THE penultimate round of Northern Territory Football League (NTFL) action could prove key in the race for spots at either end of the ladder, with top spot still up for grabs and places between third and sixth in the air as the final five remains undecided.
DARWIN BUFFALOES v. TIWI BOMBERS
Round 17 – Saturday February 9, 2:30pm
Both Darwin Buffaloes and Tiwi Bombers will be looking to bounce back from Round 16 losses and strengthen their respective finals spots when they meet in the round’s opener. The Buffs fell embarrassingly to bottom side, Wanderers last time out in a game where they sorely missed the firepower of Adam Sambono and leadership of Matthew Campbell. They may well rue lacking that scoring influence again here given Tiwi’s potency forward of centre, despite leading goalkicker Ross Tungatalum (35 goals) only managing one major last week and next best, Dion Munkara (24 goals) currently absent. While the Bombers’ hot run of form and streak of four wins came to an abrupt end last week, they will be keen to knock Darwin off to complete the feat of beating the competition’s top three sides. It is now a question of whether Tiwi peaked a few weeks too early, while on the other hand, the Buffaloes look yet to have peaked as they constantly fall to sides below them despite overcoming Southern Districts twice recently. This may well prove to be a shootout between two sure finals contenders who can beat anyone on their day, with undeniable talent forward of centre on both sides.
ST MARYS v. PALMERSTON MAGPIES
Round 17 – Saturday February 9, 5pm
Palmerston will be looking for a considerable percentage boost in a last ditch effort to scrape into finals as it clashes with second-bottom, St Marys in Saturday’s evening game. The Magpies suffered a humbling loss at the hands of Nightcliff in their last outing, not doing any favours to their record as the side with the most points conceded. While it was much of the same for the Saints as they went down to Southern Districts, a win could see them dash Palmerston’s finals chances and leapfrog them into sixth place with one foul swoop, while also keeping away from the cellar door. Despite conceding the most points of any team, Palmerston may not be troubled so much down back as their weekend opponents have scored the second-fewest points across the year. Still, the consistency of Ben Rioli alongside the dual-threat of Nathaniel Paredes and Nick Yarran streaming forward could cause some serious headaches for Palmerston. The Magpies have weapons of their own though, with Matthew Dennis putting in a giant season in the ruck, while Kyle Emery (36 goals) is always a chance of kicking a bag. Former-AFL experience may also be a factor in this clash, with the figure of Raphael Clarke always steadying for the Saints, while Palmerston will look to Alwyn Davey for a spark. While it may well be a low-scoring affair, this clash looks to be a close one with neither side at the peak of their powers.
WARATAH v. SOUTHERN DISTRICTS
Round 17 – Saturday February 9, 7:30pm
A chance to consolidate finals places is up for grabs when Waratah and Southern Districts do battle under lights on Sunday, with both sides coming off strong wins in the previous round. While they may have looked somewhat out of sorts recently, the Warriors remain a key finals contender and affirmed that notion by downing the in-form Tiwi Bombers in an impressive display. Another win at the weekend would finally see them confirm a finals berth, but it remains a matter of which spot they will take up from third, down to fifth. The Crocs’ finals position has been far more telegraphed throughout the season, hardly straying from the top two spots and remaining well in contention for claiming the minor premiership. While that may well be decided in the final round, the reigning premiers cannot afford to look past Waratah this week given how they look to have regained some form. Still, if the Crocs did not already look threatening enough with six players having booted over 15 goals, the newly reunited midfield partnership of ex-Bulldogs Ryan Griffen and Ed Barlow worked a charm last time out and makes Southern Districts very hard to beat.
NIGHTCLIFF v. WANDERERS
Round 17 – Sunday February 10, 4pm
PSC BM Oval
A battle between first and last is set to close out the weekend’s action, with both Nightcliff and Wanderers surprisingly coming off wins coming into the penultimate round. Depending on whether Southern Districts claim a win, Nightcliff’s final-round clash with the Crocs could still decide top spot given the reigning premiers’ slight percentage advantage. But with a game in hand on their rivals, the Tigers would not be blamed for complacency here should the Crocs lose on Saturday. Wanderers will be looking to capitalise on any slip-ups, with a decent run of form giving them a chance to climb off the bottom of the ladder on points and as high as sixth if results fall their way. First-against-last fixtures seldom hold any ramifications for either side, but this one may well prove different as ladder positions remain tight going into the last two round of the season. With Nightcliff possessing the competition’s leading goalkicker in Trent Melville (51 goals), a much-needed percentage boost could be in order, but Wanderers have proven of late to be anything but a pushover and could throw a spanner in the works.