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NTFL Men’s Premier League preview: Grand Final – Back-to-back, or fairytale turnaround?

AFTER 18 regular season rounds and three scintillating post-season weeks, we are down to the final two in the Northern Territory Football League (NTFL) Men’s Premier League, with Nightcliff and St Mary’s set to do battle in this year’s decider on Saturday night. The greatest storyline coming into the clash will arguably be that of the difference in each clubs’ 2018/19 campaigns; with Nightcliff coming in as the reigning premier, while St Mary’s took out the unfortunate title of wooden spooner last year. In our comprehensive preview, we recap each 2019/20 meeting between the two sides so far, their overall records and form, and take a look at the key players among the final teams.


ST MARY’S vs. NIGHTCLIFF

2019/20 Grand Final
Saturday March 14, 7:15pm
TIO Stadium

KEY STATS

Records:

St Mary’s – 2nd, 14-4 (2-0 finals), 137%
Nightcliff – 1st, 17-1 (1-1), 197%

Leading goalkickers:

St Mary’s – Jackson Calder (33), Shannon Rioli (26), Leroy Larson (24)
Nightcliff – Trent Melville (46), Liam Holt-Fitz (31), Cam Ilett (24)

Grand final records:

St Mary’s – 32-17
Nightcliff – 4-8

Form:

St Mary’s – 5-0
Nightcliff – 4-1

2020 head-to-head:

St Mary’s 2-1 Nightcliff

ROUND 7 – St Mary’s 15.9 (99) def. Nightcliff 11.6 (72)

Goals:

St Mary’s: J. Paine 5, L. Larson 3, N. Paredes 2, J. Calder 2, J. Box, J. Cheek, J. Quinn
Nightcliff: T. Melville 3, M. Bricknell 2, D. Bowles, J. Butcher, L. Holt-Fitz, C. Ilett, K. Winter-Irving, D. Joyce

Best:

St Mary’s: L. Larson, R. Smith, S. Rioli, T. Davies, J. Paine, K. Parnell
Nightcliff: C. Holmes, K. Riley, S. Wilson, P. Wills, K. Winter-Irving, T. Melville

Talking points:

– St Mary’s becomes the first side to beat Nightcliff in 2019/20
– It was made even more remarkable given the Saints came in off a loss
– The loss was Nightcliff’s first since Round 15, 2018/19 (12 games)
– The Saints win despite having one less goalkicker
– Jackson Paine makes a splash in his first game with five goals

ROUND 14 – Nightcliff 14.13 (97) def. St Mary’s 4.8 (32)

Goals:

Nightcliff: L. Holt-Fitz 3, J. Butcher 2, K. Winter-Irving 2, B. Filo 2, S. Wilson 2, J. Tsitas, M. Hagan, T. Melville.
St Mary’s: N. Paredes 2, R. Jordon, S. Lampton.

Best:

Nightcliff: L. Holt-Fitz, K. Winter-Irving, J. Kickett, M. Hagan, S. Wilson, B. Arnold
St Mary’s: T. Davies, J. Long, S. Edwards, A. Long, R. Jordon, J. Long

Talking points:

– Nightcliff gets one back over the Saints in convincing fashion
– Liam Holt-Fitz continues his electric mid-season run of form with three goals
– The win meant Nightcliff had beaten every other team in 2019/20
– The 55-point loss still stands as St Mary’s heaviest for the season
– Some fans dismissed the result due to the inexperienced Saints lineup

SEMI FINAL – St Mary’s 16.7 (103) def. Nightcliff 11.11 (77)

Goals:

Nightcliff: J. Tsitas 2, M. Hagan 2, T. Melville 2, L. Sharp 2, S. Wilson, J. Butcher, C. Ilett.
St Mary’s: J. Calder 5, M. Rioli Jnr 4, R. Smith, J. Paine, J. Salmon, N. Yarran, S. Rioli, S. Edwards, H. Labastida.

Best:

Nightcliff: N/A
St Mary’s: M. Rioli Jnr, L. Daly, R. Smith, J. Paine, J. Calder, T. Saunders

Talking points:

– St Mary’s knocks over Nightcliff for a second time, ending the Tigers’ 11-game winning run
– Maurice Rioli Jnr kicks four brilliant goals to capture the nation’s attention
– Jackson Calder’s five goals takes his finals tally to nine
– Liam Daly’s tagging job on Brodie Filo proves vital
– Four Nightcliff multiple goalkickers not enough for the potent Tigers

KEY PLAYERS

St Mary’s:

Shannon Rioli – A brilliant servant of the Saints over the past few years, and played almost every game this season on the way to 26 goals and a handful of appearances in the best. The Saints will once again look to Rioli for goals and leadership up forward, with his nous inside 50 set to be a factor at the feet of a trio of dangerous talls.

Jacob Long – One of the brightest young stars in the NTFL, Long has flourished this season at senior level with his class and speed on the outside. As one of only two Saints to have played in every game this season, Long has cemented his spot as a must-pick home-grown talent and looks primed for a big top-age season as he pushes into AFL draft contention. Expect him to play a key role again off half-back.

Tom Davies – A rock at the back for St Mary’s this season who was named in the best 13 times in 19 outings, backing up a solid 2018/19 campaign. Expect Davies to have his hands full with a couple of high-end Nightcliff forwards, with his cool head likely to be an important factor amid the typically frantic grand final pace and atmosphere.

Nightcliff:

Brodie Filo – The recently crowned two-time Nichols medalist is one of the league’s premier players, and will be keen to make good on a few down weeks – including being nullified in the semi final clash between these two sides. He may be breathing a sigh of relief with tagger Liam Daly left out of the Saints’ team, but has the class to focus on his own game. His goals from midfield are set to be vital.

Kaine Riley – The Tigers’ best and fairest has been a phenomenon down back this season, consistently putting in shifts in a more unheralded role among a host of Nightcliff stars. Featuring in the best in over half of his 18 games, Riley’s role has not gone unnoticed by those who matter at the minor premiers, and he will again be important given the formidable list of experienced St Mary’s forwards.

Trent Melville – A standout over the last two seasons for the near-unbeatable Tigers, Melville has a knack for notching big bags of goals and making some special plays. He ended the regular season as Nightcliff’s leading goalkicker and has averaged two goals per game against the Saints this year, with his role in the midfield-forward rotation as important as anyones.

TEAMS

St Mary’s:

Full Back – 7. Tylah Saunders, 21. Braxton Ah Mat, 35. Adam Parry
Half Back – 13. Jake Long, 14. Tom Davies, 1. Jacob Long
Centre – 39. Kieren Parnell, 27. Nate Paredes, 11. Nick Yarran
Half Forward – 3. Maurice Rioli Jnr, 8. Raphael Clarke, 9. Shaun Edwards
Full Forward – 30. Jarrad Waite, 10. Shannon Rioli, 24. Jackson Calder
Rucks – 20. Ryan Smith, 28. Rhett Jordon, 23. Jackson Paine
Interchange – 38. Josh Cheek, 15. Jack Long, 22. Joseph Salmon, 5. Henry Labastida, 16. Liam Daly, 2. Jack Geary, 18. Dylan Johnstone, 42. James Quinn, 32. Matt Wilkinson, 36. Aidan Hill, 4. Anthony Long, 12. Leonard Ferreira

In: K. Parnell, J. Waite, R. Jordon
Out: L. Ferreira, D. Johnstone, L. Daly

St Mary’s made the tough call of leaving out Liam Daly, the man who kept Nichols medalist Brodie Filo quiet in the Saint’s semi final win, while also omitting Dylan Johnstone and Leonard Ferreira with some serious talent coming the other way. Homegrown star Kieren Parnell (wing) returns alongside Rhett Jordon (follower) and Jarrad Waite (full forward), with the latter completing a stacked Saints forward line alongside the likes of Jackson Calder, Shannon Rioli, Shaun Edwards, and Raphael Clarke. Young guns Maurice Rioli Jnr and Jacob Long take up flank spots at either end of the field, looking to generate some run and flair on the outside to match the likes of Nate Paredes and Nick Yarran through midfield. Tom Davies and Jake Long will be the rocks in defence, finishing off a formidable spine for the Saints. Not many teams have been able to match the Tigers for starpower over the last three seasons, but St Mary’s is set to do just that with this full-strength lineup.

Nightcliff:

Full Back – 14. Nathan Brown, 26. Marley McGregor, 2. Michael Hagan
Half Back – 10. Cameron Ilett, 22. Daniel Bowles, 5. Kaine Riley
Centre – 3. Jonathan Peris, 33. Shaun Wilson, 12. Joel Budarick
Half Forward – 19. James Tsitas, 20. Trent Melville, 23. Brodie Filo
Full Forward – 6. Liam Holt-Fitz, 30. John Butcher, 17. Lachlan Sharp
Rucks – 8. Kyle Winter-Irving, 11. Phillip Wills, 9. Zac Brain
Interchange – 1. Ryan Mu, 34. Danny Butcher, 31. Hugo Drogemuller, 32. Roger Morris, 53. Brad Arnold, 24. Tyson Kidney, 28. Jonathon Miles, 15. Liam Evans, 4. Matthew Bricknell, 18. Harry Williams, 57. Christos Gikas, 25. Jasper Brain

In: M. McGregor, L. Sharp
Out: J. Kickett, L. Evans

Lachlan Sharp‘s inclusion headlines the two changes made by reigning premier, Nightcliff in its title defence, with the Victorian goalkicking ace returning from suspension alongside Marley McGregor – who slots in down the other end. The heartbreak story lies with Jayden Kickett this year, who misses through injury after 15 games while Liam Evans the other unlucky Tiger to make way – squeezed out of a talented forward line. Leading goalkicker Trent Melville will lead the line at centre half-forward, with Sharp, Brodie Filo, James Tsitas, John Butcher, and Liam Holt-Fitz making up arguably the Tigers’ best front six for the year. Almost every member of that half-dozen will be able to also rotate through the midfield under the ruck craft of Kyle Winter-Irving, with Phillip Wills and Zac Brain the current followers. Down back, mainstays Daniel Bowles, Nathan Brown, and Michael Hagan retain their spots, with veteran Cam Ilett suiting up for yet another premier league grand final, and Danny Butcher set to join him among that back six. The points squeeze has obviously had an impact on both sides, and the Tigers are set to be truly tested man-for-man despite having such a talented lot available.

NTFL Men’s Premier League wrap: Preliminary final – Tigers roar into second-straight decider

THE 2019/20 Northern Territory Football League (NTFL) Men’s Premier League Grand Final has been decided after three enthralling post-season weeks, with reigning premier Nightcliff set to face off against St Mary’s after accounting for a brave Southern Districts outfit on Saturday night.

NIGHTCLIFF 3.1 | 5.5 | 12.6 | 13.10 (88)
SOUTHERN DISTRICTS 2.1 | 5.3 | 7.3 | 8.3 (51)

GOALS:

Nightcliff: J. Butcher 5, T. Melville 3, M. Hagan 2, R. Mu, L. Holt-Fitz, C. Ilett.
Southern Districts: E. Barlow 2, N. Horbury 2, W. Farrer, J. Innes, J. Garlett, D. Barry.

BEST:

Nightcliff: N/A
Southern Districts: E. Barlow, N. Horbury, M. Barlow, L. Ogden, T. Holman, D. Staunton

Nightcliff has booked its place in the 2019/20 NTFL Men’s Premier League grand final after dispatching Southern Districts to the tune of 37 points in Saturday night’s preliminary final. The Tigers earned passage to their second-consecutive appearance in the big dance on the back of a second half blitz, scoring eight goals to three to round out an impressive 13.10 (88) to 8.3 (51) victory.

The first half proved a tighter affair but Nightcliff still managed to get on top and stay there, notching three goals to Districts’ two in the opening term before being pegged back to a two-point buffer at the main break. But as it goes, the third quarter is the premiership quarter and the long-time flag favourites proved as much by pouring on seven majors in a scintillating half hour of football. The 33-point margin upon the final break looked ominous for the Crocs, and they could not produce the magic required to enact a turnaround as both sides could only manage a goal each to round out the contest. In a game which was largely competitive, it seemed the Crocs’ string of knockout finals finally caught up with them as only a momentary falter was enough to see the Tigers run away with the game.

Revered for its recruiting and open chequebook, Nightcliff once again had a star ring-in front the winning effort, with ex-Port Adelaide forward John Butcher booting a game-high five goals. Club leading goalkicker Trent Melville was also on target with three majors of his own, while Michael Hagan (two) rounded out the Tigers’ multiple goalkickers in what was a typically sound all-round team performance. For the Crocs, Ed Barlow was again at the heart of their effort as he notched another two finals goals to be named best in a losing side, with Nathan Horbury not far behind on the back of his own two-goal effort. Michael Barlow finished a phenomenal back-end of the season off well, and consistent standout Thomas Holman was also thereabouts.

While somewhat of a rollercoaster season comes to a disappointing end for the Crocs, who looked to be in top form at just the right time, the Tigers have bounced back well and will look to go back-to-back. Standing in their way is St Mary’s, the only team to have beaten Nightcliff this year (twice) – including last fortnight’s semi final – in looking to go from wooden spooners to premiers. Best-and-fairest winner Kaine Riley will be sure to lead the effort alongside newly-crowned co-Nichols Medalist Brodie Filo, with all the finals experience of Cam Ilett also set to be important as Nightcliff hopes to ensure it can get one-back at St Mary’s at the ideal time. The 2019/20 NTFL Grand Final is set to go down on Saturday night at TIO Stadium, stay tuned for our comprehensive preview of the big game.

NTFL Men’s Premier League preview: Preliminary final – Crocs look to extend dream finals run

A PLACE in the 2020 Northern Territory Football League (NTFL) Men’s Premier League grand final is up for grabs on Saturday night, as Nightcliff and Southern Districts set to play off for the chance to challenge St Mary’s in next week’s decider. With both sides set to head in close to full strength and boasting stars on each line, fans should be in for a treat as we near the crescendo of what has been an entertaining post-season to date. Check out the teams, head-to-head stats, and each team’s form in our comprehensive preview.

NIGHTCLIFF vs. SOUTHERN DISTRICTS
Preliminary Final
Saturday March 7, 7:00pm
TIO Stadium

2020 head-to-head:

Nightcliff 3 – 0 Southern Districts

Form:

Tigers:
4-1

Crocs:
5-0

Finals run:

Tigers:
Semi final: def. by St Mary’s 11.11 (77) to 16.7 (103)

Crocs:
Elimination final: def. Darwin 17.11 (113) to 5.12 (42)
Semi final: def. Tiwi 11.5 (71) to 16.15 (111)

Regular season:

Tigers:
1st, 17-1, 187%

Crocs:
4th, 10-7-1, 120%

Preview:

Nightcliff and Southern Districts are primed to do battle for a spot in the 2020 NTFL grand final on Saturday night, with fairytale team St Mary’s awaiting the winner in the big dance. Having played in last season’s decider, these two sides will be hungry to get back to the biggest of stages and come away with some silverware.

Reigning premiers and again minor premiers this season, Nightcliff enjoyed a stellar home-and-away campaign to notch a near-unblemished 17-1 record. The Tigers were the clear competition benchmark and are thus clear favourite to take out back-to-back flags, but will have to get past the in-form Crocs for a fourth time to even earn the chance. Given they are one of only two sides to have beaten every other competitor this season, the Tigers should be full of confidence heading into this knockout final bout. But a semi final loss to St Mary’s – their second loss to the Saints – may have put a slight dent in that seemingly bulletproof assuredness, serving as Nightcliff’s first defeat in 11 outings.

Southern Districts’ season has featured considerably more hiccups at 10-7-1 come regular season’s end, but the Crocs seem to be peaking at just the right time with backing from some very handy AFL-experienced players. Currently on a five-game winning streak, Districts has been able to back up well for consecutive elimination final scenarios and will have to do so another two times if they are to take out the flag. But the test that Nightcliff provides has proven too tough for the Crocs thus far in 2020; getting within nine points all the way back in Round 1, but going down by a combined 95 points in Rounds 10 and 15. Despite the home-and-away ledger sitting at an ominous 3-0 in favour of the Tigers, the Crocs are in arguably the better form and should push the flag fancies all the way.

Nightcliff come into the clash with a slight blow to its forward 50 structure, as Victorian goal-getter Lachlan Sharp is set to miss due to a suspension picked up last week. But the Tigers still boast plenty of firepower with leading goalkicker Trent Melville named alongside livewire Liam Holt-Fitz and ex-Port forward John Butcher, while James Tsitas is another who can find the big sticks from midfield. Up the other end, best and fairest winner Kaine Riley heads the defence with the likes of Danny Butcher and Cam Ilett making up two more spots in a quality back six. It is hard to deny the Tigers’ dynamism too, with their rotation at either end and into the midfield highlighting their unmatchable depth.

But a department the Crocs should be able to draw level in is the range of scoring options, with competition leading goalkicker Will Farrer spearheading a dangerous attack which has breached 100 points in each of its last five outings. Ed Barlow has been named on an extended bench coming off his seven-goal haul, while Jeff Garlett and league MVP fancy Josiah Farrer are also capable of troubling the scorers. The midfield quality of Richard Tambling, Michael Barlow, and Charlie McAdam on the outside will also be important, while Thomas Holman‘s role across the backline becomes imperative given Nightcliff’s wealth of avenues to goal.

The time to strike is now for Districts, but neutrals should not forget the quality of Nightcliff’s season outside of two losses to the team already lined up in the grand final. The Tigers need only look back at the Crocs’ run to the decider last season after overcoming a finals loss, and will rightly come in as favourite despite Districts’ hot form and considerable class. Whether the Crocs can back up from back-to-back big efforts will be the big test, but winning form is always good form. It should be a cracker for neutrals, and St Mary’s will inevitably be looking on intently at the side it is set to face.

Tip: Nightcliff by 10.

TEAMS:

Nightcliff 

Full Back – 23. Brodie Filo, 10. Cameron Ilett, 22. Daniel Bowles
Half Back – 34. Danny Butcher, 16. Jayden Kickett, 12. Joel Budarick
Centre – 3. Jonathan Peris, 5. Kaine Riley, 8. Kyle Winter-Irving
Half Forward – 6. Liam Holt-Fitz, 2. Michael Hagan, 14. Nathan Brown
Full Forward – 15. Liam Evans, 9. Zac Brain, 30. John Butcher
Rucks – 20. Trent Melville, 33. Shaun Wilson, 19. James Tsitas
Interchange – 11. Phillip Wills, 32. Roger Morris, 1. Ryan Mu, 31. Hugo Drogemuller, 58. Declan Singh-Lippo, 25. Jasper Brain, 18. Harry Williams, 28. Jonathon Miles ,24. Tyson Kidney, 53. Brad Arnold, 26. Marley McGregor, 4. Matthew Bricknell
Southern Districts
Full Back – 34. Charles McAdam, 18. Tom Holman, 6. Brodie Lake
Half Back – 8. Michael Bowden, 11. Josiah Farrer, 22. Jayden Schofield
Centre – 10. Lionel Ogden, 2. Richard Tambling, 3. Nathan Horbury
Half Forward – 4. Dean Staunton, 27. William Farrer, 5. Dylan McLachlan
Full Forward – 30. Jayden Clarke, 26. Michael Barlow, 31. Dylan Barry
Rucks – 25. Patrick Gallow, 9. Jeff Garlett, 17. Rory O’Brien
Interchange – 24. Dan Wehrung, 32. Josh Innes, 15. Keegan Dingo, 1. Jaeden Watts, 13. Damian Williams, 21. Desmond Corbett, 20. Ed Barlow, 12. Matthew Duffy, 14. Beau Schwarze, 16. Zac Smith

Finals preview: NTFL Men’s Premier League – Tigers primed for premiership defence

EIGHTEEN rounds of Northern Territory Football League (NTFL) Men’s Premier League football have come and gone, leaving a final five which was clearly ahead of the rest. Reigning premier, Nightcliff will come into the post-season as favourite to defend its crown, but challengers in the form of St Mary’s – the only team to beat them in season 2019/20 – and Tiwi are not far behind. That is not to mention elimination finalists Southern Districts and Darwin, who will both be looking to shake up what is set to be a hotly contested finals series.

REGULAR SEASON RECAPS:

NIGHTCLIFF – 1st, 17-1 (197%)

Leading goalkicker: Trent Melville (41 goals)

MVP: Kaine Riley

Best win: Rd 14, def. St Mary’s by 65 points

Worst loss: Rd 7, def. by St Mary’s by 27 points

The Tigers will be unbackable favourites to go back-to-back this year, which would provide a fitting end to their 17-1 regular season – defeating every side on their way to a near-perfect record. The only blemish on said record was a Round 7 loss to second-ranked side, St Mary’s, but was redeemed just seven games later as the Tigers toppled the Saints by a whopping 65 points. Tiwi was the only other side to get within a goal of Nightcliff, with the minor premier taking on each challenge from finals contenders while also proving ruthless against bottom three opponents. Three players; Daniel Bowles, Kyle Winter-Irving, and Trent Melville played every home-and-away game, with Melville returning another massive goal tally (41) to lead the club in that area. Seventeen-game players Liam Holt-Fitz (30 goals) and Cam Ilett (24) also had no trouble finding the big sticks, while bit-parters Lachlan Sharp and John Butcher combined for 36 majors over just six outings each. Kaine Riley deservedly took out the club’s best and fairest award, named in the best half-dozen in 10 of his 17 games. With plenty of experience and stars on each line, it is not hard to see why Nightcliff has so comprehensively become the competition’s benchmark, but the Tigers will need to stay motivated to claim that deserved flag.

ST MARY’S – 2nd, 14-4 (137%)

Leading goalkicker: Jackson Calder & Leroy Larson (24)

MVP: Thomas Davies

Best win: Rd 7, def. Nightcliff by 27 points

Worst loss: Rd 3, def. by Tiwi Bombers by 14 points

St Mary’s looms as the biggest challenger to Nightcliff’s throne after a 14-4 regular season which saw it finish three games clear in second. During a much-improved season, the 2018/19 wooden spooners were the only side to beat Nightcliff, while only going down to the finals-bound Tigers, Crocs, and Bombers (twice). Despite those thorns in their side, the Saints were just one of two teams to beat every other NTFL club this season, making them the clear best of the rest. Thomas Davies held down the fort for much of the year to be named among the best 12 times across 17 games, while Leroy Larson and Jackson Calder led the goalkicking with 24 apiece. Calder’s average of 2.4 goals per game was superior, with ex-Roo and Blue Jarrad Waite and Dylan Johnstone also proving handy when available, while mainstays Shannon Rioli and Nate Paredes each booted over 20 majors. The returns of Kieren Parnell, Jake Long, Shaun Edwards, and Jackson Geary all lifted Saints’ spirits, while cameos from even more former-AFL players ensured St Mary’s maintained its level of form. That form is good enough to trump any side and given its already formidable resume, St Mary’s is a genuine premiership contender.

TIWI BOMBERS – 3rd, 11-7 (102%)

Leading goalkicker: Austin Wonaeamirri (30)

MVP: Jason Puruntatameri

Best win: Rd 3, def. Tiwi Bombers by 14 points

Worst loss: Rd 1, def. by Darwin Buffaloes by 113 points

Tiwi recaptured the late 2018/19 form which saw it earn a preliminary final berth, overcoming a shaky start to finish the 2019/20 season in third place. The Bombers left it late too, losing in Rounds 16 and 17 to slide to fourth, but regaining third spot with a tight win over Wanderers. Early signs were shown as the Bombers outgunned St Mary’s in a Round 3 shootout, and their true credentials came to the fore between Rounds 7 and 10, where they went 3-1 against the then top four. It was smoother sailing from then, onwards, with Tiwi one of the more exciting teams to watch. Austin Wonaeamirri led the goalkicking with a season of 30, while a group of nine players littered with mainstays all notched up over 10 majors. Jason and Harley Puruntatameri were instrumental throughout the season alongside North Melbourne VFL signing Adam Tipungwuti, with cameos from Charlie Molyneux, Nathan Djerrkura, Jake Best, and Ashton Hams among the best throughout a top season – not to mention Cyril Rioli‘s Round 5 homecoming. With only the best sides left to face, Tiwi will have to find an extra gear to overcome the top two teams, and have the strength to do so.

SOUTHERN DISTRICTS – 4th, 10-7-1 (120%)

Leading goalkicker: Will Farrer (47)

MVP: Josiah Farrer

Best win: Rd 6, def. St Mary’s by 12 points

Worst result: Rd 2, drew with Wanderers

Southern Districts were half a game away from creeping into third place after an indifferent 2019/20 campaign, with a Round 2 draw with Wanderers ultimately costing the Crocs a finals second chance. A rocky start was soon rectified by four-consecutive wins, with Districts able to demolish the teams below them for the most part, but eventually struggling against the rest of the top five. Spearhead Will Farrer ended a stellar season as the competition’s leading goalkicker, bagging a high of eight goals while being held goalless just twice in 16 games. Thomas Holman and Josiah Farrer will be among the leading best and fairest candidates, with the latter the only Croc to play all 18 games. Young guns Brodie Lake, Brandon Rusca, and Beau Schwarze all showed promising signs, with the ex-AFL experience of Ed Barlow, Michael Barlow, Richard Tambling, and Jeff Garlett aiding them. At full strength, the Crocs can match it with anyone, but finding peak form has been an issue for the 2018/19 grand finalists. Three comfortable wins coming in will bode well for Districts, but four-straight defeats before that run will not.

DARWIN BUFFALOES – 5th, 10-8 (118%)

Leading goalkicker: Daniel Stafford (39)

MVP: Christopher Williams

Best win: Rd 1, def. Tiwi Bombers by 113 points

Worst result: Rd 3, def. by Waratah (overturned)

The unluckiest side out of Round 18’s results, Darwin will enter the finals series having fallen just one win short of a top three berth. The story of the Buffs’ early season was one of streaks, building short winning runs to go two steps forward, before dropping a step back with consecutive losses. Their second half of the season proved just as inconsistent, but the Double Blues still managed to maintain a positive record a remain one of the teams to beat – dropping 0 points to the eventual bottom three. Daniel Stafford was central to the Buffs’ scoring efforts, booting 39 goals in 12 games with just one goalless outing. Arguable best and fairest favourite Christopher Williams was the only Buffalo to play every game, with Darwin’s forward half its biggest strength. The likes of Darren Shillabeer, Brayden Culhane, and skipper Jarrod Stokes all enjoyed strong seasons, while Brodie Foster and Ishmael Palmer added value in patches. Should all those cogs click in the clutch, Darwin could inflict a couple of post-season upsets, but the Buffs will have to be flawless given their elimination slot.

WEEK ONE PREVIEW:

Southern Districts and Darwin Buffaloes put it all on the line in their elimination final clash to open the post-season, while St Mary’s and Tiwi play off for the chance to face Nightcliff next week in a bumper first round of finals.

The Crocs and Buffs have clashed twice before in season 2019/20, each claiming a win by a combined eight points. Darwin’s victory in their most recent clash effectively proved the difference as Districts missed out on third, adding a little extra spice to this contest with no margin for error in their current situation. Watch for a potential shootout between mercurial forwards Farrer and Stafford, with the outside run and class of Districts potentially granting them more avenues for goal, while the seasoned veterans of Darwin will need to stand up across the ground.

In the featured final bout between St Mary’s and Tiwi, another chapter will be written in the league’s leading traditional rivalry. The two sides have met three times already this season, with the Bombers proving the thorn in St Mary’s side early on, but eventually dropping points in their Round 17 meeting. Tiwi’s firepower has tested the usually well-structured Saints defence before, but the inclusion of Jake Long went a long way to rectifying that last time out. Expect the Saints to back themselves to match Tiwi in that department should they be at full strength, but more likely look to slow the game down and control the tempo. Tiwi’s pace and outside run can match that of any team, but St Mary’s has become renowned for its spread of class on each line.

FIXTURES:

Elimination Final – Southern Districts vs. Darwin Buffaloes
Saturday January 22, 4:30pm @ TIO Stadium

Head-to-head: 1-1

Form: Crocs 3-2, Buffaloes 3-2

Tip: Crocs by 15

Qualifying Final – St Mary’s vs. Tiwi Bombers
Saturday January 22, 7:00pm @ TIO Stadium

Head-to-head: 2-1 Bombers

Form: Saints 4-1, Bombers 3-2

Tip: Saints by 24

NTFL Men’s Premier League preview: Round 16 – Danger games await final five

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
TIO Stadium

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
TIO Stadium

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
Gardens Oval

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
TIO Stadium

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.

NTFL Men’s Premier League preview: Round 15 – Four separate venues host defining round

FOUR separate venues host what is set to be the first round in a finals-defining last month of the regular season, with four of the top five sides again going head-to-head amid heavy jostling for position. St Mary’s, currently sitting second, could be the main benefactor as it readies to face current wooden-spooner Palmerston, but there is plenty to play out in Round 15 of the Northern Territory Football League (NTFL) Men’s Premier League.

TIWI BOMBERS (3rd, 9-5) vs. DARWIN BUFFALOES (4th, 8-6)
Saturday January 25, 2:00pm
Tracy Village

Third spot is up for grabs as Tiwi Bombers and Darwin Buffaloes do battle at Tracy Village, with the Buffs looking to arrest a two-game losing skid. The game also marks the end of a tough month of fixtures for the travelling side, and another set of four points here could even keep Darwin in the hunt for second spot. With jostling for position among the top five becoming much more intense, the Buffs look to be going all out for their third meeting with the Bombers. Joe Anderson and Brodie Foster come back into the side to push Jarrod Stokes into midfield under the ruckmanship of Stephen Tahana, while Adam Sambono looms as another possible inclusion having been named on the extended bench. But Tiwi is seldom short of their own big names, and the Bombers’ bench alone is one to behold. Former AFL midfielders Ashton Hams and Nathan Djerrkura feature alongside Greensborough pair Charlie Molyneux and Nick Riddle, while Collingwood VFL star Lachlan Howe could also come into the already stacked side. This could be an all-out shootout judging by the line-ups, and with plenty of big names scattered across the field, is a must-watch for neutrals. Tiwi will come in as favourite given its form, but should be wary of the Buffs – who can beat any side on their day.

NIGHTCLIFF (1st, 13-1) vs. SOUTHERN DISTRICTS (5th, 7-6-1)
Saturday January 25, 4:00pm
TIO Stadium

An out-of-form Southern Districts faces the toughest of tasks in regaining its mojo, with reining premier Nightcliff next on the agenda. The Crocs come in having lost three-consecutive games and four of their last five, all against top five opposition in an ominous omen for this clash. Two previous losses to Nightcliff in this campaign bode no better for Southern Districts, with its slide to fifth spot perhaps the product of a tough draw. But this should be the Crocs’ final regular season hurdle with three bottom sides awaiting, and there should be plenty of class at their disposal despite the absence of Michael and Ed Barlow. Richard Tambling retains his spot in the heart of midfield, set to link up with Josiah Farrer in the engine room. The forward rotation will also be important for Districts, with Jeff Garlett, Dean Staunton, and Beau Schwarze set to move through there alongside spearheads, Will Farrer and Sam Barnett. With such firepower, this looms as a danger game for the somewhat undermanned Tigers, who lose John Butcher and James Tsitas for this match. But there is plenty of class remaining, with Liam Holt-Fitz‘s form leading the likes of Trent Melville and Kaine Riley among a host of other consistent performers. While the Tigers have earned favouritism for every game this season having beaten every team in the league, the Crocs could well pull off a remarkable return to form.

PALMERSTON MAGPIES (8th, 1-13) vs. ST MARY’S (2nd, 10-4)
Saturday January 25, 5:00pm
Cazalys Arena

A better-stocked St Mary’s will hope to return to the winners list in its clash with the lowly Palmerston Magpies on the road, with second spot the Saints’ to lose at this point. Coming off a crushing loss to league-leader, Nightcliff, the Saints look poised to bring in some serious talent in hopes of recapturing the form which saw them string together five-straight wins. With Jack Long and Shaun Edwards remaining a key part of St Mary’s spine, ex-Blue and ‘Roo Jarrad Waite looks set to join Jackson Calder inside forward 50 while Nate Paredes and Nick Yarran return on the outside. Those inclusions make the proposition a whole lot harder for Palmerston, but the Magpies have been able to turn to some ex-AFL experience of their own with Aaron Davey joining brother and coach, Alwyn in the side. Alwyn Davey Jnr also remains in the starting line-up, with Russell Davey again making it a true family affair. But it remains quite a one-sided contest on paper, and St Mary’s hunger should be heightened given its disappointing outing last time out against Nightcliff. It could be over early, which would be ideal for the Saints as they look to maintain a percentage advantage with second spot looming as tough to hold on to.

WARATAH (6th, 4-10) vs. WANDERERS (7th, 3-10-1)
Sunday January 26, 4:00pm
Gardens Oval

Two bottom three sides get a standalone Sunday slot as Waratah and Wanderers clash for the third time this season, with the ledger sitting at one win apiece. The Warriors’ Round 14 win over Palmerston will have them licking their lips at the opportunity to snare another set of four points, especially given Wanderers’ current eight-game losing streak. But much of this fixture’s outcome relies on the crop available to either side, with Waratah looking a top five side at its best, and Wanderers needing all the pieces to be put together to stay on top. The Warriors could well field a very strong line-up, with Abe Ankers, Michael Newton, Brodie Carroll, and Kim Kantilla all named – albeit with a heavily extended bench. In response, the Muk Muks have included Braedon McLean, Davin Ferreira, Joel Jeffrey, Beau O’Connell, and five of the Motlop clan to make up a near-full strength side and put some intrigue into this clash. It should be a close one despite the wavering form of either team, with pride still on the line despite finals hopes being firmly out of the question. The winner could finish as the best of the rest.

NTFL Men’s Premier League wrap: Round 14 – Tigers roar to big win over Saints

NIGHTCLIFF sent a clear message to its Northern Territory Football League (NTFL) Men’s Premier League opponents on Saturday, claiming an authoritative win over St Mary’s in a lacklustre top of the table clash. Elsewhere, results saw Southern Districts drop all the way back to fifth, while Waratah notched just its fourth win against fellow bottom three battler, Palmerston. With the top five now set, the race for finals supremacy begins.

SOUTHERN DISTRICTS 2.3 | 6.6 | 7.10 | 9.14 (68)
TIWI BOMBERS 3.4 | 5.7 | 11.9 | 17.12 (114)

GOALS:

Southern Districts: W. Farrer 3, D. Barry 2, J. Clarke, K. Dingo, J. Innes, D. Hall.
Tiwi: A. Wonaeamirri 3, J. Best 2, A. Hams 2, D. Kruse 2, R. Tungatalum 2, M. Kantilla 2, N. Djerrkura, P. Heenan, C. Abala, S. Munkara.

BEST:

Southern Districts: T. Holman, D. Staunton, J. Watts, M. Pemberton, C. McAdam, D. McLachlan
Tiwi: R. Baird, N. Djerrkura, X. Grant, J. Monigatti, C. Luff, A. Hams

Southern Districts’ hunt for a top two spot has been dealt a major blow, with the Crocs no match for an in-form Tiwi Bombers outfit. The Bombers’ enacted a second half blitz, overcoming a five-point half time deficit to kick away to the eventual 17.12 (114) to 9.14 (68) victory in style.

As the top four status of the clubs coming in would suggest, the opening exchanges were hotly contested as Tiwi edged to a slight advantage at the first break. After the Crocs hit back to find a lead of their own in the following stanza, it was all Tiwi in a 12-goal to three second half as their firepower and run across the board proved too hot to handle. As is often an indicator of their best form, the Bombers had 10 individual goalkickers, with six of them finding the big sticks on more than one occasion. Ex-Melbourne livewire Austin Wonaeamirri led the way with a team-high three majors, with fellow goal-getters Nathan Djerrkura and Ashton Hams named in the best half-dozen players behind Rodney Baird – all of whom played further afield. Will Farrer found some form after going goalless last time out, collecting a handy bag of three majors while Dylan Barry snared two in his return to the senior side. Thomas Holman and Charlie McAdam were also among the Crocs’ best in the losing effort, with plenty to improve on heading into the all-important final home-and-away month.

It does not get any easier next week for Southern Districts though with Nightcliff waiting in the wings, but consecutive fixtures against the bottom three sides thereafter could see the Crocs bounce back into the top three pending other results. Tiwi will hope to prevent that while looking to break into the top two themselves, but face a tough run against three fellow top four sides in the run home.

WARATAH 4.2 | 9.4 | 11.6 | 18.12 (120)
PALMERSTON 0.4 | 2.6 | 9.7 | 10.7 (67)

GOALS:

Waratah: H. Kerinaiua 3, J. Beugelaar 3, W. Gorman 3, B. Carroll 2, M. Graham 2, K. Kantilla 2, N. Gooch, M. Blake, B. Zobel.
Palmerston: T. Freeman 3, D. Nichols 2, A. Davey, J. Berry, W. Shadforth, D. Gaykamangu , K. Holt-Tubbs.

BEST:

Waratah: N/A
Palmerston: W. Shadforth, S. Brock, E. Frank, M. Chester, J. Berry, A. Davey

Waratah brought Palmerston back down to earth with a thud after its maiden win in Round 13, inflicting a 53-point belting on its fellow bottom three side. The Warriors were far too good throughout, withstanding a third term Palmerston swoop to run out 18.12 (120) to 10.7 (67) winners.

The Warriors burst out of the gates with a four-goal to nil opening term, followed up by another block of five to Palmerston’s two in building a 40-point half time buffer. But that was where the game looked to be turning for the Magpies as they piled on seven majors to cut the deficit to eleven points, heading into the final turn with a heap of momentum in hopes of a second-straight win. It was not to be, with Waratah holding strong and proving attack is the best form of defence on the back of seven fourth quarter goals. An impressive six of Waratah’s nine goalkickers booted multiples, with Henry Kerinaiua leading a trio of Warriors to claim an equal game-high three goals. Brodie Carroll snared a double upon his successful return to the line-up, while Kim Kantilla was also not far away from the action. Tom Freeman quadrupled his season goal tally with a haul of three for Palmerston, but was shaded in the Magpies’ best by fellow goalkickers Wade Shadforth, Jack Berry, and Alwyn Davey. It was another case of not being in the hunt for long enough for Davey’s side, conceding costly flurries of goals despite enjoying their own spurts of momentum.

The Magpies’ quest to scrape themselves off the bottom of the ladder will be a difficult one given they face four top five opponents in the upcoming month, but a win in any of those games would help end the year on a high. The Warriors may fancy themselves for consecutive wins as they take on the struggling Wanderers next time out, but have a similarly formidable run home otherwise.

DARWIN BUFFALOES 3.1 | 7.4 | 12.4 | 14.11 (95)
WANDERERS 1.2 | 4.4 | 7.7 | 9.9 (63)

GOALS:

Darwin: B. Hogan 4, I. Palmer 3, D. Shillabeer 3, J. Stokes 2, C. Williams 2, M. Quinn.
Wanderers: W. Williams 2, T. Motlop 2, S. Motlop, D. Braun, B. O’Connell, K. Stephens, L. Dyer.

BEST:

Darwin: B. Hogan, I. Palmer, J. Stokes, S. Foster, D. Shillabeer, D. Lines
Wanderers: B. O’Connell, A. Motlop, L. Dyer, M. Garton, W. Williams

Darwin remains in the hunt for a top two spot after brushing Wanderers aside with a 32-point win on Saturday night. The lights stayed on all the way through this time to shine on the Buffs’ form, as they maintained a steady pace in the 14.11 (95) to 9.9 (63) result.

The Eagles did not get the all-important start they were after given their second half form of late, but the three-goal half time gap was enough to keep them in with a fighting chance. It proved elementary for the Buffs though as they answered each challenge to coast to victory in the end, looking reasonably comfortable without setting the world alight to consign Wanderers to an eight consecutive defeat. Former Port Melbourne forward Billy Hogan was on song with four goals in a breakthrough outing, followed by bags of three from Darren Shillabeer and Ishmael Palmer with skipper Jarrod Stokes also lively. Warwick Williams and Thomas Motlop were the only Eagles to kick multiple goals (two each), with youngster Beau O’Connell starring alongside Aaron Motlop to be named his side’s best in the losing effort. The fall has been steep for Wanderers, which now finds itself dislodged from the sixth place that it has held for most of the 2019/20 season.

Winning chances will run thin for the Eagles towards the end of the year, so a fixture against Waratah next week could be their last realistic shot at a set of four points. They could play spoiler against the three top five opponents, which will serve Darwin well. The Buffs face a mixed bag in the lead up to finals, set to do battle with the other two bottom three sides while also having to face St Mary’s and Tiwi. In any case, there is not much movement to be made.

NIGHTCLIFF 2.0 | 8.4 | 10.8 | 14.13 (97)
ST MARY’S 0.2 | 0.4 | 1.7 | 4.8 (32)

GOALS:

Nightcliff: L. Holt-Fitz 3, J. Butcher 2, K. Winter-Irving 2, B. Filo 2, S. Wilson 2, J. Tsitas, M. Hagan, T. Melville.
St Mary’s: N. Paredes 2, R. Jordon, S. Lampton.

BEST:

Nightcliff: L. Holt-Fitz, K. Winter-Irving, J. Kickett, M. Hagan, S. Wilson, B. Arnold
St Mary’s: T. Davies, J. Long, S. Edwards, A. Long, R. Jordon, J. Long

Nightcliff stamped its authority as the clear competition benchmark, disposing of an undermanned St Mary’s to the tune of 65 points in a top of the table clash. The Saints had no answer for the reigning premier’s firepower forward of centre, hardly making a dent in the 14.13 (97) to 4.8 (32) loss.

After some scrappy opening exchanges, Nightcliff scraped ahead by two goals while keeping the Saints goalless, continuing the theme into the second term while extending their lead to an even eight goals heading into the main break. The Saints’ first goal finally came after half time, and they added another three in the fourth quarter to no avail as the Tigers had free reign over the scoreboard. Liam Holt-Fitz was again electric forward of centre, booting a game-high three goals while big man Kyle Winter-Irving and ex-Port forward John Butcher were terrific in bagging two each. Nate Paredes was one of St Mary’s’ sole forms of resistance as he bagged two of his side’s four goals, but was overlooked in the best six with Thomas Davies, Jake Long, and Shaun Edwards all achieving the honour instead. Fans will be looking forward to the two hopefully tussling at full strength come finals time, with the ledger now squared at one win apiece.

The minor premiership is now all but officially sewn up for Nightcliff as it holds a 12-point lead in top spot, and have two of the bottom three sides in its midst. On the other hand, St Mary’s will have to fight to maintain its top two spot with just four points separating it from a rampant Tiwi side. Two clashes against bottom three sides of their own should put the Saints in good stead.

NTFL Men’s Premier League preview: Round 14 – Top two clash headlines finals-refining weekend

FOR the second time in as many weeks, the Northern Territory Football League (NTFL) Men’s Premier League’s top four sides will face off in a finals-defining round of action. This time, the top two square off while third and fourth do battle as the race for ascendancy among the top five heats up.

SOUTHERN DISTRICTS (4th, 7-5-1) vs. TIWI BOMBERS (3rd, 8-5)
Saturday January 18, 2:00pm
Norbuilt Oval

Southern Districts hosts Tiwi in the weekend’s first top four clash, with the Crocs hoping to reclaim the top three spot they have long held this season. But Tiwi has already proven to be stiff opposition for the Crocs, with a Round 7 meeting between the sides yielding a 35-point Bombers victory. But much has changed since that last outing, with Tiwi coming from outside the top five to cement itself in the top three as it stands and standing now as a much more formidable opponent. It was somewhat of a shock result in November, but the Bombers come in as favourites given their four-game win streak. It may not be that simple though, with their run-in to a month of football against the remaining top five coming after comparatively more comfortable fixtures.

Both sides come in relatively settled, with many of their big names enjoying a consistent run of game time. Jeff Garlett and Richard Tambling are two of those for Southern Districts, possessing the class going forward which can perfectly counteract the damaging Bombers. Add to that the competition’s leading goalkicker, Will Farrer and his midfield-forward brother, Josiah at the feet of Sam Barnett, and you have a dynamic side forward of centre. But the Bombers are one of the most dynamic sides across the park, able to damage opposition with their pace. While last week’s five goal hero Tom Bell is out of the side, along with Charlie Molyneux and Nick Riddle, Tiwi looks set to regain Ashton Hams in what is still very much a stacked line-up. As arguably the hottest side in the competition right now, the Bombers need to capitalise on their winning form ahead of a tough few weeks.

WARATAH (7th, 3-10) vs. PALMERSTON MAGPIES (8th, 1-12)
Saturday January 18, 2:30pm
TIO Stadium

Fresh off its maiden win for season 2019/20, Palmerston will fancy itself a real chance at going back-to-back when it faces fellow bottom three side, Waratah at TIO Stadium. The Magpies were terrific last time out in a win they were made to earn – 12 weeks in the making – and should come in with similar energy given the buoyancy a wins gives a team. On the other hand, Waratah has suffered two heavy losses to quality opposition since the mid-season break, seeing its finals aspirations dwindle even further. But a massive Round 7 win against the Magpies should give the Warriors great hope of snapping their three-game losing run with a fourth win, and there is nothing to lose at this point.

Waratah’s Kim Kantilla is a man in serious form at the moment, coming of a four goal haul in last round’s loss and booting half of his side’s majors the week before. He and Henry Kerinaiua have been the main source of inspiration inside attacking 50, and the two should get some good service with Brodie Carroll named on an extended bench alongside bigman, Alex Aurrichio. The quartet will be crucial with Abe Ankers‘ name left off the team sheet. Skipper Aaron Lonergan will lead his Magpies out alongside playing coach, Alwyn Davey, whose son (Alwyn Jnr) remains in the line-up. Up forward, spearhead Keiden Holt-Tubbs takes up his usual position, but will not be joined by fellow Round 13 three-goal hauler, Leigh Williams. Pride and bragging rights are the only thing left on the line for the two sides at this point, so the chance of adding to their slim winning tallies should make it a good contest.

DARWIN BUFFALOES (5th, 7-6) vs. WANDERERS (6th, 3-9-1)
Saturday January 18, 7:00pm
TIO Stadium

It is do or die for Wanderers in term of a finals berth as it prepares to face fifth-placed Darwin in a Saturday night showdown. The Eagles are well adrift from the finals pack, but still stand a mathematical chance of making the top five if they can pull off some remarkable wins. After going down to Palmerston last week to extend their losing run to seven games, the Muk Muks will be desperate to get one back over the side which started that streak all the way back in Round 7 – Darwin. The Buffs have had form troubles of their own, going down in three of their last four outings, but have faced the best opposition possible in the only four sides ahead of them. This fixture marks a much lighter run to the end of the home-and-away season and, hopefully for them, a return to form.

The want for a win will only be compounded by the occasion, with much-loved skipper Jarrod Stokes running out for his 150th senior game in Buffs colours. He will be joined in the side by playing coach, Matt Campbell and Darwin spearhead Daniel Stafford in what should form a formidable full forward line at some point in the game. Wanderers’ typical show of young talent will again feature Mark White up forward, who will look to make up the Eagles’ own dangerous forward line alongside Joel Jeffrey and Beau O’Connell. But with Darwin’s side littered with seasoned vets and finals experience, it will prove a challenge for the Eagles to keep their legs and concentration throughout the entire contest.

NIGHTCLIFF (1st, 12-1) vs. ST MARY’S (2nd, 10-3)
Sunday January 19, 4:00pm
PSC BM Oval

Arguably the game of the round will receive a standalone Sunday slot, with Nightcliff hosting St Mary’s in a top-of-the-table blockbuster. A thorn in the reigning premiers’ side, St Mary’s is the only team to have beaten Nightcliff this season – in Round 7 – and sit just close enough to make the race for the minor premiership interesting. With eight points separating the two teams coming in, a win for the Saints would put the pressure right on Nightcliff, but a loss would all but put an end to their hopes of snatching first place come season’s end. Winning has clearly been no issue for either side to this point, with Nightcliff remaining undefeated in the seven games since its sole loss, while St Mary’s is on a five-game winning run.

The Tigers should be up for the occasion, looking to claim the final scalp in their 2019/20 season collection, and should have a some handy additions to lean on with John Butcher, James Tsitas, and Jayden Shaw all named on an extended bench. As one of the more dynamic and experienced sides, they should have all the tools to rectify Round 7’s result. But the Saints are no slouches, coming in with a spine consisting of Shaun Edwards, Jake Long, Maurice Rioli Jnr, and Jackson Paine, despite missing the likes of Davin Ferriera and Nick Yarran. With talent littered across the park and so much to play for, this looms as must-see viewing for all NTFL fans.

NTFL Men’s Premier League preview: Round 13 – Top four do battle in bumper weekend

A ladder-defining round of Northern Territory Football League (NTFL) Men’s Premier League football is set to take place on Saturday, with the top four sides tussling it out for ladder supremacy. With just six rounds left to play out, eight-point games like these will prove vital.

TIWI BOMBERS vs. WARATAH
Saturday January 11, 1:30pm
Tracy Village

The Tiwi Bombers will look to widen the gap to a fledgeling trailing pack when they take on Waratah at Tracy Village to open Round 13. A favourable draw after the mid-season break sees the Bombers take on a second-consecutive bottom three side, with a very handy 16-point buffer on their weekend opponent already fairly ominous. On the other hand, Waratah’s tough return from the break may only be compounded in this fixture after going down by 138 points to Nightcliff last week. Despite looming as a top five threat at their best, the Warriors have rarely been able to put it together this season and sit well behind in the finals race.

But some very handy inclusions could help the struggling Warriors bounce right back against a talented Bombers outfit, with ex-Melbourne forward Michael Newton named at full forward and Thunder captain Abe Ankers featuring on an extended bench. Kim Kantilla has been the main source of inspiration for Waratah forward of centre, so will again have to find the goals in the face of Tiwi’s overwhelming scoring prowess. A Bombers forward 50 spine of ex-AFL talent in Austin Wonaeamirri and Tom Bell looks promising, while Bell’s Greensborough teammates Nick Riddle and Charlie Molyneux take up respective spots in defence and midfield. It only adds to the Bomber’s already impressive depth, providing some stability among the pace and forward drive. Form puts these two sides at opposite ends of the ledger, but do not count the Warriors out if they can get it right.

ST MARY’S vs. SOUTHERN DISTRICTS
Saturday January 11, 2:30pm
TIO Stadium

The first top four clash of the weekend takes place in the opening game of a TIO Stadium triple-header, as St Mary’s does battle with Southern Districts. While the second placed Saints hit the ground running in 2020 with a big win over Wanderers, the third placed Crocs fell just short against Darwin in a thriller. Needless to say, a win is important for both sides as they play catch-up in the finals race. St Mary’s will be made to work to keep within striking distance of Nightcliff in first, while Southern Districts’ charge for second may come down to the wire as it faces the current bottom three sides to see out the regular season. With this the start of a tricky month for either team, dropping points is not an option.

St Mary’s will have to lean on its depth as Nate Paredes and Jackson Calder loom as key outs, but the inclusion of Shaun Edwards to a forward 50 already boasting Shannon Rioli, Maurice Rioli Jnr, and Leroy Larson is an exciting proposition. Up the other end, Jake Long and Kieren Parnell will combine to provide intercept marking and classy foot skills. For Southern Districts, an ex-AFL midfield trio of Richard Tambling, Jeff Garlett and Michael Barlow looks impressive on paper, with William Farrer and Sam Barnett great targets to kick to inside 50. With a more settled lineup of late, a win for the Crocs here could be the catalyst they need to push on and become a true premiership threat, having previously fallen short of fellow top three sides. With huge talent on each line for either side, this one could go either way.

WANDERERS vs. PALMERSTON MAGPIES
Saturday January 11, 5:00pm
TIO Stadium

It is a case of do-or-die for Wanderers as it faces Palmerston with its hopes of pushing for a finals spot fading fast. Sitting 14 points adrift of a rising Tiwi Bombers side in fifth, the Eagles have lost their last six outings after what was a promising start to the season. Their last win fittingly came over Palmerston all the way back in Round 6, with the chance to repeat the act key in keeping their finals aspirations alive. But the Magpies will come into the game with hope of bringing its winless run to an end, presented with perhaps their most feasible chance of doing so. The gap between either sides’ best and worst is sizeable, so the team that can pull it all together has a greater opportunity to pick up a rare set of four points.

Wanderers’ spine of Jordan Jeffrey, Braedon McLean, and Joel Jeffrey has worked well, and played a big part in keeping last week’s outing against St Mary’s a competitive one for over half of the game. But the Eagles’ youthful side has often run out of legs, so will need to produce a four quarter effort to return to the winners list here. Palmerston’s lineup is starting to get back to full strength, with Alwyn Davey stringing games together alongside the likes of Kyle Emery, Misha Perry, and recruit Jack Berry. But Adam Diamond looms as a key out, with the engine room building as a key area as a heap of talent lines up at the bookends. Clashes between sixth and eighth are not always ones to attract the eye, but this could well be the closest bout of the round.

NIGHTCLIFF vs. DARWIN BUFFALOES
Saturday January 11, 7:30pm
TIO Stadium

First plays fourth in the round’s second top four clash as Nightcliff looks to knock off Darwin for the second time this season. The two sides met back in Round 6 as the Tigers ran out 23-point winners, hardly putting a foot wrong in their premiership defence to date with just one scalp evading them. The Buffs have had a slightly more turbulent time of it over the course of 12 rounds, only just extending its positive record with a key win over Southern Districts following two-straight defeats. While Nightcliff has been a figure of consistency throughout and will inevitably be favourite to defend its crown, it is a matter of peaking at the right time for Darwin, and a win here would do wonders for that.

The Buffs will go in with a typically settled lineup, spearheaded by Daniel Stafford and made even more dangerous with Joe Anderson and Jarrod Stokes alongside him inside forward 50. Brodie Foster is a key out from last week’s side, but the Tigers will be without their own goalkicking hero from Round 12 in John Butcher. The likes of Trent Melville and Liam Holt-Fitz nonetheless possess great forward craft, so will go a long way to ensuring Darwin’s defence has its hands full. The versatility of Nightcliff’s lineup and multiple scoring avenues constantly prove too much for its opposition, and may well get the Tigers over the line once again. But with the stakes so high and Darwin looking like turning the corner, anything can happen.

NTFL Men’s Premier League review: Round 12 – Buffs prevail in dramatic eight-pointer

THE new year tossed up some predictable results in Round 12 of the Northern Territory Football League (NTFL) Men’s Premier League, but Darwin and Southern Districts played out a cracker in the weekend’s sole top five clash. While the Buffs closed the gap on their weekend opponents in the race for a top three spot, the remaining finals-bound sides went about solidifying their standing in the top five.

ST MARY’S 1.4 | 6.10 | 9.12 | 14.17 (101)
WANDERERS 1.3 | 2.4 | 5.7 | 5.8 (38)

GOALS:

St Mary’s: J. Salmon 3, N. Paredes 2, L. Larson 2, J. Long, R. Jordon, M. Rioli Jnr, N. Yarran, R. Smith, B. Slater, R. Miller
Wanderers: J. Jeffrey 2, M. Cooper, T. Motlop, B. McLean

BEST:

St Mary’s: R. Smith, T. Davies, R. Jordon, N. Yarran, J. Salmon, N. Paredes
Wanderers: N/A

It was business as usual for St Mary’s as it trounced Wanderers by 63 points to open Round 12 on Friday night. In a contest that was largely competitive until midway through the third term, the Saints kicked away against a tiring Eagles side to cap the 14.17 (101) to 5.8 (38) result.

After a tight opener, the Saints looked to be pulling away to a straightforward victory after jumping out to a five-goal half time lead. But the Muk Muks gave their all to mount a short-lived comeback after the main break, booting the first three goals of the term to draw back within four points of the finals-bound Saints. Unfortunately, the Eagles spent all their fuel tickets on the fightback, leaving nothing left to edge in front as St Mary’s ruthlessly pulled away with five goals to nil in the final quarter. There were still positives to be drawn from the loss for Wanderers, with the returning Joel Jeffrey showing off all of his talent in the air and at ground level to go with two classy goals, while Braedon McLean’s energy in the middle was terrific in the third term. For the winners, 10 individual goal kickers were led by Joseph Salmon‘s three majors, but it was Ryan Smith who was named best afield as the likes of Thomas Davies and Nick Yarran also contributed.

Winning form is good form for the Saints, especially with two of its fellow top three sides immediately ahead on the fixture list and other sides closing in on second place. For Wanderers, the last chance finals saloon opens with a game against the winless Palmerston, which is now a must-win with Tiwi 14 points adrift in fifth.

DARWIN BUFFALOES 3.2 | 8.4 | 11.6 | 13.9 (87)
SOUTHERN DISTRICTS 2.2 | 5.4 | 6.7 | 12.10 (82)

GOALS:

Darwin: D. Stafford 5, B. Foster 3, K. Campbell 2, J. Stokes 2, D. Miles
Southern Districts: D. Hall 3, W. Farrer 2, J. Farrer 2, D. McLachlan, R. O’Brien, B. Schwarze, D. Corbett, M. Barlow

BEST:

Darwin: N/A
Southern Districts: N/A

Southern Districts has been made to rue a miss after the siren in its dramatic five-point loss to Darwin Buffaloes in a top five eight-pointer. Rory O’Brien pulled his set shot to level the scores after marking a Michael Barlow kick 25 metres from goal, sealing the unfortunate 13.9 (87) to 12.10 (82) loss.

The result looked dead and buried as David Miles kicked truly into an open goal late in the third term, punishing the Crocs for their inability to convert up the other end. A fifth goal to Daniel Stafford in the final term to push the margin back out to 11 points with under 10 minutes left looked to again have sealed the result, but it did not deter the Crocs as they doubled their goal tally in a single stanza. It proved futile in the end as O’Brien failed to convert and snatch the draw, but made for great viewing on the neutral end. Earlier, Stafford and Brodie Foster combined for seven of the Buffs’ eight first half goals, with skipper Jarrod Stokes also extending his influence to the scoreboard. Davin Hall led the response for Southern Districts with three majors in just his fourth game for the season, while Josiah and William Farrer also chimed in with two apiece as Barlow found plenty of the ball to very nearly prove a game winner.

Three more top five opponents lie ahead for Southern Districts, with each result massive in deciding positions three to five. Meanwhile, the next few weeks will be a mixed bag for Darwin, set to test its premiership credentials against the competition’s benchmark next week, while also facing two bottom three opponents in the following rounds.

NIGHTCLIFF 4.4 | 13.5 | 19.7 | 25.11 (161)
WARATAH 1.0 | 1.2 | 1.5 | 3.5 (23)

GOALS:

Nightcliff: J. Butcher 6, R. Mu 3, T. Melville 3, M. Bricknell 2, L. Holt-Fitz 2, C. Ilett 2, M. Hagan 2, J. Budarick, N. Brown, B. Arnold, D. Bowles, S. Wilson
Waratah: K. Kantilla 2, D. Simpson

BEST:

Nightcliff: S. Wilson, K. Riley, R. Mu, J. Butcher, P. Wills
Waratah: N/A

The mid-season break only heightened Nightcliff’s hunger for goals as the reigning premier put on a scoring masterclass against Waratah, winning to the tune of 138 points. 12 Tigers found the goals in the 25.11 (161) to 3.5 (23) romp as the ladder leaders dominated across the ground.

A four-goal opening term was Nightcliff’s lowest-scoring period, following it up with nine majors and six in each quarter after half time to see out the huge victory. While their ruthlessly precise finishing inside 50 was ultra-impressive, the Tigers were just as good further afield as they kept the Warriors goalless across the second and third terms, while only conceding a high of two in the final period of play. Waratah had to wait until seven minutes into the fourth quarter for its second six-pointer, ending a massive period of unanswered goals. John Butcher was the Tigers’ chief destroyer with his half-dozen majors, but two non-scoring players – Kaine Riley and Phillip Wills – made their impact felt up the ground to be named in the best behind Shaun Wilson. Kim Kantilla again proved hot to handle as one of the few Warriors to stand tall, booting two of his side’s three majors in the absence of some of their prime movers. Daniel Simpson also found room for a celebration after finding the big sticks in the final term despite the massive margin.

It does not get any easier for Waratah with Tiwi next on the agenda, but respite should come with consecutive fixtures against fellow bottom three sides to round out January. Up the other end of the ladder, a month of competing against top five opponents could dislodge Nightcliff from first place, but the Tigers have already proven their worth against the best of the rest.

PALMERSTON 2.1 | 4.3 | 5.7 | 7.10 (52)
TIWI BOMBERS 3.3 | 9.7 | 10.10 | 16.17 (113)

GOALS:

Palmerston: K. Emery, K. Holt-Tubbs, L. Roberts, L. Williams, R. Warfe, D. Nichols, C. Timms
Tiwi: A. Wonaeamirri 3, H. Puruntatameri 3, D. Munkara 2, R. Tungatalum 2, C. Abala 2, P. Heenan, A. Tipungwuti, A. Darcy, N. Riddle

BEST:

Palmerston: K. Emery, D. Gordon, J. Berry, J. Rhodes, M. Perry (Jnr), J. Damaso
Tiwi: D. Munkara, H. Puruntatameri, N. Riddle, D. McLinden, J. Puruntatameri, J. Monigatti

Tiwi was quick to shake off Palmerston in Round 12’s final fixture, overpowering the Magpies to come out 61-point winners. Both sides had trouble converting at times, but the Bombers’ wealth of opportunities proved far too much for the struggling Magpies in the 7.10 (52) to 16.17 (113) loss.

After very nearly overcoming the Bombers in Round 5, Palmerston looked like providing a good challenge to its opponent once again, keeping touch for just over a quarter. But Tiwi soon clicked into gear with six goals to two to set up the win, consolidating with another half-dozen majors in the final term to pretty up the scoreboard. Both sides had at least seven individual goalkickers, but it was the Bombers’ five multiple goalkickers which proved the difference as no Magpie managed to trouble the scorers more than once. Austin Wonaeamirri and Harley Puruntatameri each booted a game-high three goals, but it was Dion Munkara who was judged best afield for the winners. Kyle Emery impressed for the Magpies, but he was unable to provide the goals needed alongside usual goal-getter Keidan Holt-Tubbs as the Bombers well and truly outgunned them with speed and class across the ground.

A twelfth loss sees Palmerston still 12 points adrift of seventh, but the opportunity to grab a breakthrough win may come knocking with two bottom three match-ups set for the Eagles upcoming fortnight. Waratah is next up for Tiwi, but the tough month following that fixture makes it a must-win for the Bombers as hopes dwindle among the bottom three.