side just before full time as Hadlow stole the ball from Dan Rufo and fired it home for a 2-0 lead. Hadlow the key man just as he was last year in the Semi Final.

Now Belswans chase a fairly tough deficit to overcome. Kahibah's record at home this season has been very solid. They simply don't concede many goals on home territory and considering the fact Kahibah aren't often held scoreless, it's likely Belswans will need at least three goals. Only Cooks Hill have managed that against the Green and Blacks this season.

This tie is nowhere near done. Josh Rufo was the man in charge when Wallsend pulled off an infamous second leg result at Macquarie Field two years ago. A few players on both sides will remember that day. A fair few were on that Wallsend side whilst Belswans' midfielder Sean Matthews was in the side for Lakes. That's all Belswans needs. It's not impossible. Nothing ever is with them.

Key To Victory: This is what Andre Gumprecht would have wanted. He's built Kahibah all season on defence. For goalscoring purists, it's sometimes a slightly bore but they've worked tooth and nail to have the best defence in the league and this game is their moment to shine. Keep them out and the gaps will start to form.

Belswans need something more. A change of tactics, structure, direction, something. Tega Marcus was kept fairly quiet last weekend and will be looking to raise the bar here. Defensively they cannot afford to make any mistakes. They've had all week to think about it. Expect a fired-up side with a renewed focus. It's all or nothing for them now.

Prediction: If anyone can do it, it's Belmont-Swansea. They keep proving doubters wrong but this is a very difficult challenge. With rain predicted and a 15 degree maximum, Saturday will be a tough day to produce good football. Kahibah are so close to that breakthrough GF appearance. They'll put everything they have into keeping Belswans at bay.

My Tip: Kahibah FC 1-1 Belmont-Swansea
Aggregate: Kahibah FC 3-1 Belmont-Swansea

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Under 17's:
West Wallsend SFC v New Lambton FC
Kickoff: 9:15am
1st Leg: New Lambton 0-0 West Wallsend
2017 Meetings: NLE 1-1 WWB & WWB 1-1 NLE

Out of all eight games last weekend, this was by far the least inspiring of the lot. It seemed as though the sides were almost scared to try and take the challenge on. Westy were the better side and got one or two vital chances, including one blocked by Ben Jones late on but it was just a forgettable performance all round.

New Lambton were probably the happier of the sides as now they play for the away goals and looking back at the two 1-1 draws in the regular season, that is absolutely vital. Westy simply need to win the second leg. A scoreless draw would take it to penalties but that's extremely doubtful. Therefore, all the pressure is on the minor premiers.

Key To Victory: Goals! For both sides. Westy's attack was blunt last week. They edged the chances just but it wasn't the sort of display that took them to the minor premiership. Josh Snedden wasn't tested a lot in goals last week but Westy's defence cannot afford to get complacent. It's all about controlling the nerves for them.

New Lambton have everything to gain and nothing to lose. Not many thought they'd hold Westy at bay last week and suddenly just one late goal (remember the game at Westy) could be the path to the Grand Final. Their defence put in a quality display last week and it's safe to expect them to put everything they have into it once again.

Prediction: To say this game is on a knife's edge is an understatement. Westy have the better side on paper but New Lambton held them out last week. It's got an eerily similar script to Cooks Hill 17's Semi Final "win" over Kahibah in 2015. Scoreless in the first leg and then a vital away goal. That's all New Lambton need. Westy though have the better attack.

My Tip: West Wallsend 3-1 New Lambton
Aggregate: West Wallsend 3-1 New Lambton

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Under 19s:
Cooks Hill United v New Lambton FC
Kickoff: 11:00am
1st Leg: New Lambton 1-1 Cooks Hill
2017 Meetings: NLE 0-2 CHU & CHU 2-0 NLE

Based on their Round 22 performance against Cooks Hill, it was a predictable bet to rule out New Lambton 19's last weekend but to their credit they turned things around and arguably they were the better side for large portions of the game last weekend. A bullet into the back of the net from Lachlan Jones would rescue the draw and that might come in vital.

Cooks Hill's attack was kept reasonably quiet on the day and it's a credit to New Lambton's back-line. The key moment for them was Bailey Graham scoring his first goal of the season. Nicholas Fakes going off with a leg injury was a worry and it'll be a dent if he's not able to recover in time for this game. Still, they have more in the tank than what they showed last week.

Key To Victory: Home ground advantage will play a big part for Cooks Hill. They won the minor premiership by beating New Lambton at the AthField just two weeks ago. The Cookers' coaches should be aiming for everybody to be there for a big day. 1st Grade should be there early to support 19's and 19's should stay to support 1st Grade. It's another huge day for the club.

New Lambton's key is once again their attacking threats. Lachlan Jones proved what he can do last week and Luke Homer also did well of being a headache for the Cooks Hill defenders. Where it is won or lost for the Eagles is in defence. They need to be at their very best to keep Cooks Hill out.

Prediction: It felt like Cooks Hill could have gone up a gear last week. New Lambton on the other hand I'm not quiet sure had more to offer. The Cookers are the better side on paper and really they should be getting the job done on home turf.

My Tip: Cooks Hill United 3-1 New Lambton
Aggregate: Cooks Hill United 4-2 New Lambton

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Under 23's
Cooks Hill United v West Wallsend SFC
Kickoff: 12:45pm
1st Leg: West Wallsend 4-3 Cooks Hill
2017 Meetings: CHU 5-3 WWB & WWB 2-3 CHU

This was the game of the weekend last week and if the first leg is anything to go by, good luck to whichever official gets appointed to the centre for this return legs. Cooks Hill were cruising at 2-0 up but they fell into the trap of trying to 'out-niggle' West Wallsend. It'll never ever happen. They were stunned by the turn-around the Bluebells produced.

Westy would win 4-3 on the day but wild scenes of celebration after the game would have quiet frankly annoyed the minor premiers. The Bluebells will need to bring their A game once again. They got under the skin of Cooks Hill and for Westy that's probably their best chance of winning it. It's more than just a football game, it's a mental game. And Westy thrive on that.

Key To Victory: For Cooks Hill it is simple. Keep the mind on the job. They've got the players to see off Westy and if they produce their best then it should be a win for the team that finished top of the table. A refined effort on home territory is what this side will be aiming for on Sunday.

Westy's key to victory is to simply keep stirring the pot. They've gotten in Cooks Hill's mind. They've got a vocal support, they've got little to lose and everything to gain. It's a lot like the Westy 19's last year against Lakes. The key to victory for them is their attack. The Maxton brothers in particular are a lot to handle. 

Prediction: Away goals will come in vital. Cooks Hill have three of them and that could be the difference maker if the game is as tight as it was last week. Home field advantage will play a part for the Cookers. Westy have little to lose so don't rule them out.

My Tip: Cooks Hill United 3-1 West Wallsend
Aggregate: Cooks Hill United 6-5 West Wallsend

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1st Grade:
Cooks Hill United v Thornton Redbacks
Kickoff: 2:30pm
1st Leg: Thornton Redbacks 0-3 Cooks Hill
2017 Meetings: CHU 4-2 THO & THO 2-2 CHU

Last Saturday saw Thornton Redbacks fall to a devastating 3-0 loss in their home Semi Final. Lacking the experience and quality of Jamie Subat up front, it was their defence that let in three fairly avoidable goals and helped hand the Cookers a significant result in the 1st Leg.

The Redbacks were blunt for the most part and only really threatened in a decent opening to the game. The second half in particular was a real worry as they never looked likely to start clawing their way back. Needless to say, they need to produce a small miracle from here.

Cooks Hill weren't at their blitzing best last week but for Graham Law the fact that they recorded a rare clean sheet will be a blessing. They return to the AthField with a mammoth three goal lead and confidence that they can do the job again and secure a spot in the Grand Final.

Two years ago, Lake Macquarie City were stunned as Wallsend came out firing and scored four goals in 20 minutes to turn a deficit around. The Redbacks don't have the quality that Wallsend side had though and they've got to come from even further behind. With nothing to lose, expect an open game from the away side as they go for glory.

Key To Victory: Cooks Hill's mission is quiet a simple on on Sunday. All they need to do is hold Thornton at bay. The longer this game goes without the Redbacks scoring, the more desperate they become and suddenly big openings will start to form. That is when they can put the final nail or two in the coffin.

Thornton also have quiet a simple task. Goals, goals, goals. There's no sugar-coating it. They need to produce the greatest escape in recent memory in this competition. Darrel McAllister's reign as coach is coming to an end but adding an extra week to it would be his greatest moment at Thornton. They will come out all guns blazing.

Prediction: They always say do not write off teams but this is a near safe bet. Thornton were poor last week. To come to the AthField and turn this around would be like nothing ever seen in the "Newysports" New-FM era. It'd be the greatest upset and the greatest choke both in the same day. No chance.

My Tip: Cooks Hill United 3-1 Thornton Redbacks
Aggregate: Cooks Hill United 6-1 Thornton Redbacks

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Under 15's:
Toronto-Awaba (2nd) v Cooks Hill United (3rd)
Kickoff: 11:00am
2017 Meetings: TAW 1-3 CHU & CHU 3-4 TAW

The 15's one-off Semi Finals take place at Alder Park and the first of the two games sees two talented sides in Toronto-Awaba and Cooks Hill meet once again. Last time they played it was Toronto who won it, a 4-3 thriller back in Round 12 or so.

The points were split this year as Cooks Hill came away with a 3-1 win back in Round 1. In Round 1 it was a Marty Willson hat-trick that sent the Cookers to a first-up 15's win whilst a Jordan Heil hat-trick helped guide Toronto to a win in the return game. Two even squads with everything to play for. It promises to be an entertaining battle.

Key To Victory: As mentioned, the two strikers Jordan Heil (Toronto) and Marty Willson (Cooks Hill) are ones to watch. Toronto have a quality side all round. Aiden Wilson was impressive in the games Newysports saw this season and their midfield transition very well.

Cooks Hill have a side that aren't scared to get into a high-scoring match-up. Alder Park's surface doesn't do anyone any favours but Cooks Hill have a fairly sturdy side. They can be handy from set-pieces and no doubt they'll be looking to simply outscore the Stags.

Prediction: Away goals don't count so it's all to play for in this one and done match-up. Newysports has watched both these sides twice in the second half of the year. Toronto won 6-1 on both occasions, Cooks Hill lost 3-0 and drew 0-0. The Stags look a quality side so it's them who get the prediction here.

My Tip: Toronto-Awaba 3-2 Cooks Hill United

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Under 15's:
New Lambton FC (1st) v West Wallsend SFC (4th)
Kickoff: 1:00pm
2017 Meetings: NLE 5-3 WWB & WWB 0-2 NLE

The 15's finals are a copy of the 17's but the difference here is that New Lambton are the minor premiers and thus the favourites to progress to the Grand Final. Nic Pepper's side have been superb in the second half of the season and have secured a home Semi Final as a result. Funny enough, Pepper admitted his side aren't keen on playing on a highly-criticised Alder Park pitch.

West Wallsend have had a superb first year in the 15's but their biggest test is no upon them. They lost all four games against the top two sides this season and that simply does not play into their favour. Their last game saw them lose to Cessnock City of all teams and with that in mind, they're the firm underdogs here. They won't mind that tag one bit though.

Key To Victory: For New Lambton it's more about defence than it is about attack. Half of their games this year have ended in clean sheets. It's a superb stat and it makes them the best defence in the entire league. 14 goals conceded in 20 games and a whopping 57 goals scored. Luka Phelan is their top scorer and one of a few dangerous players they have.

Before the shock loss to Cessnock, Westy 15's had not conceded a goal in six games prior. They've got to be stern in defence just like New Lambton. Proven goalscorer Ethan Wright will be likely marked tightly but Tom Maddock also provides a decent option for the away side. Frustrating New Lambton is their best path to victory. The longer the Eagles don't score, the better for Westy.

Prediction: Hopefully New Lambton provide a big turnout for their 15's. Unfortunately Westy 23's are on at the same time whilst New Lambton 19's will be able to make a 1pm kickoff from the AthField. Both clubs should be sending a good support for these lads. It's been a good year for both but New Lambton to win it.

My Tip: New Lambton 3-1 West Wallsend

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