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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

NTFL Men’s Premier League preview: Round 18 – Super Saturday sees out regular season

THE final Northern Territory Football League (NTFL) Men’s Premier League round goes down on what is set to be a super Saturday of footy, with all four fixtures taking place on the one day at four separate venues. Three sides are vying for the all-important third place to secure a second chance in finals, while the top two and bottom three are all locked in with one set of games to play.

WANDERERS vs. TIWI BOMBERS
Saturday February 15, 2:30pm
TIO Stadium

Tiwi will consider itself as being in the box seat to snatch back third spot, as it opens the closing regular season round against Wanderers at TIO Stadium. While consecutive losses – albeit to the top two sides – have seen Tiwi slip down to fourth, the Bombers have shown form to suggest they can challenge the very best come crunch time. But in somewhat of a bittersweet story for their season, the Bombers will be without recent North Melbourne VFL signing Adam Tipungwuti as he undergoes his first Victorian pre-season. Tiwi will still come in with a strong lineup heading into finals, with Tipungwuti’s run left for Harley Puruntatameri to generate, while Nathan Djerrkura will make up his class on the ball. Wanderers, looking to end its season on a high amid 11 consecutive losses, also comes in boasting an exciting extended squad, with a heap of young talent set to take the stage once again. Joel Jeffrey has been the standout as the Eagles’ leading goalkicker, set to team up with Liam Patrick inside forward 50. The in-form Beau O’Connell teams up again with Braedon McLean through midfield, with the x-factor of Mark White also in on the extended bench. With plenty of pace lining up across the field, expect a heap of highlights from two clubs which have been notorious for them over the course of this season. It may seem a foregone conclusion with Tiwi hunting a superior finals position and percentage boost, but expect the Eagles to be competitive.

SOUTHERN DISTRICTS vs. WARATAH
Saturday February 15, 4:00pm
Norbuilt Oval

Southern Districts’ slim chances of snatching third spot boil down to at least getting a result against Waratah in their clash on Crocs’ territory, with the Warriors looking to play spoiler. While Districts struggled to navigate a month of top five match-ups, their run home against the bottom three sides has seen them enter winning form heading into finals, with this another opportunity to extend that run. The Crocs are set to field a relatively strong team too, highlighted by the inclusion of former Brisbane and Gold Coast utility Jared Brennan, while the midfield-forward rotation is also typical strong; featuring Richard Tambling, Ed Barlow, Josiah Farrer, and Jeff Garlett. That is not to mention competition leading goalkicker Will Farrer, who comes in off an eight-goal haul against Palmerston. In response, Waratah is set to field a decent side with leader Abe Ankers named at the heart of midfield, while the trio of Kim Kantilla, Jae McGrath, and Michael Newton headline an exciting front six. They will need to produce plenty of opportunities to overshadow the Crocs’ firepower, with the fifth-ranked side cracking the fabled ton in its last two outings. But Districts should take nothing for granted against the Warriors, who have already proven their ability to be competitive at their best despite enduring a lacklustre season.

ST MARY’S vs. DARWIN BUFFALOES
Saturday February 15, 4:00pm
Gardens Oval

St Mary’s has the opportunity to foil Darwin’s attempt to hold onto third spot when the two sides do battle at Gardens Oval in the Saturday twilight. The Saints have won in eight of their last nine outings to stand as one of the clear top two sides in the competition, and will have a say in deciding which team they will face in the first week of finals. On the other hand, the Buffs have made the most of their opportunities amid a tricky last six weeks, beating the teams they were expected to while also picking up a crucial four points against Southern Districts to sit as the best of the rest heading into finals. Buffs playing-coach Matt Campbell – named on an extended bench – will have a ridiculously strong spine to make use of; with Ryan Pendlebury and Stephen Tahana lining up down back, Daniel Stafford and Darren Shillabeer up forward, while skipper Jarrod Stokes returns to the fold alongside the possible inclusion of Adam Sambono. Cameron Stokes will also beef up an already solid back six, escaping suspension amid an appeal. They will need all the class they can get too, with St Mary’s posting a star-studded team sheet in response. The spine of the team is just as strong, with Tom Davies and Jake Long combining down back, Jarrad Waite and Jackson Calder positioned up forward, while Nate Paredes, Jackson Paine, and Shaun Edwards patrol the engine room with David Armitage also named on the bench. The strength on each line across both sides is clear, and it makes for what promises to be one of the highest-quality NTFL games this season. The Saints will take some beating, but the Buffs have plenty to play for.

PALMERSTON MAGPIES vs. NIGHTCLIFF
Saturday February 15, 5:00pm
Cazalys Arena

First and last place take the field for the final NTFL 2019/20 regular season fixture, as Nightcliff travels to take on Palmerston at Cazalys Arena. The records of either side are, in satisfying fashion, perfectly opposite heading into the ultimate round, with Nightcliff’s comprehensive premiership defence to date juxtaposed by Palmerston’s second wooden spoon in three years. The Tigers have steamrolled their way to 16-1 on the back of 10-consecutive wins, overcoming every side in the competition to set a ridiculously high benchmark. On the flip-side, Palmerston’s peak Round 13 breakthrough victory has been clouded out by another string of losses to end the season – which looks likely to continue here. Most of the Nightcliff stars will get one last run-out before finals, with Trent Melville, Kyle Winter-Irving, and Daniel Bowles all named to make their 18th appearance of the season, while possible best and fairest leader Kaine Riley also features and excitement machine Liam Holt-Fitz will have the opportunity to add to his 29-goal campaign. For the Magpies, Aaron Lonergan will lead out the likes of Sandy Brock, Kyle Emery, and Wade Shadforth alongside playing-coach Alwyn Davey. But in a blow, Palmerston may fall short in the ruck department this week, as bigmen Matthew Dennis, Jack Berry, and Keidan Holt-Tubbs all remain absent. It only makes the going tougher for this year’s cellar dweller, so expect it to be over quickly despite Palmerston’s tendency to show glimpses of form.

NTFL Men’s Premier League wrap: Round 17 – Third time lucky as Saints halt Tiwi train

THIRD time proved a charm for St Mary’s in its ongoing rivalry with Tiwi, securing second spot and blowing the race for third place wide open in the process. Elsewhere, the remaining finals-bound sides picked up wins over the bottom three, with just one round left to play in the Northern Territory Football League (NTFL) Men’s Premier League.

DARWIN BUFFALOES 3.4 | 6.10 | 9.11 | 13.17 (95)
WARATAH 0.3 | 2.6 | 4.10 | 5.11 (41)

GOALS:

Darwin: D. Wunungmurra 4, I. Palmer 3, D. Stafford 3, N. Cooper 2, L. McKenzie.
Waratah: M. Graham 2, N. Gooch, W. Gorman, J. Schaper.

BEST:

Darwin: C. Atkinson, D. Wunungmurra, K. Kossack, N. Cooper, J. Anderson
Waratah: N/A

Darwin is in prime position to pounce on third place after getting the four points over Waratah for the third time this season, brushing the Warriors aside to the tune of 54 points. The Buffs showed they are every bit the finals contender in what was somewhat of a danger game coming in, coasting home to the 13.17 (95) to 5.11 (41) result. Darwin took advantage of the three-goal buffer it set up in the opening term, notching three majors in each of the next two quarters before a 4.6 to 1.1 final quarter truly extended the margin. Club leading goalkicker Daniel Stafford made a successful return to the Double Blues’ forward 50, booting three goals alongside Ishmael Palmer, while young gun Djamatjama Wunungmurra managed a bag of four on his Premier League debut. Despite their efforts in front of the big sticks, Christopher Atkinson was named the Buffs’ best with a good amount on strength still to return to the fold. For Waratah, Michael Graham was the lone multiple goalkicker with two majors in an undermanned Warriors side, with his side unable to match their opponent’s firepower and class across the ground. Set in the bottom three, Waratah is set to face Southern Districts in the final regular season round, while Darwin faces St Mary’s in its attempt to hold on to third place.

SOUTHERN DISTRICTS 4.3 | 9.4 | 12.9 | 19.9 (123)
PALMERSTON MAGPIES 3.4 | 5.5 | 6.8 | 7.9 (51)

GOALS:

Southern Districts: W. Farrer 8, J. Clarke 2, J. Garlett 2, B. Lake 2, D. McLachlan, M. Bowden, N. Horbury, R. Bull, M. Cannard.
Palmerston: C. Timms 2, J. Taylor, B. Church, J. Filo, M. Dennis, M. Filo.

BEST:

Southern Districts: J. Schofield, D. Staunton, W. Farrer, D. Wehrung, J. Clarke, M. Bowden
Palmerston: J. Filo, K. Emery, M. Dennis, W. Shadforth, S. Brock, R. Stone

Southern Districts remains a chance to jump two spots in the final round and snatch third after trouncing the lowly Palmerston Magpies by an even 12 goals. Spearheaded by competition leading goalkicker Will Farrer‘s eight goals, the Crocs were clinical inside 50 to make from an impressive 19.9 (123) to 7.9 (51) scoreline. After what was a tightly contested opener, the Crocs began to take over territory in the game and kick away, starting with five goals to two in the second term. It was all Districts after the main break too, with the hosts pouring on another 10 goals to two in the second half to pretty up the scoreboard and gain some valuable percentage heading into Round 18. Farrer was excellent throughout as chief destroyer, but compiled the misery late to make both his individual tally and the team margin more impressive. Three other Crocs booted multiple goals (three each), but it was Jayden Schofield who was named the winners’ best alongside Dean Staunton, with Michael Bowden also featuring in the best half-dozen for the third-straight match. In a similar vein, Kyle Emery and Sandy Brock were again influential in the losing Magpies side, but it was first-gamer Josh Filo who was named best afield, while returning bigman Matthew Dennis picked up right from where he left off. The wooden spooners’ disappointing campaign will come to an end next round against Nightcliff, with Waratah awaiting the Crocs as they look to snatch finals superiority.

NIGHTCLIFF 4.2 | 5.4 | 10.5 | 13.9 (87)
WANDERERS 0.2 | 0.2 | 2.4 | 4.5 (29)

GOALS:

Nightcliff: J. Tsitas 3, B. Filo 2, S. Wilson 2, D. Bowles, J. Peris, M. Bricknell, M. Hagan, T. Melville, L. Holt-Fitz.
Wanderers: B. O’Connell 2, W. Williams, D. Braun.

BEST:

Nightcliff: S. Wilson, J. Miles, J. Tsitas, D. Butcher, N. Brown, J. Peris
Wanderers: B. O’Connell, S. Bates, T. Lui, D. Thompson, A. Motlop

Nightcliff consigned Wanderers an eleventh-straight loss, dominating at both ends of the ground to come out 58-point winners on home turf. The Tigers managed to keep the Eagles goalless in a first half shutout, steadily adding to their lead to build to the 13.9 (87) to 4.5 (29) end result. The first half was not as free-flowing as the Tigers would have liked despite their dominance, only managing five goals of their own while denying the Muk Muks. While scoring was easier to come by in the second half as Nightcliff notched eight majors, Wanderers also proved more competitive as it broke through for four goals of its own. Plenty of Tigers got a solid hitout heading into finals, with James Tsitas (three goals) and Danny Butcher both making successful returns to the side, while mainstays Shaun Wilson, Nathan Brown and Jonathan Peris were also named among the best. For Wanderers, Beau O’Connell was again a standout, booting two goals from midfield while fellow youngsters Tyrrell Lui and Dray Thompson also showed promising signs. The Eagles’ last chance to break their losing streak comes against Tiwi, which will see the fixture as a must-win, while Nightcliff can ease into the post-season with a game against wooden spooner, Palmerston awaiting it.

TIWI BOMBERS 2.3 | 2.5 | 4.7 | 5.8 (38)
ST MARY’S 2.2 | 4.7 | 9.8 | 13.9 (87)

GOALS:

Tiwi: R. Tungatalum 2, A. Wonaeamirri, A. Darcy, P. Heenan
St Mary’s: J. Calder 3, S. Rioli 2, H. Labastida 2, L. Larson 2, N. Paredes, C. James Wilson, J. Paine, D. Johnstone

BEST:

Tiwi: C. Molyneux, R. Tungatalum, C. Jones, R. Baird, J. Puruntatameri, J. Simon
St Mary’s: S. Edwards, L. Larson, J. Paine, S. Rioli, T. Saunders, B. Ah Mat

St Mary’s finally got one back over Tiwi at the third time of asking this season, trumping the Bombers to the tune of 49 points in what could well be a post-season sighter. The Saints were brilliant across the ground, showing fluency on each line to wind up 13.9 (87) to 5.8 (38) winners and officially secure second spot. An even opening term saw the Bombers claim their only lead of the game, albeit by the slimmest of margins, before St Mary’s hit back to sneak in front at the main break while keeping the Bombers goalless. From there on, the Saints tripled the Bombers’ second half goal tally with nine to three in a dominant display, putting the result beyond much doubt with a quick surge after half time. The ex-AFL duo of Shaun Edwards and Jackson Paine showed their class to be two of St Mary’s best, while Jackson Calder booted a game-high three goals and Shannon Rioli, two. South Australian Charlie Molyneux was again best afield for the Bombers upon returning to the lineup, with Ross Tungatalum not far behind as Tiwi’s lone multiple goal kicker and Jason Puruntatameri continuing his good form. St Mary’s could again foil Tiwi’s top three plans if they fall to Darwin next time out, while Tiwi will need to overcome Wanderers if it is any chance to avoid an elimination final berth.

NTFL Men’s Premier League: Round 17 – Bombers look for three-peat over Saints

THE penultimate Northern Territory Football League (NTFL) Men’s Premier League round features just one fixture between two top five sides, but it promises to be a cracker nonetheless with the bottom three teams looking to play the cat among the pigeons against finals-bound opponents. The minor premiership, wooden spooner, and final five might already be wrapped up, but there is still plenty to play for over another weekend of NTFL action.

DARWIN BUFFALOES vs. WARATAH
Friday February 7, 7:00pm
TIO Stadium

Darwin and Waratah resume their mini-rivalry under Friday night lights at TIO Stadium, with the Buffs continuing their push for top three qualification. The fourth-placed Buffaloes have not been able to string consecutive victories together since Rounds 7 and 8, going 4-4 in their eight matches since amid a tricky late-season draw. Meanwhile, the Warriors were only officially ruled out of finals contention last week in their loss to St Mary’s, ending a two-game winning run in the process. While the records show the ledger between these sides to be 2-0 in favour of Darwin, the Warriors were controversially stripped of a Round 3 win over the Buffs due to a team sheet error. So with the actual scales showing even, this should be an entertaining grudge match as Waratah looks to foil Darwin’s post-season plans for a second season running. But Daniel Stafford‘s inclusion for the higher-ranked side is a timely one with both Brodie Foster and Darren Shillabeer absent, set to link up with the in-form Ishmael Palmer and Isaac Seden-Kunoth inside 50. Darwin skipper Jarrod Stokes is again set to miss, easing the pressure on Waratah’s back six a touch. But the Warriors will also come in slightly undermanned, with Henry Kerinaiua, Brodie Carroll, and Abe Ankers all among the absentees. It could still prove to be a danger game for the Buffs, who should take nothing for granted heading into the finals with winning form always the best form.

SOUTHERN DISTRICTS vs. PALMERSTON MAGPIES
Saturday February 8, 2:30pm
TIO Stadium

Southern Districts’ slim hopes of cracking the top three lie mostly in other results, but the Crocs still have to get past Palmerston this weekend to keep them alive with a finals spot already sewn up. A horror run of form ended last week for Districts as it comfortably accounted for Wanderers, with its lighter run to the post-season against the bottom three continuing here. Palmerston’s short-lived success in Round 13 has been quickly forgotten amid another string of losses, confirming the Magpies’ second wooden spoon in three seasons with a couple of rounds still to play out. Despite there being little to lose for either side, both come in with reasonably strong line-ups as opportunities on to impress run thin. The Crocs have been settled across the last few weeks at the selection table aside from sweating on Michael and Ed Barlow‘s availability, and come in with a typically deadly midfield-forward rotation boasting Richard Tambling, Jeff Garlett, and Josiah Farrer. For Palmerston, Keidan Holt-Tubbs is a key out but will be replaced in the ruck by returning bigman Matthew Dennis, while Aaron Davey replaces his suspended brother and coach, Alwyn Davey, and Kyle Emery remains at the heart of midfield. While many would consider this clash a foregone conclusion given the combined 152-point discrepancy between the two sides in their clashes this season, there is enough class in the Magpies team to test Southern Districts should all go to plan.

NIGHTCLIFF vs. WANDERERS
Saturday February 8, 4:00pm
PSC BM Oval

Nightcliff will be out to maintain its strong momentum heading into finals when it hosts Wanderers at PSC BM Oval on Saturday. The formlines of these two sides could hardly be more opposite, with the Tigers excelling in their flag defence to notch up nine consecutive wins and the minor premiership to boot, while the Muk Muks have lost in 10-consecutive outings to sit a lowly seventh. The two previous meetings between these sides have gone as expected too, with the Tigers clocking up a combined 137-point winning margin in Round 3 and 8 triumphs to only further consolidate their status as clear favourite. While the young and exuberant Wanderers side will come in near full strength and on the hunt for an upset, the Tigers have maintained their starting side in hopes of getting a solid run into the post-season. Under-18 standout Joel Jeffrey could spend some time in the midfield having been named in the centre, with Shannon Motlop a handy inclusion to add to the likes of Beau O’Connell and Braedon McLean in the engine room rotation. Danny Butcher and James Tsitas are the most notable inclusions for Nightcliff with much of its core remaining, and competition leading goalkicker Trent Melville also set to feature. This game could go one of two ways; if Nightcliff want to continue to make statements as the competition benchmark, it will, but if Wanderers come out and throw caution to the wind, it could really bring it to the table-toppers.

TIWI BOMBERS vs. ST MARY’S
Saturday February 8, 7:00pm
TIO Stadium

Arguably the game of the round is again left til last as traditional rivals and premiership contenders Tiwi and St Mary’s go head-to-head on Saturday night. With Tiwi two games off the Saints in third place, a win would keep the Bombers in with a sniff of snatching second spot in Round 18, while a loss could also see them fall back out of the top three and into the elimination final zone. As one of the form sides of the competition, the Bombers have only gone down to Nightcliff – twice – in their last 10 outings, storming up the ladder and within striking distance of the Saints. Having already toppled their rival twice in a couple of unlikely results, much of the momentum is with the red and blacks. But the much-improved Saints are no easy-beats, triumphing in seven of their last eight games to have second spot all-but wrapped up. Despite a superior standing, St Mary’s could well be considered the underdog in a third clash between the sides, coming in with a slightly weaker side. While the core of Shaun Edwards, Jake Long, Jackson Paine, Jackson Calder, and Tom Davies remains, there is still a bit of strength to come back into the Saints line-up in the lead-up to finals. On the other hand, the Bombers have strengthened their side with the inclusions of Greensborough pair Tom Bell and Charlie Molyneux, while its attacking 50 boasts the likes of Adam Tipungwuti, Harley Puruntatameri, and Austin Wonaeamirri – all of whom have been finding the big sticks of late. The clash needs little sprucing, and should provide plenty of highlights if recent history is anything to go by.

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.