The next chapter of the modern-day rivalry is set to be written

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Joe Pignataro

Set yourselves folks. This is going to be one wild ride in the run to September. 

A rare occurrence to have a bye with a fortnight to run in the home and away season. For those impatient operators amongst us it’s made this weekend coming seem like forever away when the final siren rang out to conclude round 16. 

The biggest modern-day rivalry is the headline act this weekend; St Kevin’s and Collegians

Collegians have been the form side right throughout the 2023 home and away season. Their round 18 game against Old Scotch to come, the finals have started early for the ladder leaders. 

St Kevin’s are working back towards their giant-killing best. After a shock loss to University Blues, the return to form has been emphatic from the reigning Premiers. 

Scoring against St Kevin’s has always been tough, the last three matches they have strangled the opposition (Keeping them to 16 goals collectively). Collegians, the only team in 2023 to breakthrough to record triple figures when they last met in round seven. 

Will the King Kenny and his trusty monarch of Jim Bazzani, Beary Mayhood along with the two Sam’s, Hibbins and Sofrinidis dethrone the Kings of the TH King on Saturday? 

It’s been seven years since the Lions walked off the TH King Oval in triumph, a nine point win on that day. It was the first match of 18 in a storied rivalry since St Kevin’s rejoined the Premier ranks in 2016. 

Since then, five games have been decided by nine points or less. Five finals overall with St Kevin’s holding a 4-1 lead. And of course, who could forget the thrilling Grand Finals in 2017 and 2018. Both finishing under a kick. Both falling the way of SKOB. 

Apologies for the heartbreaking reminder Heriot and Co. You’re welcome, St Kevin’s. 

Despite the Cardinals in between these two sides. This has all the makings of another Grand Final preview in 2023, and we’ll have the action unfolding in front of our eyes on RSN Xtra2 from 1:00pm. 

This column a fortnight ago forecast the winner of Old Scotch and St Kevin’s as the team that would finish in second spot. St Kevin’s won that day, but the Cardinals have been able to maintain a 7% gap on SKOB to sit in the spot that holds a double chance in September. 

If they want to remain there heading into Round 18, they must win big this weekend against the Caulfield Grammarians. Nothing is a given in footy, Mark Gnatt’s men can’t afford to assume this will be a walk through the park. 

Shown up a fortnight ago against one of the competition benchmarks, they returned to the winners list against University Blacks. It will be a selection juggle for the Cardinals forward line with North Melbourne participating in the VFL’s wildcard weekend. 

James Tarrant, started the year in a blaze of glory, has been well held in the last month. Just the four majors from the four matches. He is one who is capable of lifting with only a few touches of the football. Likewise Henry Brown, three goals from his past five matches. 

Caulfield’s reserves coach Jono Nash joined the VAFA’s For the Love of the Game podcast this week, chatting through the plight of the 2023 season. A senior side made up of a majority of under 19 players who’ve fought out of their division, but never given up. Bluey McKenna has “never coached better” according to Nash. 

The Fields may have drawn some inspiration from Bluey’s former life as a West Coast Eagles premiership player over the bye weekend. While the Eagles skittled the Bulldogs, perhaps Bluey can harness that spirit as the Fields attempt to skittle the Cardinals. 

It’s a curious case at University Blues. They went into their Round 16 match against the Old Xaverians in second spot, they walked off the ground in fourth. 

Old Melburnians are fighting for their William Buck Premier footballing lives. A fortnight ago they gave themselves a pulse with Port Melbourne releasing Tom Cameron and Dylan Clarke. Now that the VFL season for the Borough is over, the same could happen again. 

Gus Borthwick has had two weeks to rest after his return game. He too could come back into Paul Satterley’s side. 

Ed Ziebath returned in Round 16. Dane Crognale will miss. The Blues midfield is lesser without the chest from the west. He would have relished the head-to-head battle with Ben Harding. 

This is a must win contest for Blues, as it is for OM’s. Blues can ensure they’ll see September action and eliminate the Old Brighton dream of a miracle finals entry should they keep winning. OM’s can leapfrog Old Haileybury with one round to go which will go a long way to avoiding relegation.

Despite the recent head-to-head battle leaning the way of University Blues, the two sides are evenly matched around the ground. This is a contest worth watching if you’re in the Parkville area. 

Old Brighton will have slight interest in what’s happening in the aforementioned match. They will want to tick the box against University Blacks if they want to keep the dream alive. 

It’s not a given that the box will be ticked. University Blacks have been more than acceptable in the second half of the season. A worthy opponent, and challenger in 2023. They have provided much entertainment, much discussion and conversation right throughout the home and away season. 

Josh Steadman is probably getting tired of the attention he receives from this column. Campbell Moorfield, through his own tireless work in defence has had an exceptional year. Highlighted by his VFL debut for Coburg on Saturday during the bye round. 

He will now become the enemy of his Lions teammate in Max Kennedy. Expect those two to be available this week, as well as Pat Fairlie for Blacks (Northern Bullants), and Tom Blamires and Darby Hipwell (Sandringham Zebras) for Brighton.

The Tonners were the first to face Blacks as they returned to William Buck Premier in the season opener. This will be a much different approach to the contest from Dale Bower’s men who genuinely feel like they belong in the VAFA’s top flight. 

Blacks can assist their rivals Uni Blues in ending the season for the Tonners with a win against the odds at Brighton Beach Oval. 

Old Haileybury, like Old Melburnians are fighting for the opportunity to remain in William Buck Premier in 2024. 

The Old Xaverians never have been, and never will be an easy-beat. Particularly off the back of the club’s best performance of the season a fortnight ago. While the paranoia had set in about the potential of being relegated to Premier B because it was mathematically a chance, the 22 men that ran out in Round 16 shut those discussions down with a complete performance. 

Expect more of the same from Alec Sprajla and Jack Boyd. Marcus Stavrou, Dan Robinson and the smooth moving Denis Symeopoulos. Michael Batten provided the forward line spark that’s been there in fits and spurts throughout the year. 

Footscray have a pre-finals bye, will Charlie MacIsaac be cleared to play? The Big V hero could be the difference between these two sides come 5pm. 

Apart from a couple of blow outs, Old Haileybury have been competitive, and strong in their return to William Buck Premier. 

Respect has been the word put on the agenda early in the season by Daniel Ward. It’s an intangible KPI, but the feedback from opposition clubs, coaches and players all echo the sentiments, it’s a term they’ve earned for their output this year. 

Old Haileybury starred in the 2022 Premier B finals series, an all-time classic victory against Fitzroy, a thumping Preliminary Final win over Beaumaris and the grittiest and gutsiest of Grand Final triumphs in trying conditions. It wouldn’t surprise anyone if the Bloods harnessed the energy and spirit of September from 12 months ago in this final fortnight to stay up in William Buck Premier for 2024. 

This weekend can’t come quick enough. The penultimate round of the year. There’s 10 games remaining in the home and away season. 14 games left for 2023. 

Every game has something riding on it. Each club knows what they need to do. The destiny is in each club’s hands, and I can’t wait to see who puts their name in lights and takes it by the scruff of the neck this Saturday.