South Warrnambool are the first team to book a ticket into the 2023 Hampden League Grand Final. The Roosters were sensational in their 2nd Semi Final clash against North Warrnambool at Ridley Recreation Reserve. North Warrnambool will now use their second chance this weekend, when they take on the exciting Terang Mortlake at the Reid Oval. The scenarios at the end of this weekends Preliminary Finals are exciting, with South Warrnambool and North Warrnambool potentially locking horns for the first time in a season decider, while if the Bloods are victorious, it will be the first in 27 years these two sides will battle for silverware.
Roosters Flying High
It was the best team we have seen on paper from South Warrnambool this year, and after half time, it looked like a collective unit that would be hard to stop. The Roosters were strong around the ball, having so much inside and outside talent to move the ball forward. Once South Warrnambool’s leading midfielders started getting their hands on the football (Youl, Stevens, Rantall, Saunders), they were hard to stop. The forward line of the red and white is talented. Star forward Shannon Beks marked everything and potentially could have had a day out with several goals but finished with three majors, well supported by the likes of White, Irving, Dye.The defensive unit of the Roosters is tight and hard to break – all six defenders are strong one on one players but their ability to zone off and create transitional movement from the back 50 is elite . Harry Lee and Issac Thomas were outstanding while Thompson and Mullen were very sound. They will be extremely hard to dethrone in a fortnight’s time at home of football.
It could be one of the tightest Maskell Medal counts we have seen for some time, with a host of players in strong contention. A lot of the general public have identified the years of Mercovich, Sully, Arundell, Lewis, Beks, Hoy, Smith, Hutchins, Sinnott, Spence and O’Sullivan as first rate. Our Hampden League Live Player of the Year leaderboard was tight, with only a couple of votes separating first, second and third.
So, who are my predictions for Sunday’s coveted award? Here is my top two and smoky;
Winner – Kaine Mercovich (Port Fairy): Port Fairy rebounded hard in the Hampden League this season, finishing just outside the top five. One of the main reasons why the Seagulls were strong and tough competition, was the form of star midfielder Kaine Mercovich. The number 48 is a ball-winning beast and uses it so effectively. He is extremely strong at winning the contested ball and he set-up a number of plays up forward for the Seagulls, building some nice synergy with forward Jason Rowan. Kaine, in my opinion, is one of the hardest working midfielders in the competition and is a very capable goal-kicker.
Runner Up – Jarryd Lewis (North Warrnambool): What a year it has been for the experienced Eagle. He spent the first five rounds in his normal position in the forward line before a move into defence to cover the loss of Luke Wines. Jarryd has been given a licence to run and rebound at all costs and what a success story it has been. His disposal numbers have been high, his kicking efficiency is elite and he has been amongst the Eagles best players weekly for the second half of the season. The move has been a master-stroke by Adam Dowie and I think if Chopper was to claim this year’s award, it would be celebrated amongst the competition, as he is one of the fairest players in the league.
Smoky – Ollie Bridgewater (South Warrnambool): Ollie has emerged as one of the premier big men of the competition in 2023. The Roosters star has had a terrific season, which included selection in the U23 Hampden League team. While Ollie’s ruck craft is continuing to develop, so is his ability to find the ball around the ground and use it effectively. He is going to be an important player in the Grand Final. I think Ollie will receive a number of votes, especially being so close to the umpires on the ground.
Preliminary Final Tip
If we have a replay of the Qualifying Final, this weekend’s game is certainly going to be a thriller. It was a tale of two halves a fortnight ago and again, it will be a battle of attrition on the wide expanses of the Reid Oval. After a strong start, Terang Mortlake had their run and go style blocked, making it harder to score, running the ball through the wings. North Warrnambool will need to make sure their midfield group is full of run and carry on the big ground, as the Bloods will flourish at the venue. The Eagles will welcome back Nathan Vardy, he was sound last weekend and will be better for the run. I expect he will play more ruck time, but if forward – he, Parish and Batten need to be better not crowding each other’s space, which was evident in the 2nd Semi Final. The Bloods were tough in the 1st Semi Final. The Kain Train was on fire, but this weekend he will need more help from another big target. I would love to see Alex Moloney play forward to try and stretch the Eagles defenders. A big game is coming up. North Warrnambool aiming for another Grand Final appearance in succession whilst Terang Mortlake haven’;t qualified for one since 2008.
I think Terang Mortlake will win by 7 points.
Hope you enjoy the footy