Yes, the other eight teams will be competing and every team will be striving for a final round win but the game that means everything is at J.J.Kelly Park where the Illawarra Stingrays do battle with the Western NSW Panthers.
What?s at stake here? Firstly, the Club Championship. With it, of course, comes promotion to the Premier League in 2009. Secondly, the Arrive Alive NSW Women?s Super League Minor Premiership. Australia?s footballing community love semi finals and Grand Finals but I?m from the old school that sees the Minor Premiers as the best team of the season. The Stingrays and The Panthers, if Sunday?s result goes Illawarra?s way, will only be separated by goal difference. That?s enough to prove your number one.
I don?t doubt that both sides will be well prepared for this encounter. Both teams are well aware of what a massive game this is. Western NSW Panthers will remember their fine win over Illawarra in Bathurst a couple of months back. Coach Paul Waine will be hoping that his defence is as adept at cancelling out The Stingrays ?big guns? this Sunday as they were then. At the other end of the park The Panthers will be looking to the likes of Gillian Rosconi and Ashleigh Sykes to cause Illawarra a few headaches of their own. The Stingrays defence buckled under the pressure in Bathurst. Coach Darren Sewalt vowed to plug the holes after that game. The test of his ?repair job? will take place on Sunday.
Illawarra have so many fine players. I?ve written endless words in praise of Michelle Carney and Michelle Heyman in particular. They appear a perfect foil for each other; Heyman is tall, quick, strong on the ball with a powerful shot. Carney is smaller physically but displays wonderful skills with the ball that, coupled with her acceleration off the mark, make her the most dangerous target player in the league. These two though are backed up by so many other talented players that it?s little wonder so many people involved with the Arrive Alive NSW Women?s Super League have been tipping The Stingrays to be Champions all season.
These are two fine football teams. Talent across the park, well coached; plenty of positives that are reflected by their positions on the table. That said they are different styles of sides; Illawarra are the attacking powerhouse, The Panthers moreso solid defensively but with a sting in their tail. The first round clash was a fascinating game to watch. I don?t doubt that Sunday?s match will be a blockbuster.
Who is Ross going to put the death knell on you ask? Well, I apologise to my friends at Illawarra but I?m going to tip The Stingrays (Wow, I can hear the sighs of relief all the way from Bathurst!). I have enormous respect for The Panthers. But, I?m drawn to The Stingrays by their variety of options in attack. They?ve impressed me from the first game I saw them play against Inter Lions at Concord Oval. There won?t be much in it but a goal the better to Illawarra is my thought.
Now, there are other matches taking place this weekend and I certainly don?t want to be accused of neglecting anyone. However, the other four games will not have a bearing on semi final places or the order of the top four. They will be tests of pride for some teams and valuable build up to the finals for others.
Southern NSW, safely ensconced in fourth place on the ladder, host the Ninja Turtles of UNSW at Ison Park. The UNSW girls put up a magnificent effort last week to hold competition leaders Western NSW Panthers to a 1-0 scoreline in Bathurst. Short on numbers but not on spirit the UNSW side has battled through a difficult season. A trip to Ison Park wouldn?t seem an ideal finale but, after last weekend, who knows what our little Ninjas are capable of?
Southern NSW will have one eye on the commencement of the semi finals next week. They?ll want to get through this one unscathed. They?ll also want to make sure they clear any remaining cobwebs before the big games start. I have a feeling that this team may make a bigger impression in the finals than some people think.
Sorry Ninja Turtles but I?m going against you again. Southern to win but I?m sure that the UNSW girls will come off the ground smiling.
Lions and Tigers time at Ron Routley Reserve where Inter host the Northern Tigers. Neither of these sides growled quite as loudly as they may have hoped this season but both teams have had their moments. They?ve lacked a touch of flair or brilliance possessed by a few other sides; a valuable difference in some vital clashes. I would describe these two sides as ?gritty?; they try hard, annoy their opposition with their enthusiasm and give their supporters plenty to cheer about.
This final clash of the season should be a close one. So close, that I?ll tip both sides to leave Ron Routley Reserve with a point!
St George FC meet Blacktown Spartans at Peakhurst.
It was a matter of ?missed it by THAT much? for St George. They were right in the finals hunt up until the last fortnight but fourth place was not to be. They put up a very competitive performance against Gladesville Ravens last weekend; that alone would ensure them of favouritism in this game.
Blacktown? I?ve written often in my articles that they appear a much better side than reflected by their position on the competition table. Their last three games have seen a solid win, a big loss and a scoreless draw. I?m not sure that qualifies the team as consistent but probably sums up their season.
I?ll go for St George in this one but Blacktown are capable of an upset if they have an ?on? day.
Finally, Bankstown Wildcats welcome third placed Gladesville Ravens to the beautiful south west in a game that brings the curtain down on The Wildcats for 2008.
After two rounds of the competition Bankstown had six points and must have been thinking that the world was a wonderful place. Then they ran into the Illawarra Stingrays and life took on a less exciting glow. Bankstown have had some fairly miserable periods during the season but have battled on regardless. They?ll have ambitions to do much better in 2009. It?ll be interesting to see what the club decide to do in an attempt to become contenders.
Gladesville Ravens have given me some of my brightest moments during the season. Some very courageous performances coupled with a touch of frustration for Coach Paul Wade have been part of parcel of 2008. I won?t forget their Round 15 effort against Illawarra Stingrays for a long time. Maybe their Coach should set up a replay for them before next week?s semi final? That game does appear to have given The Ravens a bit more belief in themselves. They should be too good for Bankstown.
It?s been a great season in the Arrive Alive NSW Women?s Super League. Things get much, much hotter from next weekend as the top four settle down to determine the 2008 Premiers. To the six sides who bow out of competition this weekend; dwell on the positives. You?ve all contributed something to an exciting season of football. The good thing about football is that it?ll always be there again next season.
Good luck everyone.
-By Ross Anderson