NAB League Girls Round 9 preview: Finals race remains open

THE final round of the NAB League Girls regular season is upon us, with sliding doors in the top four race still very much on the move. With all four of the current finals placeholders competing against teams below them, destiny will be in their own hands heading into the season’s climax.

GEELONG FALCONS v MURRAY BUSHRANGERS
Saturday May 11, 12:00pm
Avalon Airport Oval

Reigning premiers Geelong Falcons will be looking to break from the unfamiliar feeling of losing when they clash with Murray Bushrangers to open Round 9. The Falcons’ undefeated record extending back to Round 4 2017 was finally broken by the Northern Knights last week, but a top-two spot seems all but sealed nonetheless. Despite looking impressive, the Bushrangers sit eighth having only conjured three wins thus far, with a loss to Dandenong last time out putting the nail in their finals chances. Murray’s task of overcoming the formidable Geelong side will be made tougher with middle-age midfield ace Abby Favell and Chelsea Hargreaves unavailable due to NSW/ACT commitments. In the same vein, Poppy Schapp is among three Falcons changes after copping a heavy knock in the bruising encounter with Northern. The Falcons will be breathing fire after last week’s loss, and coach Jason Armistead is looking to confirm his best line-up heading into finals, making this a key game for his players. Geelong also still has a chance of snatching top spot back, so Murray will have its work cut out in this one.

WESTERN JETS v DANDENONG STINGRAYS
Saturday May 11, 1:30pm
Williamstown Football Ground

The Western Jets can make it an unlikely three-straight wins when they host Dandenong Stingrays in windy Williamstown. After going 0-4, the Jets won in Round 5 and added to their tally twice more in recent weeks despite going down heavily to Geelong in between. Meanwhile, a disappointing loss to Oakleigh with a depleted squad in Round 7 all but ended the Stingrays’ season after going down to Bendigo the week before, but their 4-4 record is nothing to scoff at. Dandenong is set for at least six changes in their season-closer, while Cleo Saxon-Jones comes in alongside an extended bench for Western. With both sides looking to finish on a high and promise shown on either end at different stages, this should be a cracking contest.

GIPPSLAND POWER v CALDER CANNONS
Sunday May 12, 11:15am
Morwell Football Ground

Calder Cannons will be looking to cement its finals spot with a win over Gippsland Power in Sunday’s opening game. The Cannons can only realistically be jumped by Oakleigh should the Chargers win, but will count itself a good chance of making the top four a formality with their sixth win. While the visitors have lost twice in their last three tries, their star duo of Georgia Patrikios and Georgie Prespakis has proved the difference in multiple games and will help to put their side’s best foot forward here. On the other hand, Gippsland finally got on the board in Round 7 and remain on a sole victory, but will be keen to finish their season on a positive note. The incentive of throwing a spanner amidst the finals calculations would surely also loom large, and they have shown enough improvement to suggest they can add to the upsets of late. An interesting contest awaits.

GREATER WESTERN VICTORIA REBELS v NORTHERN KNIGHTS
Sunday May 12, 11:15am
MARS Stadium

The Northern Knights have the chance to consolidate top spot when they travel to face Greater Western Victoria in Ballarat. An impressive victory last time out saw the Knights snap Geelong’s two-year unbeaten run, and they will be out to stamp their authority as the competition’s clear number one side here. Mia Papachristos is a handy inclusion for the visitors, who have made two changes on the back of last week’s effort, while the hosts are set to make at least two with an extended bench named. GWV have picked up two wins in an indifferent year, getting the better of Bendigo in Round 1 and severely denting Oakleigh’s finals hopes just last week after a disappointing loss to Gippsland. While the result looks a formality on paper, the Rebels will try their level best to cause an upset, and Northern know they will be up for the challenge having picked a full-strength side.

SANDRINGHAM DRAGONS v EASTERN RANGES
Sunday May 12, 12:15pm
RSEA Park

Sandringham Dragons will look to cause one final upset when they clash with confirmed finals contenders, Eastern Ranges in Moorabbin. While the Ranges sealed their top four spot with a big win over Gippsland after scraping past Tasmania the week before, Sandringham has lost its last two games after a run of consecutive wins. The chance to spoil the Ranges final hit-out before finals looms for Sandringham, but it will be no mean feat against the might of Eastern. While either side is set to make at least a couple of changes each, their respective cores remain relatively untouched and should provide much of the excitement. The midfield battle between the likes of Eastern’s Tarni Brown and Tess Flintoff against Sandringham’s Alice Burke and Winnie Laing will be a competitive, while Dragons’s tall Sarah Hartwig will have her work cut out for her against Serena Gibbs and Laura McClelland. With a win possibly the difference between playing the Falcons or Knights, Eastern still have something to play for in this one.

BENDIGO PIONEERS v OAKLEIGH CHARGERS
Sunday May 12, 3:30pm
Queen Elizabeth Oval

A competitive game is set to see out the 2019 regular season, as Oakleigh and Bendigo face off at Queen Elizabeth Oval. While previous results will be known to them, this could be the Chargers’ last chance to snatch a finals spot after a shock loss last week to second-bottom, GWV. The Pioneers looked a finals threat on the back of three-straight wins, before consecutive losses knocked them out of contention more recently. With the talent clearly there to compete with a side like Oakleigh, and the Chargers’ losses to GWV and Sandringham lingering, Bendigo is in with a huge chance on home turf. Their effort will be slightly hindered by the absence of Jordyn Jolliffe as part of six Bendigo chances, while Oakleigh will come in more settled. Either way, it should prove to be a tight encounter and finals ramifications would only add an extra layer to the contest.

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