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
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
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
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
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.