Six months of football comes down to one game, and while UNSW look to defend their title, Western NSW Mariners are one win away from doing the double by taking out both the championship and the Premiership this week at Popondetta Park.
UNSW Lions v Western NSW Mariners. Popondetta Park, Sunday 3.30pm.
It is somewhat fitting for these two sides to meet in the Grand Final. At the end of the regular season, both UNSW and Western NSW finished on 48 points. The defending champions, UNSW, might enter the Grand Final as slight favourites as they have won two of three meetings this season against the Mariners, but much will depend on whether the week off has helped or hindered their finals preparation.
At the tail-end of the season, momentum is everything, and UNSW have gone eight matches undefeated, scoring 31 goals while only conceding five. It has been a glorious run home, but also an action packed one, fitting eight matches into just five weeks. In this regard, the week off will give players a much-needed rest before the decider, but might also upset their rhythm.
With the front three of Ayse Adalis, Gabrielle Marzano and Monica Kavanagh effectively decided, and the central defensive pairing of Xanthe Dumbrell and Deirdre Barham set in stone, much will depend on who starts in the midfield for UNSW. In the finals series they have rotated their midfield players, with Shani Lauf standing out with her excellent box-to-box play.
For Western NSW Mariners the rock-solid central defensive partnership of Megan McFarland and Jane Hanrahan will likely go unchanged, while the front three of Katie Pakai-Kelly, Gillian Rosconi and Erin Holder will remain the same if all three can stay fit from last Sunday’s bruising encounter with Bankstown.
The players to watch out for are Ayse Adalis for UNSW and Megan Embleton for Western NSW Mariners. While Gabrielle Marzano might be the more precocious of the Lions’ attackers, it is Adalis who consistently comes up with goals at the crucial moments. If her performance in the major semi final final against the Mariners a fortnight ago was anything to go by, she’ll be at the centre of everything. Meanwhile, Megan Embleton plays a crucial role in linking the Mariners defence with their attack, while also pitching in with goals from the midfield. A big performance from her will be essential if the Mariners are to win this match.
The Grand Final will be a clash between two similar sides. Both teams like to play expansive, attacking football with wingers and a strong centre forward. Spectators should expect a close game, but also one played in the right spirit between two of the finest womens teams in the state. Good luck to both clubs.
-By Joe Gorman