The opening weekend of the Hampden Football Netball League Finals Series was an overwhelming success with beautiful weather and two exemplary games of football.
North Warrnambool and Terang Mortlake played out a thriller, with the Eagles prevailing by a point in front of a large crowd at the picturesque Leura Oval. The dominant premiership reign of the Koroit Saints came to an end on Sunday in the Elimination Final, with Cobden producing one of their best performances of the season to qualify for the 1st Semi Final. Whilst the Saints will be disappointed not to progress, we have to look back at their past seven seasons especially and just marvel at their heroics. An unbelievable football club and I don’t think they will be down for too long, watch them bounce back in a big way in 2024.
Hampden Junior Awards
On Monday night, the Hampden Football Netball League Junior Awards were staged. In front of a big crowd, young Oliver Turner from the Warrnambool Blues was crowned the 2014 Stuart Brunt Medallist for the U14 competition, while exciting South Warrnambool midfielder Sam Rhodes won the U16 Doug McConnell Medal. It was an exciting U14 count with Oliver winning on 28 votes in his first season with the Blues, he finished three votes ahead of South Warrnambool premiership captain Jimmy Stevens on 25 votes, while North Warrnambool leader Charlie Jellie capped off a dominant season with a third placing on 23 votes. It has been a whirlwind season for Sam at Roosterland, with the son of former South Warrnambool star and ex Western Bulldogs recruit Jacob Rhodes, making his senior debut in the final round of the season against Portland with two goals. Sam won the count on 30 votes, with his nearest rival Hugh Fitzgerald of the Hamilton Kangaroos the next best with 19 votes, following a terrific year in the midfield group. One of the biggest applause came for new Koroit cult-hero Archie Tepper, when he was announced as the leading goal-kicker with 50 goals for the season. An exciting talent and a name we should be watching out for in the years to come.
C-MAC is Back at the Saints
There are only a few more coaching positions that need to be confirmed in the Hampden League for 2024, and a familiar face will once again lead the powerful Koroit Saints. Club legend Chris McLaren will once again take the reins at Victoria Park, continuing on the job he has held from 2017. Chris, in my mind, is one of the modern great coaches, tactically he is one of the best in the competition but his biggest strength is the relationships he develops with his players and his ability to get the best out of his players. Despite being knocked out in Week 1 of the finals, he would have been absolutely rapt with the progression of his young team this season. There are a lot of positives that can be reflected on and that will hold the Saints in good stead for the next season. A terrific appointment and its great to have one of the best still having a strong passion for the coaching caper.
2nd Semi Final
A ticket to the Hampden Football Netball League Grand Final is on offer at the Ridley Recreation Reserve this weekend when minor premiers South Warrnambool take on North Warrnambool in the 2nd Semi Final. The Roosters enjoyed the first week of the finals off, which allowed a number of key players to rest some niggling injuries. The Roosters are expected to get quite a few big names back including Henderson, Anderson, Archie Stevens and Sam Thompson. We haven’t seen what South Warrnambool’s best 22 looks like this season, but we might see it on Saturday, a formidable team on paper. North Warrnambool, who have a good record against the Roosters, could welcome back some important players this weekend, with star big man Nathan Vardy likely to return along with small forward Felix Jones and defender Reece Scoble. The Eagles will be happy with the predicted rain and tightness of the Terang ground, allowing them to play their defensive brand of football, covering the corridor and causing stoppages don’t think we will witness a high scoring affair and it will be a match determined by who can break through the oppositions defence and score. A huge match is coming up and I think South Warrnambool will narrowly win.
1st Semi Final
This is going to be an entertaining clash between two sides that love to use the football quickly, through the corridor and try to out-run teams. It is terrific to see two eastern clubs return to the finals, and last week both looked very impressive on how they moved the football so fluently. Cobden will welcome back Jesse Williamson to the line-up, returning after a hamstring injury last week and what flexibility it gives the Bombers up forward and potentially allowing captain Paul Pekin to play more midfield time. Big man Mark Marriott showed his importance last weekend, dominating the aerial battle and showing his versatility around the ground. Terang Mortlake were consistent all game last week, they just failed to capitalise some good looks up forward when the game mattered most.The Bloods need a little more help for Will Kain, he was dangerous with four goals, but there is a big reliance on the Kain Train to kick goals, that was evident last weekend. I would like to see a Lachie Wareham or Rhys Buck take more control in the forward line to help Kain, as well as Luke McConnell staying a little deeper forward, nipping at the heals of the star full-forward. It could be one of the best matches of the season at the Gardens Oval. I love the journey the Cobden Bombers are on and I believe they will win by 8 points.
Let’s hope for a brilliant second weekend of finals action.
See you at the Footy