By the sports desk
Is Nar Nar Goon a genuine contender for this year’s WGFNC premiership…or merely making up the numbers like previous seasons?
We’ll know more by 5pm on Saturday when the Goon welcomes the undefeated and high-flying Inverloch-Kongwak.
Simple facts would suggest the Gooners are going alright, heading into this showpiece contest winning six of their last seven games.
But when you consider that last week’s loss to Cora Lynn was the fifth time the Goon had played a top-five team this year – without victory – there’s still plenty of questions to be answered.
Through the vagaries of the draw, the Goon has basically been gifted five wins from its last seven games this season.
It began against Kooweerup in round 12, and will continue over the last four home-and-away rounds.
The Goon dominated the four teams it will play in the last month of footy – Dalyston, Korumburra-Bena, Kilcunda-Bass and Bunyip – scoring a combined total of 560 points to the oppositions 154 the first time they met in 2023.
We can expect those types of figures again, meaning this is the last time the Goon gets to fully pressure test its systems and beliefs heading into this year’s finals series.
That sort of soft draw is great from a win-loss standpoint, but will hardly fill Justin Stanton and his coaching staff with belief unless they can match motors with the Sea Eagles this weekend.
The Goon definitely has the class to trouble any side in the competition with Dermott Yawney, Trent Armour and emerging youngster Nate Pipicelli possessing exquisite talent, while the return from injury of players such as Sam Blackwood and Jake Smith has bolstered their all-round game.
The Goon just needs to settle their line up over the next month, with Jed Murphy and Luke Bettio the only players to have played every game this year.
The Goon this week takes on a Sea Eagles outfit that not only has a plethora of stars, but a stellar support cast that continually performs, just outside the spotlight.
Taite Cumming might not even be the best Tate or Taite in his team, but is lively and dangerous up forward, while Tom Wyatt, Lachie Scott, Joe Soumilas and Bailey Patterson are class acts that often fly under the radar.
They exploit the slightest weakness in the opposition like no other.
And it will prove that way again…in a hard-fought 19-point victory.
A short-drive away from Nar Nar Goon – at Cora Lynn – the Cobras host Tooradin-Dalmore in a classic confrontation of two great clubs.
The Seagulls hold a four-two record over the Cobras since joining the WGFNC in 2019, with that record including one win each in finals.
Tooradin, under premiership coach Lachie Gillespie, hasn’t done much wrong this season but finds itself number-three in the pecking order.
Inverloch and Phillip Island have significantly lifted their games, and the Seagulls need to respond.
Don’t expect heart-and-soul players like Andrew Proctor, Jordy Kelly, Julian Suarez and Brad Lenders to give up their reigning-premier status without one hell of a fight.
The Cobras were magnificent against Nar Nar Goon last week…and this is one club you also don’t write off in a hurry.
They ride momentum the Cobs, and if players like Cory Machaya, Jai Rout, Jeremy Monckton, Nathan Gardiner and big Billy Thomas hit form at the same time…lookout!
It’s the Seagulls to win an absorbing battle by 11 points.
In other games this week, Phillip Island will be far too strong for Dalyston at Cowes, while Kilcunda-Bass will chalk up its sixth win of the season against arch-rival Korumburra Bena.
The Panthers could win their next three – against the Giants, Kooweerup and Garfield – but would need to cause a massive upset against either Nar Nar Goon or Tooradin to be any chance of playing finals.
Long-time rivals Bunyip and Garfield should draw a big crowd to Bunyip, where the Bulldogs will strive for their first win for the season.
They were disappointing against Korumburra Bena last week, and will need Chase Saunders and Jason Williams to hit the scoreboard heavily to get across the line against the Stars.
And there’s no wriggle room for Warragul Industrials when the Dusties head to Denhams Road to face Kooweerup.
The Dusties only defeated the Demons by 21 points at Western Park in round six, so will need to be on guard against a desperate home side.
Rhys Nisbet would love nothing better than claiming a big scalp in one of his last five games at the club…and the Dusties are ripe for the picking.
But expect Luke ‘Tex’ Walker to play a blinder against his former club and get the Dusties across the line.
TIPS – Round 14
Bunyip v GARFIELD, Cora Lynn v TOORADIN-DALMORE, Kooweerup v WARRAGUL INDUSTRIALS, Korumburra Bena v KILCUNDA BASS, Nar Nar Goon v INVERLOCH-KONGWAK, PHILLIP ISLAND v Dalyston.
There’s plenty at stake for the quagmire of sides in the middle of the table this week.
Despite some interesting results in recent rounds, with the top three distancing themselves from the field, fourth and fifth place are shaping up as prime real estate in a turbulent and competitive housing market.
Current landlords, Mt Evelyn, head to Toomuc Reserve to battle Pakenham on the wide expanses at the Princes Highway; ground conditions a long way removed from what they’re accustomed to in the hills.
The Rovers have won three on the bounce at this critical stage of the year, but have had success on the smaller confides of both their home deck, and that of Upwey Tecoma’s in its hat-trick of recent wins.
How their bigger bodies will fare at Toomuc will be one to watch, having struggled at Gembrook Cockatoo earlier in the season.
The week off for Pakenham will have refreshed a number of players who had been battling injury in recent weeks.
Expect Jake Barclay to make a return after his mandatory lay-off under the concussion protocols, while forward Matthew Debruin may put his name forward for selection, having made his return to football in the reserves two weeks ago for his first hit-out since April.
The winner will claim outright fourth place for the week, and put a gap between themselves and the chasing pack with five fixtures remaining.
Wandin in second place and Woori Yallock in third should be safe this week in their contests against Monbulk and Olinda Ferny Creek respectively, and Narre Warren’s bye grants them another four points.
In the race to dislodge a side from fifth place, Upwey Tecoma’s clash with Gembrook Cockatoo holds critical importance.
In the words of Brookers’ coach Brad Coller, the Tigers gave his side some lessons in round one, Coller’s men’s first hit out in Premier Division.
Upwey Tecoma won by 47 points on that occasion, and will be hoping for a repeat of that result against an undermanned Brookers side.
With both sides on 20 points, another four will be invaluable come the race for finals and the quest to avoid relegation.
Challenges in Division One don’t come bigger than facing Emerald, and that’s exactly the task Officer deal with this week.
Having struggled to beat sides above them in 2023, no one sits higher on the table than the mighty Bombers, while the Kangaroos are smack-bang in the middle in fourth place.
They are beatable, as Seville showed in round 13, and from the two meetings earlier in the year, Daniel Charles’ side would have learned plenty of lessons, through an 83-point loss in round eight and a 60-point loss in round one.
Fourth spot is currently in Officer’s grasp, but Healesville’s likely win against Belgrave will leave them teetering on the edge of falling out of the top four.
Elsewhere, Berwick Springs will be tested by Seville on Seville’s home ground.
Berwick Springs won by just 23 points in round six, but had less scoring shots than its opponents in navy blue and took their chances when they were presented.
With the Titans safe in second place, a loss will have more ramifications for Seville, who could fall to as low as fifth, depending on results.
Pakenham v MT EVELYN, Olinda Ferny Creek v WOORI YALLOCK, Gembrook Cockatoo v UPWEY TECOMA, WANDIN v Monbulk.
Officer v EMERALD, Seville v BERWICK SPRINGS, HEALESVILLE v Belgrave.
Hampton Park needs to prove it is still worth taking seriously in 2023.
The Redbacks have won just two of its last six games after starting the season looking like a top-three threat.
Those have been over East Malvern and the struggling Black Rock.
A loss to Murrumbeena, second, at home on Saturday would put Hampton Park’s top five spot in jeopardy.
As well as losses to East Brighton and Doveton Doves in the last two weeks, they have also been upset by Caulfield and Keysborough.
The match against Keysborough was worrying as it proved the difficulty of executing basic skill on their blowy 2023 home ground.
Last time against Murrumbeena, their steely fight in the last quarter after trailing all day was impressive.
However, the best two that day were Liam Myatt and Makaio Haywood, whose class has been sorely missed in the last two weeks and they are irreplaceable.
The issues have extended beyond missing the top end guys, though, with too many passengers and a clear gap between the Redbacks’ bottom six and other teams also hurting them.
All that coach Hayden Stanton will ask is for those fringe players to play their role.
With Highett, Skye and Caulfield all on the horizon, destiny remains in Hampton Park’s hands, but an upset on Saturday would ease some pressure and make a statement.
TIPS: Skye v EAST BRIGHTON, CAULFIELD v East Malvern, DOVETON DOVES v Highett, Black Rock v KEYSBOROUGH, Hampton Park v Murrumbeena