Football: A Preview

A League/European Premier League

Excitingly we see both competitions shaping up for frantic finishes. Locally, the Central Coast Mariners have set the standard for this year’s season and have all but confirmed their crown as minor premiers of the competition.

Our north coast rivals will be firm favourites heading in to the semi finals but could find themselves distracted with news emerging of coach Graham Arnold heading south to coach Sydney FC next year. The Sky Blues also find themselves sneaking into the semis with a nervy 3-2 win over the Newcastle Jets and though it’s been an under-par season, the locals are conveniently hitting form at just the right time.

Meanwhile, it’s been beyond a disaster year for Gold Coast United. With their average attendance being roughly 1,000 and only four wins from 27 matches, decisions on whether the club will even exist next year is now in the hands of Australia’s richest football enthusiasts. If someone decides to gamble on the club we’ll see it bounce back but it’s not looking great.

Over in England we see Manchester’s finest battling it out for glory. The title race, that not long ago included Tottenham Hotspur, has now been reduced to the two Manchester clubs. Manchester United and Manchester City will go head to head in a few weeks which will surely determine who finishes on top.

The stage has been set for the biggest and most highly anticipated match of the season that will see one team reap the glory and the other in tatters. With both clubs already being knocked out of the Champions League, Europe League and FA Cup, it seems this will be the only shot each team has at a major trophy.

A League Final: Central Coast v Brisbane Roar
Dark Horse: Sydney FC
EPL Champions: Manchester City

AFL

Australia’s own football league has returned much to the delight of the Melbournians and Western Australians but this year’s season is all about appealing to us here in Sydney. The instalment of the competition’s second local side, the Greater Western Sydney Giants could spark the home grown game to get a stronger following locally, but if they’re to fail and finish a probable last, club membership and crowds could simply diminish as soon as the franchise began.

With their introduction we get to see how ex rugby league phenomenon Israel Folau will adapt to the code, and if his round one performance against the Swans is anything to go by, he may just be regretting the switch.

Once again we can expect the powerhouses of Melbourne to be battling it out for a top four finish. Collingwood and Hawthorn seem to be the front runners with both teams having massive depth in their respective squads. This alone could be the factor that leads them to the Grand Final with injury playing such a crucial part in the modern game.

Geelong and Carlton will stay in touch with the heavy weights and with superstars of their own as well as a wealth of experience, a top four or two finish is certainly not beyond them.

Having already won the pre season tournament, writing off the Adelaide Crows wouldn’t be the smartest move either. As opposed to previous seasons, the Crows line up with a much younger squad that is full of confidence. With no pressure on the team to surpass a top eight finish, the only way for the youthful side is up.

Grand Final: Collingwood v Hawthorn
Wooden Spoon: Greater Western Sydney
Dark Horses: Adelaide Crows

Super 15 Rugby

Super 15 rugby hits its second year of the newly formatted competition that sees five teams from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa compete for the top spot of their conference. In each country, the teams will play each other twice, both home and away, to discover whom will claim first place which results in automatic qualification to the next round. After these minor premiers have been identified, the three next teams who gained the most points from any of the three conferences also qualify to the next round!

Now that this rather over complicated layout has been explained we can get on to actually talking about this season’s expectations. In Australia, the ACT Brumbies and Queensland Reds have quickly established themselves as the teams to beat with the Waratahs closely behind. With the Reds being the 2011 overall champions and a line up that includes Wallabies captain, James Horwell, it’s hard to look past them as the eventual champions of Australia. On the other hand we have the Western Force. A team that seems to be gaining a reputation of recruiting a lot of potential talent then offloading them before they hit their peak, it’s no wonder they’re rooted to the bottom of the table with only one win from five outings. Even the latest instalment to the competition, The Melbourne Rebels, have found some momentum with star youngster James O’Connor leading the pack.

Meanwhile in New Zealand, the always damaging Crusaders find themselves in 4th position after a disappointing start. No doubting we’ll see them qualify for the next round though.

In South Africa the 2010 overall champions The Bulls are living up to their expectation being only one point behind league leaders, The Stormers.

Grand Final: Reds v Bulls
Wooden Spoon: The Blues (NZ)
Dark Horse: The Waratahs

NRL

Another league season is upon us and so far nothing too out of the ordinary has occurred. The Canterbury Bulldogs may just have exceeded the expectation that was thrust upon them though after the inclusion of ex Manly coach Des Hasler and the recruitment of English prop James Graham. They recently suffered their first loss to maybe the only other surprise team so far this season, the Newcastle Knights. With a star studded line up and super coach Wayne Bennett at the helm, nothing but glory is going to be expected by their fans and board. This is surely putting pressure on the players and that may be the reason for their poor start.

On the other end of the ladder we have the Parramatta Eels. You would be a very brave punter to be expecting these guys to finish anywhere above last spot. With a team consisting of has beens and rookies, who obviously aren’t ready for the big league, it seems it’s going to be another long season for the blue and yellow.

All signs point towards a Melbourne Storm St George grand final as both teams find themselves with the in form squads, as well as being the most consistent performers over the past few years. When talking about the premiership though you have to mention last year’s champions, Manly, but losing their coach is surely going to hit the team hard. On top of this, with rumours emerging that their star fullback Brett Stewart is leaving at the end of the year, and a team in disarray under- achievement might just be in the making.

We can definitely expect the New Zealand Warriors and Wests Tigers to make a run for the final. Both teams have rightfully been labelled as the most exciting to watch over the past years and when they’re on they’re unbeatable, but a lack of consistency could see them fall short.

Grand Final: Melbourne Storm v St George Illawarra
Dark Horse: Penrith Panthers
Wooden Spoon: Parramatta Eels

Jacob Burkett

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