Thursday, 30 August 2018

PREVIEW: New-FM Grand Finals 2018




Under 19's Grand Final:
Kahibah FC (1st) v West Wallsend (3rd)
Kickoff: 10:30am
2018 Meetings: WWB 1-2 KAH & KAH 0-1 WWB

The two best teams have made the Grand Final. There's really not much argument to that after a 19's competition that has lacked a little bit compared to recent season's. Kahibah's Premiership win was largely untested, they were 12 points clear at the end of the race and amazingly 22 points ahead of their opponents this weekend in West Wallsend. Only one loss hindered their perfect record and that was to the Bluebells.

Now comes Kahibah's greatest test. The dust has settled from the Semi Finals and really Toronto-Awaba as some expected didn't give them an incredible challenge. This is a whole new level. Last weekend's result was a mere formality in a way after leading 3-0 going into it but it was a very costly day for injuries and suspension. With no Kurtis McRitchie, Jensen Hunt or Seb Crecca, it's a depleted side that'll play in the big one. Contrary to what many would think, it's probably Hunt's omission that's the biggest out.

A lot of Kahibah's games have been dare it be said "easy". One memorable match was their home clash with Cooks Hill in which they truly dug deep to find a way to prevail. That's probably what they'll need here as their unlikely to blast their way past Westy. The Rams will want to keep this game as tight as possible on the scoreboard and with the best defence in the league, that is certainly possible. Hopefully the club gets behind this squad as they deserve more respect and attention than they've received.

West Wallsend were expected to maybe get an edge over a decent Cooks Hill side but in all reality they booted them firmly out of finals in some style. There's no doubting that Cooks Hill were way off their regular best but the Bluebells, especially in the first leg, were thoroughly in control of the tie. They were hungrier and showed more desire from the opening whistle at Johnston Park two weeks ago.

After a 4-1 win in the 1st Leg, it was mostly academic that they'd make it in but their team suffered some very worrying off-field concern in the form of Jaryd Hayter's serious workplace accident. Football was the last thing on their mind with one of their own in such a bad way but as expected they rallied last weekend and won that game for him. Mitch Kramer scoring two classy goals was a symbolic way to put icing on the cake.

Attention and hope will remain on Hayter's recovery but they also have a Grand Final to prepare for and balancing that will be a challenge emotionally and mentally for some of the players that know Jaryd the most. If last week was anything to go by though, it's just pushing them to another level. They want to go the distance and really they believe there's nothing in the way to stop them. Unlike Cooks Hill though, Kahibah FC won't be a pushover.

Prediction: This on paper is possibly the best match-up of Grand Final day. The two best teams meeting each other in the biggest game of all. Westy timed their run late but have been in solid form over the last couple of months. Both teams have Grand Final experience so it's safe to expect a very entertaining tussle. Westy have a better attack so it'll be the biggest test of all for this solid Kahibah defence. Think the Rams best chance is to take it to penalties. Said Westy last week and will stick with it now.

My Tip: Kahibah FC 1-2 West Wallsend

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Under 23's Grand Final:
Cooks Hill United (3rd) v New Lambton (4th)
Kickoff: 12:30pm
2018 Meetings: CHU 2-1 NLE & NLE 1-1 CHU

This is a very interesting 23's Grand Final. Cooks Hill were expected to get their affairs in order and produce for finals but no-one was expecting New Lambton to bundle out Thornton. The runaway best team all season long will not be in the final game of the year but that is the case as well for 1st Grade so it's not uncommon this season. 

Cooks Hill have to enter as the favourites. They were really tested by Cessnock in the 2nd Leg. To be 2-0 down and staring at an early exit, the Cookers rallied and played some very good team football to find their way back into it. Their winning goal was as good a build-up team-wise as you'll see all finals series. They could have probably wrapped it up in the 1st Leg but they do have a knack of bottling good opportunities.

Amazingly this 23's side is Cooks Hill's only Grand Final appearance across the five grades that made the playoffs. Hence you can expect the club to firmly get behind them as they look to bring home what would be a first 23's Championship for the club. Solid going forward but they clearly have some fragility about them at the other end. They have to close things up or New Lambton could pounce.

Like the 19's did last season, New Lambton have bundled out a championship contender and the Premiership winners in Thornton. To see their lineup last week missing their key defender Ben Prangemeier and then of course Peter Juchniewicz going off injured, the young side really rallied hard and stunned Thornton. 

They found the key which seemed to be to close down the danger men like Jack Stoneman and Daniel Toohey and really from there they made it look incredibly easy as they pounced on what was at times a shocking defensive display from the Redbacks. It was one of the more memorable finals boilover in recent history and maybe the most stunning since Lakes saw their 3-1 lead in 2015 gone in 20 minutes or so against Wallsend 1st Grade.

Jim Orr's second half hat-trick was equally as stunning as no-one not even Orr himself would have been anticipating that. It was a day where everything fell into place for the Eagles but there's no doubt they'll have it tougher this weekend. Cooks Hill aren't going to be brushed aside 5-0 that's for sure. But again, the Eagles will believe they can do the job again.

Prediction: This is tough to call. New Lambton are quiet possibly the favourites and given Cooks Hill's shaky defence last week, it's hard not to lean that way. Cooks Hill though have a man named Kazu who is very difficult to stop on current form. On paper CHU have the better side across the park but New Lambton showed last week they can achieve big things. Still, CHU to not throw away goals Thornton style. Think they'll get the job done.

My Tip: Cooks Hill United 2-0 New Lambton

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1st Grade Grand Final:
West Wallsend (3rd) v Belmont-Swansea (4th)
Kickoff: 2:30pm
2018 Meetings: BEL 2-1 WWB & WWB 3-1 BEL

Well who saw this coming a few weeks ago. No Cooks Hill in the Grand Final. Firstly let's go over West Wallsend who have for this reporter been the story of the finals series. Belswans have been there and done that in terms of Semi Final wins but the emotion and passion around this Bluebells group is infectious. To know just a little bit of the story of what's gone on at this club and to see it all finally paying off is brilliant.

The hope all year was that there'd be this sort of story in finals. Thornton and Singo looked the goods at times but alas Singo fell away and Thornton were left heartbroken on their own turf last week. Gary Wand was visibly upset over the result but accepted that the Redbacks just didn't do enough in the second half as they let their grip on the game go by the wayside. That steel they've lacked at times was not there again.

Back onto Westy, every club has been through its dramas but this one has had a lot to deal with. They've been criticised by onlookers for the better part of five years and have proven other clubs, neutral onlookers and yes even the suits at HQ wrong. You can't take away the Bluebell spirit that has been beating blue and white since the 1890's.

This club has gone on in leaps and bounds over the last few years. Their incredibly successful and highly-respected youth program has been the catalyst for all this success. The club have installed a professional culture mixed with that old Westy spirit. From 14's through to 1st Grade, this is a club that is doing its community proud and long may it continue. Their first Grand Final in eleven years at Edgeworth should bring the entire West Wallsend/Barnsley/Holmesville/Cameron Park area out. Get behind them!

On the other side of the ledger is no antagonist. It could have easily been Cooks Hill and that would have probably forced many neutrals to go for the underdog story. But alas it is Belswans who have waited 32 long years since their last Championship success. Ironically it came in the old State League and it was a penalty shootout win over, you guessed it, West Wallsend in 1986.

After back-to-back Grand Final losses, you can't help but feel that maybe the writing is on the wall that this is the year Belmont-Swansea finally win the big one. Getting past the powerhouse that is Cooks Hill United was possibly their greatest Semi Final win of the last three years. Once again the likes of Josh Rufo and Mick Stafford masterminded a dramatic Semi Final victory. Who would ever doubt them?

To sit where they did on the table earlier this season and to now be in another Grand Final shows the heart and will this club have to do its name proud. Some smart mid-season additions in the form of Josh Sutton, Clayton Poole and Klaudon Ahmataj all played a big part in their win last weekend, especially Sutton who toyed with the Cooks Hill defence. There's no doubt this is Belswans' best chance of ending the three-decade long drought.

Prediction: Grand Finals are typically cagey and we can expect the same here. Two physical sides that really don't try to hide it. There will be one or two yellows there's no doubt but for the large part this is an intriguing battle physically, mentally and tactically. Both clubs with big support behind them, it'll be one helluva Grand Final. As for the winner, Newysports said "whoever wins the CHU v Belswans Semi will win the big one", sticking with that.

My Tip: West Wallsend 1-2 Belmont-Swansea

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Under 14's Grand Final:
Wallsend FC (1st) v Kahibah FC (2nd)
Kickoff: 10:00am
2018 Meetings: KAH 4-1 WAL & WAL 3-1 KAH

Unlike the senior grades, the youth saw a little bit more of a predictable Grand Final at least for the 14's and 15's with the top two sides on the table making it through. Both teams did it in very different fashion. Wallsend's battle with Westy will go down as one of the great NL1 games in any grades as they couldn't be split after an eight-goal thriller. 4-4 the score and then Wallsend going through on penalties.

Lots of memories created in that game and a range of emotions capped off by a brilliant gesture as Wallsend coach Jordan Tselembis put his team's celebrations aside and offered some support to the devastated West Wallsend side. Excellent sportsmanship. As for Wallsend, their season speaks for itself. Over 100 goals now scored this season. Win or lose the Premiers have done the job this campaign.

As for Kahibah, they did things a little more convincingly on the scoreboard by knocking off Cooks Hill 2-0 and recording a very valuable clean sheet. Confidence would have been built on the back of that performance and they'll need to be extra focused at the back because that is where they'll be tested the most by the free-scoring Wallsend side.

Alex Evans wants to leave Kahibah with a Championship on his coaching resume and really his side have done him proud all season. They are continuing to battle on without regular keeper Christian Casitovski and are hitting their best form when it matters the most. They will need their best performance of the season here to overcome the top side in the competition.

Prediction: It'd be tough to go against Wallsend in this. Their a very well-drilled attacking side and will be a very difficult proposition for Kahibah. Wallsend have won New-FM Grand Finals in 2015, 2016 & 2017 so the form is certainly there. The club knows success and there's a good chance more will be coming.

My Tip: Wallsend FC 3-1 Kahibah FC

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Under 15's Grand Final:
Kahibah FC (1st) v South Cardiff (2nd)
Kickoff: 11:45am
2018 Meetings: KAH 2-0 SOU & SOU 1-0 KAH

Again the two best sides on the table facing off and this game brings an end to a competition that really was underdone by a staggering amount of byes. That situation needs to be addressed in the off-season but anyway it should be a fantastic finish to the Under 15's. Kahibah have really gone on with the job well after some behind the scenes turmoil that saw a fracture finish with Richard Evans leaving as coach and goalkeeper Cooper Clarke also departing.

Whichever side of that particular argument you want to sit on, the team have done the club proud. Richard Evans deserves a helluva lot more praise than some give him, this team is built on a steely defence that was drilled into them through very hard work and commitment. Everyone has a role and they play that role very well. They'll want to avoid another penalty shootout. Who'd want that in a Grand Final?

Speaking of sides that have a bit of steel about them. South Cardiff are another. Not a side that has scored a bucketload of goals this season compared to some but a side that is built on competitive focus. Their 1-0 win against New Lambton last weekend was a prime example of what you'd almost describe as a traditional "Kahibah 15's win". A clean sheet and a tough outing but a very good result.

Coach and Southy Club President Stuart Prince was quick to get in touch last week and make sure the credit is directed away from him and onto his team. They are the club's golden ticket to success in 2018 and they have a chance to make some history. They did beat Kahibah in the last meeting so they are more than capable of knocking them off again.

Prediction: Whether it needs to be pointed out or not, there are rumoured links between these clubs for next season. Anyone in the know will know what they are so it's ironic they meet in the big dance. The focus needs to be on the players and the game itself for what should be a fantastic occasion. Kahibah to grind out a tough victory.

My Tip: Kahibah FC 1-0 South Cardiff

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Under 17's Grand Final
West Wallsend (3rd) v Kahibah FC (4th)
Kickoff: 1:30pm
2018 Meetings: WWB 1-2 KAH & KAH 2-1 WWB

Unlike the other youth grades, the top two sides were dramatically bundled out last weekend leaving a 3rd v 4th Grand Final, ironically just like 1st Grade. And ironically just like 1st Grade, West Wallsend will be hoping like Belswans, that the third time will be the charm. Gary Ellis will coach in his third-straight Grand Final but has yet to win the Championship. Results-wise, this team isn't as good as the 2017 one but they have a fair spirit about them and belief that has grown week by week.

There's a couple of players who featured in the 17's Grand Final loss last year whilst there's a few who played in the successful Under 15's Grand Final. Hence there is big game experience in the squad. They know what it takes to win tough matches as shown last weekend by their victory over a talented New Lambton side. Whilst they have two losses to Kahibah this year, finals football means those results go right out the window.

Kahibah have incredibly made the Grand Final in all three Youth Grades and when you chuck in the 19's as well, the club's future is leading the way in a year where 1st Grade suffered an embarrassing 10th place result. As for this team, after multiple failed attempts, Mat Moncrieff has broken his NewFM finals coaching duck and will be there on the biggest day of the year.

The team have certainly not done things the easy way. There would have been stages this season where maybe they doubted this would happen. Two weeks ago they got in tune with a confidence-boosting 5-0 win over Belswans and then after losing to them twice this season they sent Cooks Hill packing on their own turf. Now they have a chance to win the big one.

Prediction: This could be the toughest game to call on the day. Definitely safe to expect more of a physical match-up with some solid players in both lineups. The impressive fashion in which Kahibah knocked out Cooks Hill and the fact they've beaten Westy twice might edge it in their favour.

My Tip: West Wallsend 1-2 Kahibah FC

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Thursday, 23 August 2018

PREVIEW: New-FM Semi Finals Week 2 2018




Under 19's Semi Final
Kahibah FC (1st) v Toronto-Awaba (4th)
Kickoff: 10:45am
Aggregate Score: KAH 2-0 TAW

Of the three ties this Saturday, this is the one that is under the biggest cloud of doubt. Kahibah have won 20 of 21 matches this season and have a massive six clean sheets in a row. Add to this, they've conceded just three goals in their last fourteen fixtures and it's safe to expect another defensive-focused display from the Premiers. Just once have they conceded more than once in a lone game and ironically it was against Toronto.

To play like they did in the first half last weekend and still manage to come away with a 2-0 win shows their resolve. Their defence had one or two lapses last week which is rare but they had their blushes saved by Brady McRitchie in goal. A brilliant save in the first half set the scene for their ascendancy as the game went on. The biggest question for them is will this weekend see the return of Kurtis McRitchie after a notable omission last week.

Toronto's certainly not done for just yet but the odds are firmly stacked against them. They need to find what got them the 4-1 win at the AthField two weeks ago and produce it again but this isn't against a defensively-woeful Cooks Hill side. Kahibah are defensively the best team in the competition in 19's, 23's and 1st Grade. 14 times teams have failed to find a way past them out of 21 games this season.

For the Stags, it's not just about scoring goals, they cannot afford to leak anymore. One or two defensive lapses proved ever so costly last weekend and that won't bring you any glory in finals football. They looked like they were really missing one of their key playmakers in Sam Lynch as their go-forward was just a little bit off at times. Their energy and belief was high and needs to be through the roof if they stand any chance here.

Prediction: The Stags put up a good fight in the First Leg but now they have to find a way to produce goals. Kahibah's torrid Semi Final curse is looking like it may be lifted but the 1st Graders lost it all from this exact position a year ago. A comeback in this would possibly be Toronto's greatest moment in a decade and that's in any grades. The club need a good story but hard to see this chapter not ending on Saturday.

My Tip: Kahibah FC 2-0 Toronto-Awaba (Kahibah 4-0 Aggregate) *5-0 AGG

**Update: The main preview was written on Tuesday but it's now been revealed Toronto have been handed a 3-0 1st Leg loss. That is a result of a player that took to the park without serving a suspension. It's incredibly disappointing once again for these players that something like this has happened.

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Under 23's Semi Final:
Thornton Redbacks (1st) v New Lambton (4th)
Kickoff: 12:30pm
Aggregate: THO 2-1 NLE

This Semi Final was turned on its head a couple of times last weekend. The first saw Blake McDonnell cough up the ball under the pressure and the Thornton keeper quiet literally hand a chance to Liam Watson. Then the free kick and then of course Harry Callen's own goal. It's still all to be played for but certainly the Redbacks hold the advantage after the first clash.

Thornton by their standards were very lacklustre particularly in the first half last weekend. They of course lost Brock Lewsam to a red card but did enough to hold on for a win. Not anything to celebrate too hard and certainly their efforts this weekend will likely be a bit more refined. The job is far from done and they need to be switched on from the get-go this Sunday. Anything can happen in finals and Scott Winslade will have his team aware.

New Lambton proved what finals football can be about last year when the 19's came from nowhere to win it all. The club's best hopes of silverware this season are most likely in the 17's but the 23's are still alive in this tie and the last thing they'll do is surrender. That said, it is absolutely paramount that they score the first goal in this fixture or it could be all over for them.

The key fault of theirs last weekend was their defending on set-pieces. Twice they came undone from free-kicks so that'll be something they try to correct here. Again it's a tough situation as they need to attack but they can't afford to let any in. The likes of Liam Watson, Luke Homer and Dunnil Yohanes need to find a way to combine a bit better. It can be done but it'll take some doing.

Prediction: The Redbacks won't have Brock Lewsam but his role could be covered by a few names. Jesse Smith seems to be a likely choice and definitely Thornton won't be worried too much in that department. Their attack lacked a little bit last weekend and if they can fire it'll be a Grand Final appearance next week for them. Based on what was seen last weekend and knowing Thornton should improve on it, hard to see it not being a win.

My Tip: Thornton Redbacks 2-1 New Lambton (Thornton 4-1 Aggregate)

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1st Grade Semi Final
Cooks Hill United (1st) v Belmont-Swansea (4th)
Kickoff: 2:30pm
Aggregate: CHU 1-1 BEL

Depending on who you ask at Cooks Hill, the game last weekend at times resembled more Mortal Kombat than it did football. It was a tough old game at a windy Blacksmiths and judging by the weather forecast, it'll likely be a wet weekend which plays into Belswans' favour a bit more. They killed Kahibah off last season with their confidence in horrendously windy conditions.

As for the Cookers, there was some worry around their skipper Daniel Johnson who was injured in a challenge that earned Klaudon Ahmataj a yellow card late in the first half. Even though their depth is strong, he would be a big out for the club if he can't recover for this one. They weren't happy with the physical treatment they got last weekend but they have to retain their core focus and that is another Grand Final appearance.

It's safe to say Cooks Hill lacked a little bit compared to their usual scoring form last weekend and at the AthField they'll look to return to that form. That said the pitch isn't going to help them but they know the ground well and given they scored 13 goals on it two weeks ago, they know how to find the back of the net at the AthField. They got 28 out of 30 points possible at the ground this year and haven't lost a league game there in the last 17.

From where Belswans were just a few seasons ago to where they are now is a testament to all at the club who have worked very hard at boosting their image and attempting to bring the glory days back. After two heartbreaking Grand Final losses, they are extremely determined to end a drought that dates back to 1986. This team is their best chance of winning it all.

What Belswans did last season at Kahibah Oval will live long in their club history but to come to the AthField and knock the double Premiers and reigning Champions off their perch would be perhaps their greatest moment in three decades. Because there's no doubt Belswans would enter the Grand Final as the favourites if they were to get the job done on Saturday.

It's obvious that the team aren't going to try and "out-football" Cooks Hill. This will be more a mental battle than anything else. When Southy came to the AthField and almost won a few weeks ago, it was all about them being in the face of the competition heavyweights and forcing them off their game. Experience and will is evident in this squad but they need more here. This needs to be a gritty display and defensively-focused. They will not be able to overcome the Cookers in a goal-fest. It needs to stay tight.

Prediction: There needs to be more from the Belswans attack. It would not surprise to see Josh Sutton handed a start as really they need him out there. It's potentially worth the risk injury-wise as it's make or break this game. But when it comes down to it, Cooks Hill are by far the best footballing side in this league and it's probable we'll see that eventuate at the AthField.

My Tip: Cooks Hill United 3-1 Belmont-Swansea (CHU 4-2 Aggregate)

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Under 19's Semi Final:
Cooks Hill United (2nd) v West Wallsend (3rd)
Kickoff: 10:45am
Aggregate: CHU 1-4 WWB

Alas the other Semi Finals are all mostly well-alive but this one is seemingly dead and buried. Cooks Hill were nothing short of embarrassed in the 1st Leg as West Wallsend ran riot at Johnston Park. Even when the Cookers scored to claw back to 2-1 and Westy went down to ten men straight after, they still managed to fall further into what looks a big hole to get out of.

Where did it all go wrong for the Cookers? Again like the Toronto-Awaba game apparently was, it was poor defending and shaky goalkeeping. They well and truly were found out last weekend and it's incredibly hard to see them holding Westy out here. The fact they conceded twice after Westy's red card is probably the most scathing part of the whole assessment.

Last Saturday was just a torrid old time for the Cookers 19's. They started poorly and that trend continued apart from one or two decent periods of attack. The substitutions of Will Dundas and in particular Dimitri Patsan were a misjudgement. Perhaps their two best players gone and their replacements making errors that lead to Westy's 4th. A horror day at the office and a miracle needed now.

Whilst Cooks Hill were terrible last weekend, you can't undersell West Wallsend. The Bluebells were right up for the game and worked their way to every loose ball and just showed energy and belief levels that blew the opposition out of the water. Despite that, Westy still have petrol in the tank. They weren't at their best last weekend and that is a scary prospect for the already rattled Cookers.

Josh Knight's suspension is over and it's uncertain yet whether he'll start but if he does it just adds another big element to what is already looking a near-impossible task for the Cookers. That said, they don't really need him out there. Steve Thomson may prefer to keep Knighty out and unleash him for what looks a likely Grand Final. Either way, it's a good selection headache to have.

Westy were the only team to sing a victory song last weekend but they'll be very much grounded heading into this fixture. With Thommo as coach, the players will have it banged into their heads that the job is only half done. There is no room for complacency and really if anything Westy will be hungry for more. They'll want to do it all again and really blow the aggregate score out.

Prediction: This would be the greatest New-FM comeback since Lakes were stunned by Wallsend in 2015. Although that time it was only 3-1 in the 1st Leg. Westy's defence had been a potential weak-point heading into the finals but they stepped up last weekend and barring a disaster, they should be going through. Whether or not the Bluebells look to add further pain is the question.

My Tip: Cooks Hill United 2-4 West Wallsend (WWB 8-3 Aggregate)

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Under 23's Semi Final:
Cessnock City (2nd) v Cooks Hill United (3rd)
Kickoff: 12:30pm
Aggregate: CES 1-2 CHU

Just like the 19's, the lower-ranked team were victorious here but this is a much-closer affair after the first leg and that is definitely a surprise given the catalogue of chances Cooks Hill had late in the game. Mat Zechel was kept very busy and there's no question Cessnock rode their luck a little bit to keep the deficit at just one. Now the tough questions are asked about this Hornets side.

The Hornets were quiet lacklustre in attack compared to their top form and they really do need to find their better football to stand a chance of turning this around. Without many clean sheets this year, it's key they find a way to the back of the net multiple times. A 1-0 win would see them through on away goals so it's not a huge mountain they have to climb back it'll take close to their best football.

Cooks Hill finally put a pretty forgettable month behind them but they too will be feeling a little disappointed after the 1st Leg. They'll feel as though 2-1 was perhaps a little less than what they were aiming for. Some misses chances stacked up on the day whereas they could have gone on with it and headed into this week full of confidence. That said, they know it's firmly in their control.

Kazu was their livewire last weekend and looks to be the player to watch for but even off the bench they have some quality like Reid Murray. Emerson Augey's injury woes will be a worry and without a doubt they missed their goalkeeper Adam Gunster as a leader and rock at the back. If they produce their best they'll likely go through but they need to be wary of a Hornets side that have nothing to lose. 

Prediction: It maybe didn't feel like it on the day but looking back at the highlights, it's safe to say Cessnock were borderline dominated by Cooks Hill in terms of chances created last week. The Hornets must find a way to test the Cookers at the back. They pounced with one or their few chances last week but it needs to be close to Cessnock's best to progress. That said, Cooks Hill to finish the job.

My Tip: Cessnock City 0-2 Cooks Hill United (CHU 3-1 Aggregate)

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1st Grade Semi Final
Thornton Redbacks (2nd) v West Wallsend (3rd)
Kickoff: 2:30pm
Aggregate: WWB 1-1 THO

Whilst it was the same scoreline at Johnston Park, this game was a little bit different to the Belswans v Cooks Hill result. There weren't as many clear chances in this game and definitely not as much foul play. That said, Westy had to fight on with ten men after Bailey Maxton rather stupidly got himself sent off for kicking the ball away after a foul on halfway. He'll know he let his team down but to their credit they didn't let it affect their chances.

Neither team looked like they wanted to risk it all late in that 1st Leg but definitely there needs to be a winner through whatever method this weekend and it's tough to tell who that may be because these teams are so evenly matched. Thornton came away with the advantage on away goals so they're in the box seat but they were tested in the second half last weekend.

James Wand produced a couple of very handy saves on the day and the keeper looks to be at or near his best level at the moment. But at the other end Jesse Cook is just as reliable so again it's an area where the teams cancel each other out. Thornton's passing game may just edge it but in reality these teams are incredibly even across the park. Make no mistake, this Sunday is the biggest home game Thornton have played. 22 years they've been in the league and they've never made the big one. This is potentially their moment.

West Wallsend's return to the finals took off on very shaky terms as a poor turnover from Sam Holt handed Jye MacKellar the chance to smash home the opener just seven minutes in. Holt redeemed himself by scoring the equaliser for the Bluebells and it was a very memorable day as the entire West Wallsend community got right behind their local football club. Excellent work by all involved last Sunday.

Now onto the pressing issue and that is the question, can West Wallsend make their first Grand Final in eleven long years? They certainly created some chances last weekend and they'll head to Thornton Park knowing that away goals will be on their side. After losing 6-1 at Thornton earlier this year, they've managed to improve each time they've faced them. First a 2-0 loss and now a 1-1 draw. Now it's time for the next step.

Westy probably expected to out-enthuse Thornton last weekend but the Redbacks stood firm at a fairly hostile Johnston Park. Now the tables turn and Westy have to get something from a ground where they typically do not travel well. The last time Westy won at Thornton was in 2013 when they last played finals. Perhaps an omen but just like Thornton there is history to be made for the Bluebells.

Prediction: This is a lot tougher to call than the CHU v Belswans game. These teams are so equal on paper and it really showed last weekend. The prospect of extra time is high as a 1-1 draw wouldn't surprise but ultimately at the end of the day, only one team can progress and Newysports continues to believe that team will be West Wallsend.

My Tip: Thornton Redbacks 2-2 West Wallsend (Westy 3-3 Aggregate *Away Goals)

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*Southy 0-0 New Lambton 15's in 2nd Match

Under 14's Semi Final:
Kahibah FC (2nd) v Cooks Hill United (3rd)
Kickoff: 10:00am

Firstly a credit to Alex Evans and the Kahibah team for getting this far in the competition and indeed credit for doing what is right and putting outfielders in goal to cover for the injured Christian Casitovski. Tom Bailey & Kye Brock are their key goalscorers but Robbie Flick has been in form and his size plays to his advantage. A very good side and will be looking to create some history for Kahibah.

Cooks Hill's form has been a little patchy with losses against Wallsend and namely Kahibah so they have to overcome that mental hurdle but this one-off Semi Final is a new step for these players. Josh Moore, Ben Sommer & Alex Lodge are their top goalscorers and thus the ones to watch for and they'll look to test Kahibah's fill-in keeper.

Prediction: Kahibah have the advantage after beating the Cookers not too long ago. It'll be a tough ask but think the Green and Blacks will get the job done.

My Tip: Kahibah FC 2-1 Cooks Hill United

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Under 15's Semi Final:
South Cardiff (2nd) v New Lambton (3rd)
Kickoff: 11:30am

Newysports is not getting into the huge debate back and forth about the 15's and in particular Southy and Kahibah and the coaching issues. What is true is that Stuart Prince has done a fantastic job with this Southy side and they are the club's best performing team in 2018. The Gunners don't have a clear stand-out goalscorer but across the park have a very talented squad, although one which hasn't beat New Lambton this year.

The Eagles played Southy just last weekend and on a tough Alder Park pitch and a windy day the teams weren't able to be split in a scoreless affair. New Lambton's main goalscorer is Kyle Beveridge but Brandon Bush has been handy in attack as well. Both sides have two decent goalkeepers so it should be quiet an even match-up for the Semi Final.

Prediction: Newysports did catch about 20 minutes of their earlier meeting at Ulinga Oval which preceded a 1st Grade match. More impressed with New Lambton on the night but can't go past Southy.

My Tip: South Cardiff 2-1 New Lambton

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Under 17's Semi Final
New Lambton (2nd) v West Wallsend (3rd)
Kickoff: 1:00pm

Another brilliant Semi Finals lined up in the 17's and once again it sees New Lambton meet West Wallsend. Lots have changed since their clash last season but it's likely to be an even more entertaining affair this time round. The Eagles under Nic Pepper have excelled over the last two seasons and Newysports is looking forward to when some of these players may take the field in 1st Grade at the club because the long-term future is bright.

West Wallsend 17's have been quality for a few years and again it's been good work from Gary Ellis and co. guiding this team to some more success. They had some bumps along the way this year but have found extremely impressive form as of late and that includes a 3-0 win over their opponents this weekend. Lots of 15's GF winners from last year in the squad so they know how to win big games.

Prediction: Despite the ladder positions, Newysports likes the chances of a Westy win in this Semi Final.

My Tip: New Lambton 1-3 West Wallsend

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Under 14's Semi Final:
Wallsend FC (1st) v West Wallsend (4th)
Kickoff: 10:00am

Wallsend have had a near perfect season in the Under 14's and they have done an extremely good job in a mostly forgettable season for the club's NL1 ranks. 98 goals in 20 games is a huge total and they are in brilliant form apart from a loss to West Wallsend not too long ago. Their key man is Bailey Ryan who has more goals than Westy accumulated points this year. 42 goals and counting.

Westy 14's are a young and determined side led well by Brad Andrews and they have picked up that Bluebell spirit that seeps through their youth ranks better than perhaps any other club. They have a few players who can strike and they have the 14's best goalkeeper in Riley McFarlane. Defensively they have to be strong in a do-or-die Semi Final. A win here would mean Westy have played in five of the six Grand Finals in recent years, all bar 1st Grade! 

Prediction: It'd be quiet bold to tip against the free-scoring Red Devils. Finals football is always unpredictable so it's not a given but feel as though they'll get it done.

My Tip: Wallsend FC 3-1 West Wallsend

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Under 15's Semi Final:
Kahibah FC (1st) v West Wallsend (4th)
Kickoff: 11:30am

Perhaps the most talked-about New-FM 15's game in history and unfortunately all for the wrong reasons. Northern's ruling has put Kahibah in a tight spot and it's expected the coaching staff will play 17's keeper Ethan Zek in goals. And it sucks because it will bring a asterisk to this potential victory and it's hard not to feel for this brilliant Kahibah side. The Premiers will look to go on with their business and put all this other garbage aside.

West Wallsend were beaten by Kahibah last time they met and Newysports was there to see it but the Bluebells too are a very talented side and have won seven on the bounce to propel themselves into form. Ryan Chandler's return has been great for them and he missed the Kahibah game last time. Possibly he may be the key for them. They've got nothing to lose and everything to gain so they'll be itching to take to the park.

Prediction: Kahibah have been ravaged by injury but have stood defiant every step of the way. No reason to see that stopping now, regardless of who they put in goals. Defence wins championships and they can definitely go the distance.

My Tip: Kahibah FC 1-0 West Wallsend

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Under 17's Semi Final
Cooks Hill United (1st) v Kahibah FC (4th)
Kickoff: 1:00pm

This is an intriguing match up but it may very well be the easiest to call. Cooks Hill 17's have been fantastic this season and there's no doubt that Bruce O'Donnell is the best coach the club have who's name doesn't have Law in it. A Championship, a premiership and now the chance to win the big one again. A lot of talent (Benbow, Poslon, Moir, could go on with it). Across the park they are a talented group and the future is bright for them at the club (if they don't get pouched!)

Kahibah also have a decent squad but consistency has let them down this year. Mat Moncrieff's team have lost both games 3-1 to the Cookers which doesn't bode well for their chances. They'll no doubt like the underdog tag but to go to the AthField and knock off the Premiers would take some doing. All that said, this team have a 50/50 chance of playing in a Grand Final. They're out there to get the job done.

Prediction: This on paper looks the easiest to call but said that before and been proven wrong. Cooks Hill a very talented side and expecting it to shine through. Conditions (poor pitch + rain) might not allow the best game.

My Tip: Cooks Hill United 2-0 Kahibah FC

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