With the NAB Challenge coming to a close this weekend, most teams chose to use the hit-outs as a chance to play closer to full strength teams. As a result less international players were on show across the weekend’s matches.
Richmond’s Sudanese rookie Mabior Chol gathered another five possessions with his 87% game time in the team’s torrid encounter with Port Adelaide. Chol enjoyed his NAB Challenge, exciting Tiger fans and showing enough skill to suggest a useful AFL career is ahead of him. He still has much to learn but the signs are promising and his efforts to date will see him debut sooner rather than later.
Zach Tuohy (pictured) was his usual assured self in the Carlton defence against the Sydney Swans. His 24 possessions at an 83% disposal efficiency, including 6 rebounds from the defensive 50, showed he will again be a key part of the Blues’ defence this season.
Power Park in Gordonvale, Far North Queensland, always reverberates to the sounds of kids squealing, shouting and laughing whenever training or matches are taking place. Being one of the most picturesque football grounds in Australia with Walsh’s Pyramid towering behind the southern goal posts, watching over the town like some benevolent parent, it’s as if the kids are trying to impress and the majestic “mountain” smiles down on their happiness.
That’s on a normal day.
But when, as happened last Sunday, you add in a legend of AFL football, Adam Goodes, those squeals of delight find a higher octave – a louder and more raucous level of happiness, fun and joy.
With just five matches played over the course of the third weekend of NAB Challenge games there was less international talent on show. Maybe the tempo went up a notch, or opposition teams had put their homework into the internationals, but overall it was a quieter output across the board.
The washout of the Mackay match between the Lions and the Saints robbed fans of seeing the likes of Pearce Hanley (Brisbane) and Jason Holmes (St Kilda). A massive 200mm of rain, courtesy of ex-Tropical Cyclone Winston, fell leading up to the game forcing the AFL to abandon the match.
Perhaps the North Melbourne coaches had already put homework into Collingwood’s Mason Cox. After an impressive debut, Cox was quieter this weekend, though hardly inactive. He still managed to hurl his massive frame about Collingwood’s forward zone to collect five possessions, a couple of marks, four hitouts and five tackles to give the Kangaroos’ defenders enough anxious moments.
In a fairy tale of sorts, with eerie similarities to last season’s finals race, Wanderers have continued their charge through the second half of the NTFL season with a strong win over minor premiers Southern Districts Crocs to be the first team into this season’s grand final.
Built on the back of a remarkable run of games since the mid-season break, Wanderers now get to rest their weary bodies as the Crocs take on St Mary’s in next weekend’s Preliminary Final. When play resumed in January after the festive season break, Wanderers were a distinct chance of missing finals, whilst Southern Districts and St Mary’s appeared destined to fight out the grand final. Now one of them will miss out – a surprise in itself.
Wanderers were not shy about their intentions and hit the Crocs hard in the first quarter to take a handy two goal lead. From there they extended the lead at every break, though perhaps their final quarter was the best. Whilst kicking just three themselves, Wanderers held Crocs goalless for the quarter, totally snuffing out and hope of a Croc revival.
The North Queensland city of Mackay is ready for their inaugural AFL NAB Challenge match with a sell-out crowd predicted to watch the Brisbane Lions take on St Kilda. The game will be played at the Harrup Park Country Club. General Manager of Harrup Park, Michael Jones, is quoted on the AFL Mackay website as saying “this is the first AFL NAB Challenge match for the region and there is real buzz and excitement around it.”
Mackay scored the game after northern neighbour, Townsville, had hosted NAB Challenge games featuring the Brisbane Lions, Gold Coast Suns, North Melbourne and Geelong in recent years. Combined with the regular AFL premiership matches in Cairns of recent seasons, Townsville had been a source of big league AFL matches for North Queenslanders. This year Mackay takes over the role and has the entire city excited.
(Picture: St Kilda's David Armitage, formerly from Mackay - St Kilda FC)
Some of the international rookies or players of international origin on AFL team lists took to the field again over the weekend as the NAB Challenge matches continued. Once again there was a mixture of early excitement, breakout games and missed opportunities.
Perhaps the biggest mover was Collingwood’s Mason Cox who played his best game for the Magpies in their clash with Geelong. In what might yet be a breakout performance for the American recruit, Cox amassed seven quality possessions which yielded two goals as well as four marks, most of which were solid contested grabs. The performance has many people suggesting that Cox could well line up in Round One for the ‘Pies.
The Carlton/Essendon game saw a show of Irish talent across both teams. Zach Tuohy was amongst Carlton’s best, picking up a cool 18 possessions off half back and driving his team inside the forward 50 on many occasions. His Irish teammate, Ciaran Byrne, was also heavily involved across his limited game time with a handy nine possessions, but possibly more valuable was his constant defensive pressure whenever near the ball.
Anyone believing that the Nightcliff Tigers’ great form leading up to the finals would come unstuck as they simply made up the numbers was shocked on Saturday when they downed the Darwin Buffaloes in the NTFL Elimination Final.
The Tigers won four of their last five home and away games to finish with a wet sail. But many felt that the Darwin Buffaloes’ time had come after some years in a football wilderness and their progression deeper into the finals would come at the expense of Nightcliff.
Cairns, in Far North Queensland, has long been a source of AFL footballers that made the journey south to play the game at the highest level. But with today’s signing by the Essendon Football Club of Cairns product, Sam Michael, the connection has reached a new level.
Rarely have two Cairns based players donned the same colours. The Gold Coast Suns have seen Lewis Moss, Rex Liddy and Jarrod Harbrow wear their colours in 2011 when Harbrow joined the club, but soon after both Liddy and Moss were delisted, so the Cairns link faltered.
Other players from Cairns have graced AFL club lists in recent times with players such as Charlie Dixon (Port Adelaide) still playing, Peter Yagmoor (Collingwood) having reached the highest level before being delisted and there are plenty more waiting in the wings for their big chance.
A huge performance by Collingwood’s American forward, Mason Cox, has Magpie fans salivating and commentators speculating that he should be a certainty to line up in the team’s Round One match. His NAB Challenge performance against Geelong tonight saw him with seven possessions, four marks, including two excellent contested marks, and topped off with two goals.
What the statistics don’t tell you is how much of an absolute menace Cox was in the Collingwood forward Line. His ability to bust open packs with big leaps led directly to two more goals, and his hulking 211cm and 110kg frame put shivers through the cats’ defence. Even more impressive was that Cox spent much of the game matched up against premiership Cat, Harry Taylor.
After 18 slogging rounds, the 2015/16 NTFL season will enter the finals series next weekend with all finalists decided. In the opening match of the finals series, Darwin Buffaloes will play against the Nightcliff Tigers in the Elimination Final at TIO Stadium, followed by the Qualifying Final between last year’s two grand finalists, St Mary’s Saints and Wanderers Eagles. Ladder positions did not change after the final round, though there were still heaps of thrills.
The Friday night match between Wanderers and Nightcliff would have a bearing on the shape off the top five should Tigers lose. As it turned out, the Tigers were never going to give their place away and recorded a terrific 10 point win over Wanderers in an upset. They led at every change and the margin floated around the two to three goal mark at each break. The Tigers’ finals charge has been exciting with plenty of new talent leading the way. They will not be a pushover next weekend. For Wanderers, the loss was a reminder that any slip in concentration can be costly, especially with the finals here. They are still seeking back to back glory, and have had an outstanding second half of the season, but now the stakes are higher.
Final Score: Nightcliff Tigers 14 13 97 d Wanderers Eagles 12 15 87