Whittlesea and Eltham lock horns in the A Plus Labour Solutions Division 2 preliminary final for the right to tackle Banyule in the premiership decider.
Both sides were tipped as premiership contenders before the 2019 campaign began, but only one can advance through to big dance and both sides have the form to do so.
Whittlesea had been on a nine-game winning streak prior to its seven-point loss to Banyule in the second semi-final last weekend.
The match was hotly contested throughout, with the Eagles responding to an early three-goal deficit to hit the front for the first time midway through the last term – only to be denied by two late goals by the Bears.
While the final result didn’t go their way, Whittlesea lost no fans and their effort in the loss couldn’t be questioned. They had an even spread of good performers, headed by Jaron Murphy, Brody Bell and Paul Higgins.
If the Eagles can get through the preliminary final, they will have surely gained belief from last weekend’s game that they can reverse the result against Banyule on the biggest stage of all.
Eltham has now won its past four matches, which includes pulling off a 18-point win over Thomastown in the knockout first semi final to extend their season.
The Panthers opened the game up with a four-goal to one first quarter and led by as much as 36 points in the third term. However, they had to ward off a Thomastown revival – with the Bears closing within two points, before the Panthers rallied with the last two goals.
Adam Oxley returned from Collingwood VFL commitments and played a starring role, while Matthew Williamson and Marcus Cantwell were also pivotal in advancing their side to the second week of the finals.
It’s almost impossible to tip a favourite heading into this week’s encounter, with very little separating the sides when looking at their performance throughout the season.
Their head-to-head clashes have also been decided by small margins, with the Eagles winning the most recent encounter in Round 10 by just four points, while Eltham came from behind to claim a 14-point win at Eltham Central Park in Round 3.
Their most recent meeting was a low-scoring affair on a waterlogged Whittlesea Showgrounds, with just six goals kicked for the day. The Eagles were triumphant as they overturned a seven-point three-quarter time deficit with a 2.5 to zero final term.
It’s hard to take too much away from that game given the difficult conditions, however it was a vital win of the Eagles at the time – cementing their place inside the top-four and proving to be the second win in their nine-game unbeaten streak.
Rain is expected late in the week and also on match day, which may make for somewhat of a similar game in the preliminary final.
The Round 3 match at Eltham Central Park was also a close affair and was a reverse of what happened in Round 10.
It was the Panthers who had to overcome a 15-point three-quarter time deficit before a dominant six-goal to one final quarter saw them prevail by 14 points. Darcy Vallance and Anton Woods excelled, while young forward Jesse King made his mark with three goals.
Whittlesea will be aiming to keep alive its streak of earning promotion immediately after being relegated from Meadows Greyhounds Division 1, while the Panthers will be hoping to earn another shot at the grand final after last year’s heartbreaking defeat.
One thing that works in the favour of both Whittlesea and Eltham is the fact that five of the past six A Plus Solutions Division 2 premiers have come through the preliminary final.
13 wins – 4 losses
Points For – 1428, Average For – 84
Points Against – 980, Average Against – 58
Average Winning Margin – 42
Average Losing Margin – 24
Leading Goal Kicker – Jaron Murphy and Nicholas Pupillo (20)
Most Times in Best – Nathan Stefanile (8)
12 wins – 5 losses
Points For – 1384, Average For – 81
Points Against – 975, Average Against – 57
Average Winning Margin – 46
Average Losing Margin – 30
Leading Goal Kicker – Michael Still (46)
Most Times in Best – Brent Macaffer (12)
HEAD TO HEAD IN 2019
Round 10: Whittlesea 3.8 (26) def Eltham 3.4 (22)
Goal Kickers: C. Bland, M. Andrews, C. McCabe
Best Players: M. Dyson, C. McCabe, M. Atta, N. Stefanile, B. Watson, M. Andrews
Goal Kickers: N. Reibelt, J. King, S. Currie
Best Players: G. Connelly, M. Keys, D. Vallance, S. Currie, A. Woods, J. King
Round 3: Eltham 12.12 (84) def Whittlesea 10.10 (70)
Goal Kickers: J. King 3, M. Williamson 3, M. Still 2, B. Macaffer, D. Vallance, L. Glasgow, J. Freeman
Best Players: D. Vallance, A. Woods, B. Montanaro, M. Keys, J. King, K. O’Sullivan
Goal Kickers: J. Dyson 3, J. Murphy 2, S. Indian , T. Falls, X. Dimasi, P. Higgins, B. Watson
Best Players: X. Dimasi, J. Murphy, J. Dyson, N. Stefanile, B. Watson, B. Fitzgerald