CHFL Round 17 Preview Any finals series is very enticing and the Central Highlands FL tends to be even more so than most due to the closeness of the ladder after the home and away season. It is not looking any different this year with each of the three clubs on top of the ladder shaping to finish on equal points with fourteen wins.
Even though last week there was a significant change in the configuration amongst the top three when Springbank suffered its second defeat of the year, this time at the hands of Gordon.
The impact of this defeat was a drop from top spot to the more vulnerable third position behind Beaufort and Hepburn. Under the final eight format followed by the CHFL the top two spots provides a bit of an advantage in that it enables them the chance of getting a seven day break between each of their finals matches.
The extra day break can be of benefit when the finals bring a close tussle week after week.
Springbank despite losing last week will be able to regroup this weekend when they have to take on Creswick in the final match of the year for the Wickers. Creswick are coming off their best fortnight of the season with successive wins over the lower placed Rokewood Corindhap and Skipton teams but there will be little to play for when the Tigers increase the pressure. The Wickers coach Ryan Knowles will be keen to cause an upset against his former club, but it is hard to see where he will find enough players to take up the fight and win sufficient positions across the ground. There have been only few Creswick players who have consistently held sway in their position, none more so than Ryan Pompe in defence.
Either he or Caleb Hepworth will end up matched up on one of the best forwards in the league, Tom Eltringham who currently sits just three goals behind Waubra’s Tim Boyle in the goal kicking race. Probably the most interest for Creswick though is to see if some of their younger players can put together a strong performance against one of the league leaders and work towards setting up a challenge on the finals in 2018.
Alex Lovell has been very good in the past month for Creswick, as has Jack Marshman and Mitch Arnold has shown signs during the season that he will be able to contribute effectively each week in the seniors.
Matt Miller has been a tower of strength for the Wickers in the ruck throughout the season and he will have another tough task to wrap the season up when he plays against Brock Freeman who has been in strong form for the past six weeks.
Nic Couch has been the Tigers best midfielder throughout the season and his form continues to be strong heading in to the finals.
As well as the class to be able to score goals he provides an enormous amount of pressure on opposition defenders who are trying to relive the pressure for their team.
Beaufort has an advantage of more than 35% over second placed Hepburn and looks almost certain to finish in the top spot for the first time since early this century.
The Crows will be too strong for this week’s opponent Newlyn.
Tom Stapleton has returned from injuries well and as a result adds to the strength around the ground which is lead by Rupert Sangster, Joe Mason and Jack Duke.
About the one key player missing who Beaufort would love to have back for finals is Brendan Howard however he looks unlikely to return in the short term. As the season draws to a close for the Cats Matthew Cosgrave is in good form along with Joel Willmott who has developed quite well into a good senior player. With Newlyn retaining Dan Wehrung and Chris Dwyer as coaches next year they will be looking to retain the class of Dylan Fishwick and Nathan Hura also to then be able to build upon. Hepburn will be too strong for Learmonth who are another club battling through injuries at present and they just don’t have enough class to match it with the top teams. Nathan Ross battled hard last week against Beaufort, as did Kyle McKay and Dyson George, and for much of the match Learmonth was able to get the football within range of scoring but they were not able to kick with any accuracy, finishing with jus the one goal but 11 behinds.
It will be no easier against Hepburn this week who will need to work to ensure that they don’t create an opportunity for Springbank to sneak past them back into second spot. Of much interest will be to see if Nick Dal Santo plays his third match for the Burras and qualifying to play finals football. Hepburn will do enough to retain their second position on the ladder. There are two other matches which are going to have a much greater impact on the finals series. Buninyong against Buninyong has a double chance at stake. The winner will finish fourth on the ladder and achieve a double chance in the initial week of the finals. Buninyong defeated Bungaree by 18 points last week but in accuracy disguised that it could have been much more than this. Fraser Russell is proving dangerous in front of goal in recent weeks with eight goals in the past fortnight and his speed will stretch the Gordon defence. His form will assist in taking away some of the emphasis away from Jake Dunne as the primary Bombers target. It will be interesting how Gordon look to shut down the Buninyong forward line, one of the few in the league which has a range of tall players who can head into attack to take a mark. Dunne, Liam Rigby, Anthony Ebery and even Mark Phelps will keep the Gordon tall defenders fully engaged.
Gordon’s greatest difficulty is trying to get a balanced team on the park week after week with the loss of Ash Munari and Gerard Clifford in the past two weeks offsetting the return of Jye Cousins.
Both clubs have a range of very experienced hard midfielders, Ned Gilbert, Alex Bomatali and Jarrod Morgan if fit up against Tye Murphy, Matt Raworth and Adam Toohey. It is going to be an excellent tune up for a tough month of finals to come, with Buninyong favourites at home.
Dunnstown continue to win and whilst still sitting in 10th on the ladder the shape as the only opportunity of them and Learmonth who has a chance of pushing Daylesford out of the top eight after they snuck in on the back of a win over Ballan last week. The Towners hosts Dunnstown and a win will put them on eight wins the same as Daylesford but the Bulldogs go into the match with a handy 14% advantage. This percentage advantage should be enough to ensure that they don’t miss finals and end up finishing on the bottom of the eight two years in a row. Dunnstown is going for its eight win in succession and on their form during this period they shape as being a very strong chance of winning. They will take some heart from their second half of the season but apart from Learmonth to this stage they have not been able to defeat a club in the top eight. Looking back an early season loss to Ballan could be the one which will make the difference in making it back into finals action for the first time in a number of years. Either way Dunnstown will be able to look at 2018 with some confidence with a solid batch of young players who have blended well in the second half of the year. Skipton has had a long haul this year still without a victory and having suffered a number of demoralising defeats.
Their opponent this week Carngham Linton knows how this feels having gone through the same ordeal last year.
The Saints though have enjoyed a bit more success this year with two wins to their name and they will be aiming to finish the year with three wins and put them on equal points with a couple of the clubs sitting just above them, either Clunes or Rokewood Corindhap and Newlyn. The Grasshoppers and Magpies will play each other down at Rokewood and it is very likely to be a competitive match.
Both clubs have shown an ability to stay in the game against even some of the top eight but they just don’t have enough good players to be able to do this for four quarters.
Clunes hung in with Waubra in general play for much of their clash last week but could not find a way to score when they got within range of goal. Whilst Rokewood Corindhap was too strong for Carngham Linton winning by 73 points. At home Rokewood Corindhap should be able to prevail and take another step towards the middle of the ladder, their best finish since they joined the CHFL. Ballan will try to round out its season with a win over Bungaree however they have not been able to have any impact against the teams in the eight. They got within 32 points on Saturday when they played Daylesford but scoring just four goals for the match is not going to win too many games and if they only get the same result in front of goal this week Bungaree should be able to manufacture enough goals themselves to get an 11th win to finish out the home and away before they most meet likely Waubra in a cutthroat elimination final.