WITH the Northern Territory Football League (NTFL) Men’s Premier League finalists all-but decided, each of the final five will be hoping to avoid any slip-ups on their way to the post-season. Just one Round 16 fixture is set to be played out between finals-bound sides, making this weekend one with a bunch of danger games.
PALMERSTON MAGPIES (8th, 1-14) vs. DARWIN BUFFALOES (4th, 8-7)
Friday January 31, 7:00pm
It is now or never for Darwin in its last-ditch attempt to snatch a top three spot, with cellar dweller Palmerston standing in the way of a much-needed set of four points. The Buffs have not been able to string together consecutive wins since completing a streak of three against the Magpies in Round 9, and have struggled to match it against fellow top five opponents. But Matt Campbell‘s side has fared much better against the current bottom three, going 6-0 so far and looking to add to that record here. Palmerston’s season has not produced many highlights, but a heartbreakingly narrow loss to the Buffs in that Round 9 meeting should provide a boost in confidence for the 1-14 Magpies. The class of Alwyn Davey, Aaron Davey, and Kyle Emery from on and behind the ball will be key to Palmerston’s success, with skipper and focal point Aaron Lonergan awaiting their delivery at full forward. He may find himself marked by the returning Ryan Pendlebury, who comes in to buff Darwin’s back six, while the likes of Campbell and Joe Anderson will have added responsibility with captain Jarrod Stokes missing from the team sheet. While the Buffs may see this as an opportunity to boost their percentage and keep touch with Tiwi, they should take nothing for granted in a game they simply must win.
TIWI BOMBERS (3rd, 10-5) vs. NIGHTCLIFF (1st, 14-1)
Saturday February 1, 2:30pm
Arguably the game of the round kicks off a super Saturday of NTFL football, with three of the four weekend fixtures to be played across the afternoon and evening. Two of the league’s hottest sides in Tiwi and Nightcliff do battle, with the Bombers looking to sew up a top three berth and the Tigers out to officially wrap up the minor premiership. This will be a real test of Tiwi’s premiership credentials with six-straight wins under its belt, but Nightcliff remains the only side the Bombers are yet to overcome, falling to the all-conquering Tigers in Rounds 2 and 9. While the Bombers are set to come in a touch undermanned in terms of interstate starpower, mainstays in the form of Adam Tipungwuti, Dion Munkara, and Harley Puruntatameri should provide that typical Tiwi dash and dare going forward, while Nathan Djerrkura remains at the heart of midfield. Tiwi’s starting forward line looks formidable on paper, but Nightcliff’s defence is as stingy as any, while also possessing the firepower to score big. Competition leading goalkicker Trent Melville is one who can help match Tiwi’s forward threat alongside Liam Holt-Fitz in the absence of John Butcher and Lachlan Sharp, while a raft of experienced heads steady the ship further afield. It is set to be a hot contest, and a good test for either side just a few weeks out from finals.
WARATAH (6th, 5-10) vs. ST MARY’S (2nd, 11-4)
Saturday February 1, 4:00pm
Waratah faces a tough ask in maintaining its unlikely turnaround towards finals, set to clash with the second-ranked St Mary’s on home turf. Consecutive wins have mathematically kept the Warriors in the hunt for fifth spot, but it all depends on whether they can win their three remaining games, and if Southern Districts lose all three of theirs. The Saints come in having only gone down to Nightcliff in their last seven outings, looking like a genuine premiership contender to sit safe in a double chance spot. While top three qualification is very nearly sewn up, a win would officially do it for last year’s wooden spooners. Much of the Saints’ strength will lie in their midfield this week, boasting the likes of David Armitage, Will Hams, Shaun Edwards, Jackson Geary, and Nate Paredes, while Maurice Rioli Jnr could also roll through there in the forward rotation. With Brodie Carroll and Abe Ankers set to miss, Waratah will hope to outgun the Saints through the likes of Jae McGrath and Mitchell O’Donnell inside 50, while Kim Kantilla and Henry Kerinaiua provide the creativity moving forward. It may seem a foregone conclusion on paper, but the Warriors’ form suggests they could prove tricky for the Saints to handle.
WANDERERS (7th, 3-11-1) vs. SOUTHERN DISTRICTS (5th, 7-7-1)
Saturday February 1, 7:00pm
Southern Districts will look to put any doubt over its top five spot to rest and get back to a positive record when it faces Wanderers to see out Round 16. The Crocs have had a tough time of it of late, going down in all of their last four outings – albeit against the top four sides – sliding down to fifth and almost out of top three contention. But with three games against the bottom sides to see out the regular season, starting here, the Crocs could seal an unlikely spring out of the elimination final slots. A team in an even worse rut at the moment is Wanderers, out to snap a nine-game losing run dating back to Round 6, having previously looked like a finals contender. The young Muk Muks have been lively in patches and have some terrific talent, but have not been able to stay in games for long enough. That should play into the hands of Southern Districts, with the experienced Ed Barlow and Michael Barlow set to join Richard Tambling through midfield, while their own prodigy in Brodie Lake should also make a difference. Wanderers engine room partnership of Braedon McLean and Beau O’Connell is set to resume, but will be tested greatly at the coalface. In a boost to the Eagles’ forward line, ex-Croc Shane Thorne makes his Premier League return to support the goalkicking prowess of Joel Jeffrey. Wanderers have nothing to lose, and should go at the Crocs with freedom given winning form is everything to Southern Districts heading into finals.