The top three sides are all travelling away to meet opponents who are involved in the battle for fourth spot on the ladder. Whilst the leading sides must start favourite in these games the hint of an upset is certainly on the cards.
Competition front runners, Western NSW Panthers, will be travelling to Sydney for a clash with Inter Lions at Ron Routley Reserve. The Panthers have come through two tight encounters in recent weeks, firstly against Illawarra Stingrays in Bathurst a fortnight ago followed by a trip to Nowra for another stirring struggle with Southern NSW FC. The Panthers never seem to win by many but they certainly know how to get past the post in front. Gillian Rosconi has been instrumental in her side?s success with a swag of goals already this season. The return of last season?s star, Vanessa Hart, will only make the Bathurst girls an even more formidable foe.
Inter Lions put up a brave effort against the rampaging Illawarra Stingrays last week with the 7-0 scoreline probably not doing The Lions? performance justice. Inter have shown steady improvement as the season?s progressed. They are still right in the firing line for the semi finals but need to start grabbing an extra point or two against the top sides to make their task a little easier. The first round match up between these two sides wouldn?t have Inter Coach Joe Baldacci brimming with confidence as the Panthers handed his side a 5-0 football lesson. The Lions have come a long way since but The Panthers aren?t sitting atop the table for nothing.
I have a funny feeling (it may be the tacos I had for dinner?) that Inter are going to be primed for a big effort on Sunday. Despite that I to go for The Panthers. I don?t think it will be 5-0 this time though.
Second placed Illawarra Stingrays are also doing some travelling this week with a trip up the freeway to Peakhurst for a meeting with fourth placed St George FC. The locals will not hold fond memories of their last clash when The Stingrays ran out 8-1 winners. More recently St George have been in good form, having steadily worked their way up the ladder to their current position. Conceding six goals against both Southern NSW FC and Blacktown Spartans is something of a worry but St George know that a loss here could see them tumble a couple of spots on the standings. The incentive is certainly there to pull out a giant killing performance.
The Illawarra express train looked unstoppable until it was derailed in Bathurst a fortnight back. Even then, despite not being at their best, The Stingrays nearly pulled the game out of the bag. Last weekend they bounced back with a pretty comprehensive win over Inter Lions. They have so many options in attack that, even with striker Michelle Heyman out injured, they offer a formidable task for any opposition defensive line. Carney, Halloway, Akid, Siskoska all have plenty of tricks up their sleeve. I might add that I saw a youngster by the name of Talitha Kramer come on during the match against The Panthers who may well be a star of the future.
I can?t tip against The Stingrays. I expect them to win well.
Southern NSW FC meet third placed Gladesville Ravens at Ison Park. Southern had won four in a row prior to last weekend?s match against table topping Western NSW Panthers. The Nowra girls? effort in only going down narrowly in that game was full of merit. It would surely only add to the confidence that?s been building in the side in recent weeks. They?ve had very few hiccups at their home park and Gladesville need to be wary of an upset in this match. Katie French?s golden boot needs to be watched closely.
Gladesville Ravens aren?t the most consistent side in the competition. They?ve turned in some memorable performances during the season but have also caused Paul Wade a few grey hairs as well. On their day The Ravens are a tough opponent. They?re not sitting in so high on the table without good reason. This match will be a good test of character for them as Southern are starting to look like possible semi opponents. A win here would supply a definite psychological edge for the future. Can the likes of Hardie, Smith and Parrott do the job for Ravens?
I?m taking the coward?s way out and tipping a draw.
Bankstown Wildcats and Northern Tigers have an important clash with the Wildcats holding home ground advantage. Both these sides, at least numerically, are still in semi final contention. The recent efforts of the two teams have been creditable if not particularly successful. The teams look well matched though Bankstown may take heart from a convincing 5-2 win in their earlier meeting this season. The Wildcats spent last weekend doing things other than football due to a washout but their last match, a 1-0 loss to Gladesville Ravens, reads well for their chances here.
The Tigers lack the sizzle of some of the top sides but they are a team of triers. A loss to St George last week, a draw with Inter Lions the week before holds up as a reasonable form line coming into this game. They sit one point above Bankstown on the table and a win here, pending other results, will thrust them right into the firing line.
I?m going to put my money on The Tigers here though it?s hard to do so with any confidence.
The final game of the round sees UNSW hosting Blacktown Spartans at David Phillips Field. Blacktown must have an expert on the Indian Rain Dance amongst their team because the weather has been causing them plenty of headaches in 2008. Every time they catch up their washed out fixtures the dark clouds gather again to ruin their schedule.
The Spartans have hardly had a season to remember. Their last game did show a glimpse of what they may be capable of however as a 6-1 win over St George FC looks pretty convincing. It would surely be enough to recommend them in a game with the bottom placed UNSW who have struggled all season to be competitive.
A win for Blacktown here would still give them the slightest hope of remaining in the race for fourth spot. Improbable, yes, but that makes this a must win game for The Spartans. UNSW put up a very good effort a couple of weeks back when losing only 2-1 to Southern NSW FC at Ison Park. A repeat of that performance would make for a difficult day for this weekend?s opponents.
A close one. I?m tempted to say a draw but Blacktown?s win over St George is too good to ignore. Spartans by one.
I smell an upset or two this weekend. On paper, at least, the leading sides look the goods but football isn?t played on paper. This could be a make or break weekend for a couple of sides and that in itself may cause a lift in tempo. Good luck to all our Arrive Alive NSW Women?s Super League sides this week. It looks like a great weekend for football!
-By Ross Anderson