After recording the greatest winning margin in an NTFL Men’s Premier League Preliminary Final, Southern Districts will march into Saturday’s Grand Final, in the hopes of going back-to-back.
But standing in their way is minor premiers Nightcliff, who are intent of breaking a 54-year premiership drought.
The pinnacle of the 2018/19 TIO NTFL season between Nightcliff and Southern Districts is going to be a big one and has been set for 7:15pm at TIO Stadium on Saturday 16 March 2019.
The two teams have never met before in a Men’s Premier League Grand Final, so when it comes to the history books, new pages have already been written.
As far as this season’s form goes, the teams only played each other on two occasions. The first game was Round 6 at TIO Stadium in a top-of-the-ladder clash. In slippery conditions, it took until the last quarter for the Crocs to work their way on top in the middle and in conjunction with more than double the Tigers’ inside 50 entries they ran away with a 17-point win.
In the highly anticipated Round 18 clash, Nightcliff took full advantage of its home ground advantage, a 12-goal-to-one second-half gifting the Tigers an emphatic 90-point victory and sealing first place on the ladder.
As far as the teams go, Shannon Rusca has driven his Crocs through two do-or-die finals against Waratah and the Tiwi Bombers using the same 22 players. Comparing the names on that list to the Southern Districts team that faced Nightcliff in Round 18 and there are eight different players. Most notably the inclusions over the past two weeks have been Crocs’ premiership players Ed Barlow, Jared Brennan, Tim Brook, Dylan McLachlan and Zac Smith. There were also ruckman, Seb Guilhaus and experienced forward Shane Thorne, plus the much-improved and Division 1 turned Premier League goer, Steven Stewart.
On the other hand, under Chris Baksh Nightcliff has been a consistent outfit over the past few weeks. Only two changes have been made to the team that first triumphed over Southern Districts back in Round 18 and then demolished the Tiwi Bombers by 90 points in the Qualifying Final last week; Jess Budarick and Caleb Walker came in for Beau Black and Kaine Riley. And as the Tigers have already proven, a week off playing footy will not do their chances any harm.
It’s going to be a busy day for Nightcliff fans, with the club involved in five of the eight finals on Saturday. And it follows the two premierships that the Tigers already won in the Under 12 competitions.
In the Men’s Division 1 Grand Final, the battle of the season’s two best teams will be played at 4:45pm on TIO Stadium.
After only dropping one game all season, Banks will go into its clash against Nightcliff as the favourite. But when the two teams met earlier this season, they were close enough to give the Tigers faithful some hope. In Round 8 the Bulldogs won by 30 points, but in Round 14 it was only 14 points.
In the nine seasons since the Division 1 competition officially became part of the NTFL, Banks has played in six grand finals and won two of them. This Saturday will be their seventh appearance and gives them a shot at redemption after the loss in last season’s decider. The Tigers have never played in a Division 1 premiership since the TEAFA merged with the NTFL back in 2010/11.
The Under 18 Boys Grand Final set for 2:15pm on Saturday will also feature Nightcliff after the Tigers downed St Mary’s yesterday with a big second half.
They come up against a hot Wanderers outfit, who boasts the division’s best and fairest player, Caleb Niki and the leading goalkicker, Mark White amongst many of the Premier League’s rising stars, like Joel Jeffrey and Beau O’Connell. The Eagles are also last season’s Under 18 Boys premiers and jumped into the grand final off the back of a solid 33-point semi final victory over the Tigers.
Nightcliff has plenty of its own young guns though; Wade Derksen and Marly McGregor were particularly impressive in the recent encounter against Wanderers, and the team also knows it is capable of upsetting the Eagles, having beaten them both times during the season. The club also has a rich history in this age group, winning three premierships in a row between 2014 and 2016.
The Men’s Division 2 premiership will be the first of the senior divisions to get underway at 11:45am on Saturday when the St Mary’s Sharks play Banks.
With the Spartans making an unusual straight-sets exit from the finals, the opportunity is there for the Sharks, who finished the season in second place, or for the Bulldogs who have gone from fifth spot to win three sudden-death finals to make the grand final.
The Bulldogs will have their work cut out for them though, having already lost to St Mary’s by 51-points and 90-points earlier this season. Will the Saints reap the benefits of their Mindil Sharks merger only two seasons in, or can the Banks fairytale ride continue?
The Under 16 Hickman Grand Final will see another St Mary’s side in action when this season’s unbeaten youngsters come up against Palmerston in the 9:30am decider.
In the three instances the two teams met during the home and away season the Saints scored an impressive average of 66-points, where Palmerston’s average is 39 points.
The Under 16 Leverence Grand Final will see Districts Black take on Nightcliff Black at 1:30pm on TIO Oval 2.
Despite finishing in fifth (second last) on the ladder, the Crocs caused a bit of an upset with a one-point victory over St Mary’s in yesterday’s semi final. The Tigers, on the other hand, finished the season on top but two of the three games they lost this season were against this weekend’s opposition. This one is hard to predict!
The Under 14 Gudersen Grand final paints a similar picture, with fifth-placed St Mary’s finding great form in the business end of the season to go into this Saturday’s game against Crocs Red as the highest qualifier.
The Crocs finished the home and away games in first position and deservedly so after winning all 12 of its games, including two big victories against the Saints.
While in Under 14 Lew Fatt, the two best teams have made it to the final game of the season. Wanderers and Nightcliff will meet for the second time in a fortnight after the Eagles downed the Tigers in the first final.
And even though Wanderers also enjoyed 90-point and 111-point wins over Nightcliff in the previous two games, the Tigers were the leaders of the pack.
The 2018/19 TIO NTFL grand finals to be played on Saturday 16 March:
Men’s Premier League Grand Final
Nightcliff vs Southern Districts
Men’s Division 1 Grand Final
Banks vs Nightcliff
U18 Boys Grand Final
Wanderers vs Nightcliff
Men’s Divison 2 Grand Final
St Mary’s Sharks vs Banks
Under 16 Hickman Grand Final
St Mary’s 1 vs Palmerston Magpies 1
Under 16 Leverence Grand Final
TIO Oval 2
Districts Black vs Nightcliff Black
Under 14 Gundersen Grand Final
TIO Oval 2
St Mary’s vs Crocs Red
Under 14 Lew Fatt Grand Final
TIO Oval 2
Wanderers vs Nightcliff 2