Under 19's Grand Final:
Kahibah FC (1st) v West Wallsend (3rd)
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
Under 23's Grand Final:
Cooks Hill United (3rd) v New Lambton (4th)
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
1st Grade Grand Final:
West Wallsend (3rd) v Belmont-Swansea (4th)
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
Under 14's Grand Final:
Wallsend FC (1st) v Kahibah FC (2nd)
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
Under 15's Grand Final:
Kahibah FC (1st) v South Cardiff (2nd)
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
Under 17's Grand Final
West Wallsend (3rd) v Kahibah FC (4th)
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