Article and Photos by Michael Shillito

There’s few more pleasant places to be on a sunny Sunday afternoon than Drummoyne Oval, the picturesque home of the Balmain Dockers. The ground has spectacular views overlooking Five Dock Bay and Parramatta River. But there are two changes to the Drummoyne Oval experience this season – a new pavilion at the northern end, and a vastly improved home team that has gone from the lower reaches of the ladder in recent seasons to a share of the competition lead in 2011.
On Sunday, the Dockers played host to St George. Wet weather during the week had made the centre wicket area heavy, with the centre square being moved out wide at the eastern end. The Dockers won the toss and kicked to the Lyons Road end in the first term, a quarter in which they threatened to seize control of the game; but were thwarted by a determined effort by the Dragons which kept the game in the balance until the closing stages.
The Dockers took the lead in the second minute, with a mark and goal by Jason Saddington, and would not relinquish the lead for the remainder of the afternoon. It was the first of six goals in the first quarter by the Dockers, who were looking quicker and presenting more attacking options than their Dragon counterparts. With a score of six goals to one at the 20 minute mark, the Dockers were looking in complete control, and even with Steven Wilsen dribbling a goal through for the Dragons during time-on, the quarter time margin of 23 points suggested the Dockers were looking comfortable.
But whatever Dragon mentor Terry Mudge said to his charges during his quarter time address had the desired effect, as the Dragons burst to life after quarter time and slowly but surely worked their way back into the contest. The Dragons began to pick up more contested possessions, and with a return of four goals to one in the second quarter cut the lead to seven points at the long break.

The premiership quarter was an arm-wrestle, a battle for supremacy. It began with Joel Bates being left unattended in the square to mark and goal, only for Jon Shineberg to lead out to mark and post an instant reply. Two Dragon behinds later, the margin was back to five points, less than a kick in it. And that’s how the scores would remain for eight tension-filled minutes.
From end to end the ball travelled, but the forwards were well held. The Dragons, looking to snatch the lead for the first time, tried to create chances but tried in vain. And eventually it would be the Dockers who would break the deadlock, with Jason Saddington marking and goaling from 40 metres out on a slight angle.
Invigorated by the goal, the Dockers got the centre break and took it forward where Saddington marked in the identical spot to his last kick; but this time he didn’t make the distance. And it would be the Dragons who would be next to score a goal, with Chris Ogle playing on from the pocket and dribbling it through; and the margin was seven points in favour of the Dockers as the clock ticked into time-on.
But the red time would leave St George’s hopes in the red, as the Dockers added three late goals. Andrew Clark positioned himself perfectly to outmark two Dragon opponents 30 metres from goal and put the shot through. Matt Edwins marked within easy goal-scoring range to add another. And when Edwins set up Saddington and the former Swan put his fourth goal through, the Dockers took a 27-point advantage into the three-quarter time break.
The Balmain burst at the end of the third quarter appeared to be decisive, and worse was to come for the Dragons. The Dockers got the centre break to start the final quarter and moved the ball forward for a point. But the St George kick-in was a front-foot no-ball, and the umpire called for a bounce. The call was met with back-chat from the Dragon defence, and Bates was paid a free kick at the edge of the square which was converted into the easiest of goals.

The Dockers were 34 points ahead, and it would have been easy for the Dragons to drop their heads and go through the motions. But the Dragons had other ideas, and ten minutes later after a four goal burst, they were back within two kicks. Daniel Napper and Dylan Addison converted set shots from very tight angles near the scoreboard. Experienced Dragon Declan Donohue, who was again a tower of strength for the Dragons all day, shrugged a tackle in the last possible split-second before he would have been pinged for holding the ball then set up Ben Jones. And suddenly the margin was back to 10 points, and the Dragons were still alive.
But St George hopes of stealing the game were not to be, as the Dockers steadied; and late goals by Matt Edwins and Ash Azhar put the issue beyond doubt. It had been a brave fight by St George, but thanks to Balmain’s strong start they were always in front and the pressures of playing catch-up footy all afternoon was just too great for the Dragons to handle.
Jason Saddington scored four goals for the Dockers, while Jerome Farrell, Travis Stevens and Daniel Turner were among their best. St George found Steven Wilsen, Alex Wynn and Tim Addison solid performers throughout the afternoon. The 23-point win for the Dockers gives them a share of the competition lead, but leaves the Dragons in eighth position, a game outside the top five with a poor percentage.

At the Village Green on Saturday afternoon, East Coast extended their winning streak to 8 games, with all 8 of them being by a margin of over 10 goals. This time it was UNSW-ES who were at the wrong end of the Eagle juggernaut, with the Eagles dominating from the start to record an 80-point victory.
The Eagles wasted no time in asserting themselves, with a run of eight goals to two in the first quarter to lead by 37 points at the first change. But the Eagles’ kicking radar deserted them in the second quarter, and despite dominating around the ground by even more, kicked 2.11 for the quarter; leading by 43 points at the long break when they could have led by even more.
But when the premiership quarter got under way, the Eagles again found their way between the big sticks, and with seven goals to three the margin was over 10 goals at the last change; and the fate of the game was sealed.
The Vlatko show was again on display, with Jamie Vlatko contributing four goals while Jon was best on ground. Jack Dimery and Kieran McRedmond were also prominent for the Eagles. Max Collett, Tim Garrett and Ryan Pert were among UNSW-ES’s best. But the Bulldogs were never a chance to repel the rampant Eagles, who sit top of the ladder with an imposing percentage, and the odds of a premiership three-peat are getting shorter.

The hosting rights for Sydney Uni and North Shore’s match on Saturday were a roller-coaster. On Thursday, Sydney Uni No 1 was closed and the match transferred to Gore Hill. Then on Friday, the university ground, although a heavy track, was re-opened and the match moved back. But the home ground advantage didn’t help Sydney Uni, as the determined Bombers upset the high-flying Students by 47 points.
North Shore came out firing, but were their own worst enemy during the first quarter, hitting the post four times. The second quarter was a slog, a hard-tackling and tough contest. But there were Bombers at the bottom of every pack, emerging with dirty jumpers after their sustained effort in the mud, as the Bombers took a 14-point lead at the long break.
The Students threw everything at the Bombers in the premiership quarter, but the Bombers had the answers and a quick reply to every Sydney Uni goal. And when the Bombers had won the quarter, an upset was scented; and the Bombers went on with the job in the final quarter.
Pat Brackin was a focal point up forward for the Bombers with four goals. The Fitzgerald brothers, Dale and Brendan, along with Jason Harry, were among North Shore’s best. The Students were well served by Nick Roberts, Sam Sloane and Tim Barrett. Since Sydney Uni’s re-admission to Premier Division, they have never beaten North Shore at Sydney Uni No 1; but this was an important win for the Bombers, seeing them re-enter the top 5 and showing they have what it takes to compete with the top sides.

Illawarra continued their improved season, and delivered another chapter in Wests’ tale of misery, when the Lions out-lasted the Magpies to record a 13-point win under lights at North Dalton Oval on Saturday night. Greasy conditions made ball-handling difficult, but the Lions started well to lead by 9 points at the first change before the Magpies fought back to cut the margin to two points at the long break.
The second half was an arm-wrestle, a battle of attrition and changing momentum. The lead changed hands several times, with the Magpies holding the advantage by six points at the last change. But when the game was in the balance, it was the Lions who stood up and were counted, pulling away in the final minutes of the game to record a well-earned win.
On a low-scoring evening, Ryan Price scored four valuable goals; while Jeremy Daniher, Richard Oehme and Michael Toussis were key ball-winners for the Lions. Clinton McGrath, David Cusick and Bill Lafferty were among Wests’ best. The win was Illawarra’s fifth, their best return since entering Premier Division in 2005, and keeps alive their run for their first finals appearance in the top flight. But it was a disappointing evening for Wests, who still find themselves winless since Round 2.

UTS broke through for their first win in Premier Division when the Bats took out a 24-point win over Campbelltown at Henson Park on Sunday afternoon.
The first half was evenly contested, as the Bats and the Blues players worked hard in the hope of securing their team’s first win for 2011. It was all tied up at quarter time, and the Bats led by six points at half time. But the Bats then made a breakaway during a low-scoring third quarter, scoring three of the four goals scored for the quarter to extend their lead to 15 points at the last change.
The Blues were forced to throw caution to the wind and attack more in the final quarter, and did manage three goals; but left themselves vulnerable to the attacking Bats, who would go on to win the final quarter and make sure of victory.
Andrew Davis was a star up forward for the Bats with five goals, while Hamish Turner, Luke Trimboli and Henry McGregor were among their best. Nels Williams worked hard for the Blues, and with six goals was easily their best, while Dave Linsen and Mark Leach also worked hard. It’s taken until now to happen, but finally the Bats have achieved a win at the highest level in Sydney, and with the lessons they’ve learned in their first season in top flight, they’ll be confident of not having to wait as long for win number two. But it was another dreadful day for Campbelltown, decimated by injury and struggling with form and confidence in what has been a 2011 to forget.

This weekend brings up the half-way point of the season. The ladder at this point in time seems to be fragmented into three sections.
Three teams, East Coast, Balmain and Sydney Uni, have broken away from the rest, and unless some major calamity strikes, those three look set to compete in this year’s finals. East Coast have the best percentage of those three, while Sydney Uni’s loss sees them one game behind the Eagles and Dockers.
Following them is a two-game gap before a chasing group of five teams competing for the remaining two finals positions. North Shore and Pennant Hills have a game in hand compared to UNSW-ES, and two games in hand compared to Illawarra; while St George are a game behind but still in the running.
There’s another big gap before the bottom three; Wests, UTS and Campbelltown. Although it’s still mathematically possible for those three teams to make the finals, they’ll need to get a long winning streak together to get back into the running for the finals.

Premier Division will take a week off over the long weekend, although there will be catch-up matches in the other divisions after games were postponed during the wet weather. This column will also take a break over the long weekend, and we'll be back for Round 11.

Balmain 6.1 7.3 12.7 15.11 (101)
St George 2.2 6.2 8.4 12.6 (78)
Goals : Balmain –
J Saddington 4, M Edwins 3, A Clark 2, J Bates 2, J Farrell, A Azhar, B Jones, A Mitchell. St George – J Shineberg 2, C Ogle 2, B Sharp 2, S Wilsen, K Donohue, D Napper, D Donohue, B Addison, B Jones.
Best : Balmain – J Farrell, T Stevens, D Turner, B Taggart, D Brain. St George – S Wilsen, A Wynn, T Addison, D Donohue, B McEvoy, B Sharp.
At Drummoyne Oval, Sunday 5th June 2011.

East Coast Eagles 8.3 10.14 17.19 22.22 (154)
Uni of NSW-Eastern Suburbs 2.5 4.7 7.10 10.14 (74)
Goals : East Coast –
Jamie Vlatko 4, A Moeller 3, S Doyle 3, S O’Connor 3, Jon Vlatko 2, D Spiteri 2, K McRedmond 2, M Maher, B Rogers, B Ure. UNSW-ES – M Collett , T Widmer 2, A Robson 2, R Pert, B Elleman, P Stokes.
Best : East Coast – Jon Vlatko, J Dimery, K McRedmond, S O’Connor, M Maher, Jamie Vlatko. UNSW-ES – M Collett, T Garrett, R Pert, O Sidlo-Jones, A Robson, T Widmer.
At Village Green, Saturday 4th June 2011.

North Shore 3.5 5.8 9.11 15.14 (104)
Sydney University 2.4 3.6 6.9 8.9 (57)
Goals : North Shore –
P Brackin 4, S Paynter 2, P Codling 2, L Clancy 2, B Attwood, B Oliver, Z Manley, T Strudwick, R Pryor. Sydney Uni – C Kendrick 2, A Campbell, P Dugmore, C Clarebrough, M Rigby, J Cole, N Lye.
Best : North Shore – D Fitzgerald, J Harry, B Fitzgerald, Z Manley, P Codling, D Ross. Sydney Uni – N Roberts, S Sloane, T Barrett, P Dugmore, T Barton, N Lye.
At Sydney Uni No 1 Oval, Saturday 4th June 2011.

Illawarra 3.5 5.5 7.8 12.10 (82)
Western Suburbs 2.2 5.3 8.8 10.9 (69)
Goals : Illawarra –
R Price 4, K Ewen-Chappell 2, J Daniher 2, M Toussis, R Cutifani, R Wells, A Barned. Wests – M Eurell 3, T Bignell 2, S Hudson, S Lear, S Pearson, C Drum, R Miller.
Best : Illawarra – J Daniher, R Oehme, M Toussis, B Hanson, D Goodley, R Wells. Wests – C McGrath, D Cusick, B Lafferty, R Barrett, K Walford, J O’Donoghue.
At North Dalton Oval, Saturday 4th June 2011.

University of Technology 4.3 7.5 10.6 14.9 (93)
Campbelltown 4.3 6.5 7.9 10.9 (69)
Goals : UTS –
A Davis 5, J Spragg 3, S Way 2, S Fitzgerald, L Trimboli, T Nixon, J Caica. Campbelltown – N Williams 6, B Martin, D Linsen, B Wharton, M Linsen.
Best : UTS – H Turner, L Trimboli, H McGregor, A Morley, I Irvin, A Davis. Campbelltown – N Williams, D Linsen, M Leach, M Scully, M Linsen, K Hanson.
At Henson Park, Sunday 5th June 2011.

East Coast
Sydney Uni
North Shore
Pennant Hills

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