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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