Eastwood Qualifying Final Preview
By Paul Treanor
Congratulations to the six Eastwood teams playing in this weekend’s qualifying finals. With two sides finishing minor premiers, two finishing second, one third and one fifth it was again an outstanding year for the club even though we finished one place lower on the club championship. Games are spread across both days this weekend. Second and Fourth Grade play at Manly Oval this Saturday. Firsts and Fourths are playing at Millner on Sunday, while Colts 2 and 3 play Sunday at Forshaw. All games promise to be what you expect from finals football as teams do not want to stumble at this stage of the season and upsets can be expected across the weekend.
Saturday Manly Oval
3rd Grade 5th Place Vs 2nd Place Manly 11.40 am
Eastwood’s loss in a close one against Warringah last Saturday saw them finish on equal points with Randwick. Unfortunately Randwick had one extra win giving them fourth thus assigning Eastwood to fifth and an appointment this Saturday with Manly. The team this week sees Joel Whitlock make his grade debut coming up from Colts Firsts to start in the front row. Congratulations Joel. He replaces Sam Needs who, after coming on a reserve in Firsts last week, has been selected in Seconds. Harry Bennett is back at fly half after missing last week reuniting the successful combination with Andrew Ferris who moves back to half. Jordan Goodard also returns this week replacing Richard Casa in the pack. Eastwood have lost their last two games after a five game winning streak. Manly broke a seven game winning run with a loss last Saturday against West Harbour who fell one point short of making the finals. Both teams will be looking to do better this Saturday. Eastwood have shown they are a threat to the teams above them on the ladder beating minor premier’s University twice. The only other team to get a win against University was Randwick. The sides have only met once this year when Eastwood took the points 36 – 6 so they have shown they can beat the Marlins, but can they do it at Manly Oval? Eastwood have scored 140 points more than Manly, but Manly have a better defensive record. It will be a tough ask but the team knows a loss will end their season. With Ferris and Bennett back in the halves the team should lift and proceed to next week’s Grand Final Qualifier. They have the ability to go all the way.
2nd Grade Minor Premiers Vs 6th Place West Harbour 1.15 pm
Eastwood took out the minor premiership with an impressive 47 – 14 win over Warringah last week. This week they line up against West Harbour who scraped into the final with just 7 wins and 2 draws for the season. Eastwood had a 48 – 15 win in their only clash this year back in Round 4. Much has happened since then and Eastwood have gone on from strength to strength while West Harbour have shown mixed form with wins in recent rounds against the teams at the bottom of the ladder, while losing to the stronger sides. Their last game was a loss 28 – 36 against Manly who finished second. There in only one change to the team this week. Sam Needs comes into the front row replacing Robert Lagudi who is out injured and will miss the entire finals series. Eastwood have been the stand-out team of the competition scoring 900 points while only conceding 292. The best attack and defence of any team, while West Harbour have just a 31 point differential. Wests know their season is on the line as a loss will see them exit the finals. Eastwood will be aware of this and not come to the game expecting to win. The team has not lost this season and it is hard to see them drop this one.
4th Grade Minor Premiers Vs 6th Place West Harbour 10.15 am
A hard fought 15 – 3 win over Warringah gave Eastwood the Fourth Grade minor premiership setting up a clash with West Harbour who come into the game with nine wins and nine losses. Eastwood have only suffered three losses, two of which were against University. They have won eight out of their last nine. The two teams have only played once this year back in Round 4 and Eastwood were comfortable winners 25 – 13. This week we see Heath Toon come into the front row for Daniel Minto, Paul Ng Shiu return to the starting line up for Jared Berndt and Max Page, back from Thirds, takes his place a half. West Harbour’s form has been patchy of late with only three wins in their last seven matches. They lost last week against Manly 19 – 29. Eastwood have scored the most points of any Fourth Grade side and conceded the least. They should be too strong for the West Harbour side, but with their season on the line you can expect Wests to throw everything they have to try and cause an upset to keep their season alive.
1st Grade 2nd Place Vs 5th Southern Districts 3.00 pm
Eastwood finished off their preparation for the finals with a strong performance in both attack and defence against one of this year’s final contenders, Warringah. Not allowing Warringah to score a single try was an outstanding effort considering the Rats strike power. The side have had a perfect lead into the finals with some tough games and are now set to take on sixth placed Southern Districts. The team is unchanged and the return of Nick Batger is the only change to the side that beat Souths two weeks ago 16 – 13. Again it was Eastwood’s defence that was the stand-out that afternoon only allowing Souths the one try. Souths would have been disappointed with last week’s effort managing to salvage a draw against Gordon, a team they should have well and truly beaten. Gordon scored five tries to four and it was only missed conversations that let Souths come away with a face saving draw. They know they will need to lift another gear if they are to reverse the recent loss to Eastwood. They also know a loss will end their season and so you can expect to see them coming out all guns blazing from the kick off. Souths go into the match with an unchanged forward pack from the one that played Eastwood two weeks ago. In the backs Ben Volavola returns after missing the last two weeks coming into fly half and pushing Paul Asquith into the centres. Sevens specialist Afa Pakalani comes in on the wing for Jonathan Brown and Ben Connolly takes over from Richard Williams at full back. Eastwood will benefit from their recent tough games and will not want to give Souths a sniff as they know how dangerous their back line can be. They will find the going hard at first but Eastwood will run away with it towards the latter part of the game despite Souths having the luxury of fresh reserves. Forshaw No 1 Sunday
3rd Grade Colts 2nd Place Vs 5th Northern Suburbs at 10.10 am
A realignment of the points ladder sees Eastwood finish the season in second place edging out Southern Districts by losing one less game. This week they take on fifth placed Northern Suburbs a team they have beaten twice this year. Eastwood beat them in Round 1, 17 – 10 and followed that up with 31 – 19 victory in the wet at North Sydney. With just the three losses this year Eastwood look to have a stronger side though Norths have shown they can match it with the other finalist and should not be taken lightly. Eastwood should prove too strong provided they can stick to their game plan.
2nd Grade Colts 3rd Place Vs 4th Manly at 10.10 am
Eastwood had a comprehensive 61 – 0 win over Warringah last weekend and it was pleasing to see them keep the Rats scoreless. This week their defence will again be tested as they will have memory of a Manly side that kept coming when they met for the only time this year at Millner. The final result was a win to Eastwood 22 – 17. Eastwood have only lost two of their last nine games while Manly have lost four of their last nine. They had a 41 – 12 win over West Harbour in the final round. Both teams will be looking to back up last week’s effort with a win this Saturday and a guaranteed place in next week’s grand final qualifier. It should be one of the closest games of the weekend.