Panthers purring on pursuit of finals

Posted on - Latest News, Premier B Men's, Featured

Nick Armistead – @NickArmistead

Is Old Carey about to pull a Sydney Swans? While not exactly the same, 0-6 vs 2-6 start to the year, if we take into account the difference between the VAFA’s 18-round home and away season and the AFL’s 22 rounds, the situation is eerily similar after both sides decided to make their quest for finals a difficult task.

The Panthers’ top tier stars are playing a far more cohesive brand of football, the team is on a three-game winning streak and, if their form continues to improve, they could potentially claim four of their next five. What is also working in the Panthers’ favour is the disparity between the top three teams in Premier B and the chasing pack. Nobody is claiming fourth spot on the ladder as theirs and any side from fourth to seventh can realistically still play finals.

Despite the wintery conditions playing havoc across all parts of Melbourne and surrounding suburbs over the weekend, the Panthers secured a 70-point victory via a four-quarter performance against Parkdale Vultures. Nine goals to one in the first half decided the match as the standard evened out in the final two terms with the Panther’s narrowly outscoring the Vultures six goals to four. Daniel Clark set the game up by kicking four goals in the first half in just his third game of senior football and Andrew Sloan was instrumental for the Panthers as he kept Matt Boland goalless, but it is the form of Sam Cust which has tongues wagging in Premier B. Cust completed the quintuple triple in Round 13 as the onballer/half-forward registered his fifth consecutive three-goal haul. He kicked 10 goals in the first eight games of the season but has returned to the explosive form which shone a light on an otherwise dark season for the Panthers’ in 2016. Teammate George Curnow also bagged three goals and made it 14 from his past six outings. Liam Marshall and Luke Clark were admirable for the Vultures and they would be ecstatic with the return of Matt Boland, despite being held goalless. Boland’s return from a calf injury he suffered four weeks ago will put smiles on Vultures’ fans faces and when Charlie Dillon re-enters the starting line-up, the Vultures will be a lot better placed to stave off relegation.

Old Brighton’s unbeaten run continued in style as they piled on 37 scoring shots to seven and defeated Peninsula by 90 points at Brighton Beach Oval. Harry Hill was at his very best for the Tonners, with the co-captain adding to his one goal for the season with a bag of five in a best-on-ground performance. Hill’s last four games have been as strong as anyone’s and if his form continues into the back end of the season, we could see a similar result to his runners-up GT Moore Medal performance last year. Michael Karayannis kicked his second bag of four goals in as many matches, while Alex Mastromanno was in the best despite not hitting the scoreboard. That fact is about as exciting as the win for the Tonners given the number one goal kicker in Premier B has shown he can influence games even when he isn’t producing magic in front of goal. Will Harbinson and Jordan Pomeroy impressed for the Pirates but they were up against it from the start given the two side’s vastly different ladder positions. The Pirates are two games out of the relegation-free safe zone in 10th spot on the ladder and look likely to return to Premier C after one year in their highest-ever section. However, they will hope to finish the season strong with three games at the school and may upset one or two along the way to make things very interesting in the final rounds.

If an unbeaten Old Brighton are favourites to gain promotion, Old Scotch are hot on their heels after they dismantled St Bernard’s by 79 points at Camberwell Sports Ground. The Cardinals’ offensive arsenal is second-to-none in Premier B with an average of 103.7ppg and it was on full show during the first term as they kicked nine unanswered with the wind. Jono Daggian bagged five goals in his best performance since the second half massacre of Fitzroy, while five teammates kicked multiples. The performance of the round needs to go to the Cardinals’ defence as they allowed just four goals to be kicked against them while the Snow Dogs had the breeze throughout the second and fourth terms. They were unshakable and boast just 52 points against in their past three outings against Monash Blues, Ajax and St Bernard’s – two of whom are fighting for top four spots while the Snow Dogs are in. The Snow Dogs will be disappointed with their display against a fellow top three side given they kicked just 41 points a week after piling on 171. It was four goals less than their previous lowest score of the year and almost 60 points less than their season average of 100.4. However, the Goal of the Year front-runner, Adam Bentick, continued his outstanding form for the Snow Dogs with a fighting display while young guns, Charlie Vague, Connor Riley and the Hughes brothers, toiled valiantly. The Snow Dogs won’t lose third spot on the ladder but will struggle to claim a top two position as they now sit two and a half games behind the Cardinals.

Mazenod kept their finals chances alive after they defeated Fitzroy by 13 points at Brunswick St Oval. With both sides desperately needing a win for different reasons, the Nodders overcame a five-point deficit at half-time with six goals to three in the final two quarters. Brad Kovac kicked three majors for the Nodders as his recent form in front of goal continued, while Simon Hall secured his fourth BOG performance for the year. The Nodders sit sixth and on the same number of wins as Ajax and the Blues above them, but a lowly percentage of 74.64 means they simply must win more games if they are to feature post-regular season. The next three against Parkdale, Ajax and the Panthers are must-wins before they face off with the Cardinals and Tonners in the final two rounds. Nino Lazzaro returned to the Roys’ line-up for the first time since Round 10 and had an immediate impact with three goals. Few possess the natural talent and potential of Lazzaro, 18, and if he continues to secure senior games for the Roys, his cult figure status will spread throughout the Association alongside Brighton star Alex Mastromanno. Cailean Moore and Matthew Gaite were the two best Roys as they now focus their attention on avoiding relegation. Their Round 17 match-up against Parkdale bodes as a potential blockbuster and the perfect time for Rory Angiolella to make a surprise return from injury.

Monash Blues secured a much-needed victory over fellow top four aspirants, Ajax, holding them off by three points at Gary Smorgon Oval. The Blues were 21 points up at the last break and managed to stave off the Jackas despite three unanswered goals in the final term. Zacchary Ledin was one of just three multiple goal kickers on the ground and was named best afield for the Blues, while Rising Star nominee Joe Harrison continued his scintillating form. The Blues are well-placed for an assault on the top four with match-ups against Fitzroy, Parkdale and Peninsula – all teams below them on the ladder – over the next four games. It may come down to their Round 18 clash against Old Carey to decide that fourth spot.  Jake Lew returned to form with three for the Jackas and Zachary Fleisher impressed. They’ve now lost three in a row and four of their past five with several players showcasing the vast array of talents at Maccabi Games. They host Peninsula and Mazenod over the next two games and, given their solid percentage of 103.66, may only need three wins from their last five to secure a finals berth.