THE race for top spot has come down to the wire in the Northern Territory Football League (NTFL) Men’s Premier Division, with the top two set to do battle in the final round while sides from third to fifth jostle for finals ascendancy.
TIWI BOMBERS v. ST MARYS
Round 18 – Saturday February 16, 2pm
St Marys will be looking to play spoiler when it hits the road to face Tiwi in the round-opener. Should they win, the Bombers are a chance to climb into third if Waratah narrowly get over Darwin in their tie – setting up a finals clash with second place. Having lost its first five games, Tiwi has shown two extraordinary bursts of form, toppling the top two sides in an 8-4 run that has landed them in fourth to this point. On the other hand, St Marys can only move down if bottom side, Wanderers manage to topple Palmerston convincingly. While highlights have been sparse for the Saints across season 2019, they have the chance to end it on a high after sticking with finals-bound teams throughout the year. While a win against a Bombers side keen for the chance to test themselves against the competition’s elite will be a tough ask for St Marys, possibly being handed the wooden spoon could prove even tougher.
WARATAH v. DARWIN BUFFALOES
Round 18 – Saturday February 16, 4pm
The scene is set for a third place playoff as Waratah hosts Darwin at Gardens Oval to see out their home and away seasons. While sliding doors will lessen the simplicity of this contest’s outcome, the chance to play a top two side in the first week of finals is essentially what is up for grabs. Tiwi is the team sandwiched between the two here, and the Bombers’ earlier fixture will play a big hand in deciding the final order of these three teams level on 32 points. Should either of these sides win narrowly, Tiwi could boost its percentage significantly enough to overtake both of them, albeit unlikely. Sixth place Palmerston is also still mathematically in with a chance of dislodging Waratah with a massive win, but that outcome is reliant on Darwin winning by well over 100 points. The Buffaloes are in a concerning run of form though, going down to the bottom two sides amongst an overall losing streak of three – which makes that margin seem less likely. So with a finals spot looking to be the bare minimum for either side despite the result, ladder position and pride will be a leading motivator – and a psychological advantage could also come into play if the sides meet again in week two of finals. Expect a tight one here, and buckle in for a finals-type atmosphere.
NIGHTCLIFF v. SOUTHERN DISTRICTS
Round 18 – Saturday February 16, 4pm
PSC BM Oval
The race for top spot is set to be decided at the perfect time as ladder-leaders, Nightcliff take on reigning premiers, Southern Districts on Saturday evening for the minor premiership. These two have been the clear-best sides all year, and while they have both guaranteed a second chance in finals, a week off is an added incentive for whoever comes out on top. The Tigers have been stingy in defence – conceding the least points of any team – while the free-flowing Crocs have been a force up forward, leading the league in that department to boast a percentage greater than their weekend rivals. Thus, a win would propel them into first, but they still require the four points to do so. While Nightcliff has been sitting pretty atop the table for some time having won 10 of its last 11 games, it could all prove to be in vain with a loss at the weekend. But with scoring power aplenty and bragging rights on the line, this should prove to be a belter for neutrals – if you are to tune in for one regular season game this year, make it this one.
PALMERSTON MAGPIES v. WANDERERS
Round 18 – Saturday February 16, 5:30pm
Palmerston and Wanderers will both be looking to end their seasons strongly as they meet to round out a super Saturday, and the home and away season. While the Magpies are technically still a chance to make finals, a 200-odd point turnaround always seems all but impossible. With the sides below them out of sight, the ‘Pies can throw caution to the wind and enjoy their final game with nothing to lose. Wanderers are currently bottom of the ladder, and have been for most of the year, but can escape the wooden spoon with a win – as long as St Marys also lose. While there is not much on the line here, there is enough quality across both lineups to put on a good last showing for fans of both teams.