Blacks are back in tightest William Buck Premier season in recent history

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By Nick Armistead – @NickArmistead 

How tight is this? 14 games decided by two goals or less, two teams on six wins, three on five and another three on four. It’s almost half way and things are not getting easier to predict in William Buck Premier.

De La Salle and University Blues were the latest two powerhouses to go head-to-head and conclude four arduous quarters with just two points separating them at final siren’s sound. With the wind playing a role early on, De La shot out to an 11-point lead at the first break largely due to the inclusion of Antony Forato from Richmond’s VFL side. Last year’s Premier Coaches MVP runner-up and arguably De La’s most important player, Forato’s tap work was instrumental to his side’s win as he continually got first hands to the ball and gave his star-studded midfield every chance to clear uninhibited by the opposition. The Blues were relentless in their pursuit of the four points, but three goals to two in the fourth – including a pair of stunners from Sam Pickett and Adrian Indovino – gave De La the scoreboard ascendancy when it mattered most. Despite Forato’s aerial dominance, Jeremy Mugavin and Marshall Rippon excelled in the harsh conditions and repeatedly pumped the ball forward of centre. Rippon’s inclusion was as much a surprise as it was a highlight for the Blues, with the Big V representative and star midfielder putting a Round 7 knee hyperextension into the hands of excess bandage and pumping three goals off one leg. Barring a repeat of the offensive aberration against Collegians in Round 6 (1.6.12), the Blues will be in every game they play this season due to their ability to restrict their opponent’s scoring. They average the second-least points against (65), have not had more than 84 points or 24 scoring shots kicked on them in any one game and boast arguably the best tall defender in the competition at the moment, Hugh Vickers-Willis.

Old Xaverians returned to the winner’s column in the best possible fashion, defeating the ladder-leading Old Trinity by 14 points at Daley Oval. After allowing four goals in the first term, the Xavs gradually made ground quarter-by-quarter before three goals to one in the last cemented the result and gave Xavier fans renewed faith after three down weeks. Although they are running an arm’s length long list of injuries to key personnel, Xavs boast a percentage of 121 and average losing margin of just 11 points, putting them in good stead for a shot at the title in the back-half of the season. Matt Handley (two goals) and Brendan Goss (fourth best) influenced the result despite conditions unconducive to marking forwards, and have now kicked 49 of their side’s 105 for the season; or 46% of Xavs’ goals. Their importance to structures and game plan is paramount to the Xavs’ success and shutting them both down ultimately cuts off half of the Xavs’ scoring. But, good luck with that. If Vickers-Willis is currently the best tall defender in William Buck Premier, Luke Pacconi takes the mantle as the in-form small down back. He takes the best small forward each week, leads from the front and often plays a significant role in T’s victories. As such, he was named best after another standout performance, with his relentless attack on the ball and the man a key feature to the T’s game. Ed Weatherson, Doug Morris, Jack Osborn and Ben Howell were all out for various reasons over the weekend, taking 34 goals and an unquantifiable amount of form with them.

Old Carey displayed their strongest performance of the season to date, but eventually went down to Collegians by 31 points at Harry Trott Oval. Tom Penberthy and Will Johnson are weekly instalments in the best players at the moment, churning out unbelievable performance after unbelievable performance like clockwork. Using the Lions’ defence as the benchmark, the Panthers offence was above average on the weekend, kicking 65 points compared to 62.75 points against average the Lions boast after eight rounds. They kicked more points against the Lions than Old Melburnians, St Kevin’s, University Blues and St Bernard’s. It was their closest loss in 2016 and bodes well as they continue their search for that elusive first W.   

Four wins in a row means University Blacks are the form side of William Buck Premier. Sitting third on the ladder after defeating Old Melburnians by 82 points at Uni Oval, the Blacks entered the top echelon of the ladder for the first time since Round 1. Young gun and 2015 Rising Star nominee, Jordan Quaile, continued his fast-tracked development as a key cog to the Blacks’ outfit with a best-on-ground performance and two goals, while Tyson Kruse and Adam Pitt are genuine stars capable of taking the Blacks to the title fight. Even when the Blacks lost three in a row from Rounds 2-4, they did so by small margins at an average of just 16 points. They have pulled it all together and with more avenues to goal than most sides (35-point winning average over past four weeks), do not look like slowing down in the near future. Old Melburnians will not be too disappointed with their third loss for the season as Oscar Hosking and Patrick Garschagen stood tall in the face of the onslaught. Matt Thomas appearing in the best is possibly the best news to come out of the loss after he was forced to pull out of the Big V representative squad with general soreness.  

Six goals in the final stanza helped St Kevin’s to their third win in a row against St Bernard’s at the Snakepit. Despite leading by three goals at three quarter time, the Snow Dogs were unable to hold on, with Steven Salopek (BOG) and Troy McMaster (four goals) leading the charge for SKOB. Tom Sullivan is an unbelievably gifted midfielder and another standout performance for the Snow Dogs, possible two Woodrow Medal votes and more fans each week is the least he deserves for his efforts. He is a star. The Snow Dogs were missing more personnel last weekend, including, coach Mark Riley, and will be looking to bounce back against De La this week.

Round 9 Tips

Old Carey vs University Blacks

Old Trinity vs Old Melburnians

Collegians vs Old Xaverians

University Blues vs St Kevin’s

St Bernard’s vs De La Salle