Minor premiers and flag favourites North Brunswick have officially locked themselves into the 2018 Division 4 Grand Final, as well as the Division 3 competition next season, with a convincing 48-point victory over Parkside at Garvey Oval. It was the usual suspects’ in-front of goal who did most of the damage, with the George brothers and Michael Salloum combining for 10 of their sides 14 majors to cruise to their first Grand Final appearance since 1995, and ending an 18-year stay in Division Four. The Red-Devils will lick their wounds and look to bounce back strongly when they face St Francis Xavier in a Preliminary Final after the X-Men accounted for the South Melbourne Districts by 30-points at Waverley Oval. Despite a slow start, SFX used a 10-goal to three second half to storm past the Swans and set up a mouth-watering do-or-die clash with the aforementioned Parkside. Here is what to expect from our only contest this weekend.
A chance to battle with the best of the best. A clash featuring the two best defensive sides in the competition, Parkside and St Francis Xavier, is set and ready to put on a classic, with the winner to etch their name into the second Saturday of September, and a date with the all-conquering Bulls.
Winners in 11 of their last 12 before their 48-point loss on the weekend, the Red-Devils had put together one of their strongest seasons in recent memory, and despite the loss, are still very much in the drivers’ seat to get another crack at the Bulls next weekend. The X-Men’s start to the season had to be seen to be believed, and even though their all-out scoring style of play may have cooled since Round 6, they have still found ways to get the points, winning five in a row and giving themselves every opportunity to cause a major upset in this one.
The two sides are eerily similar in a number of facets. Both possess high scoring forward lines (SFX 2nd – Parkside 3rd), and elite defensive back sixes (SFX 1st – Parkside 2nd) that make it very difficult for their opponents to score. Their midfields are both of a high class, with names like Brendan O’Hara, Stephen Chin and Daniel Chin setting up for St Francis Xavier while Parkside come back with Adam Wells, Marco Creek and a rejuvenated Isaac Romano.
The two sides faced each other twice this season, first on June 2nd and again on July 14th, with both clashes going the way of the Red-Devils, but a combined winning margin of just eight points from those matches suggests that it is indeed closer than the 2-0 season sweep suggests. The two low-scoring affairs (67-63 & 74-70) both came down to the wire, with the difference maker being Parkside’s ability to run out games, and handle the fourth quarter pressure more effectively than their X-Men counterparts. A three goal to one final term in both Round 9 & 13 saw the Devils leapfrog their opponents with just minutes remaining, and escape with the points on both occasions.
St Francis Xavier full-forward Harrison Coe has been on a tear in recent weeks, booting 12 majors in his last three outings, including three last weekend against the Swans. Parkside’s second ranked defensive unit lead by Anthony Waters will have their hands full dealing with him, as well as the likes of Andrew Daly and their plethora of midfield scoring talent in Brendan O’Hara and Stephen Richards-Gill. For St Francis Xavier, containing all of Matthew Soligo, Sam Gilfedder, Isaac Romano and Luciano Logozzo is almost impossible, leaning on Josh Lafranchi and Ryan Eggleston to handle the brunt of the load. But if they are able to control the midfield battle and limit the amount of Parkside forward entry like the Bulls did last weekend, it will go a long way in securing an unlikely victory.
On the year, St Francis Xavier’s margin of victory is 86-points, which includes wins by 171, 140 and 152. For Parkside, their victories have come by an average of 76, including victories by 113, 115, 156 and 138-points. Both sides are capable of booting a monstrous total, which means that like most finals, the game will be decided on the defensive end, and how well each back six can contain and coordinate their counterattacks out of defence.
On average, St Francis Xavier concedes just 55-points per game on the year, while Parkside are not too far behind on 58 a game, meaning both sides will be happy to turn the game into an all-out slog if need be to get the victory. Only one team has booted over 100-points on the X-Men this year, the Bulls back in Round 8 (108), while Parkside have held teams to under 100 for 13 straight weeks, with the only two teams to do it on the year being North Brunswick (101) and Box Hill North (125).
The X-Men have the numbers to say they deserve to be favourites in this one, holding better scoring and defensive statistics on the year, while also arguably in better form with their five-game winning streak, but it is hard to ignore Parkside’s style of play over the last 13 weeks, as well as the close victories over the X-Men earlier in the season. I’m leaning towards the Red-Devils to get the win here but in an absolute classic, setting up another date with the Bulls to get vengeance on a disappointing outing a week ago.