PREVIEWS | Sydney Shield Finals Week 1

It’s been a long season, but the 2016 Sydney Shield Finals Series has finally arrived. With Mounties, Peninsula, St Marys, Belrose, East Campbelltown, Guildford, Wentworthville and Cabramatta all lining up at the pointy end of the season, the stage is set for an explosive month of Rugby League.

As with all three senior grades, Mounties are undoubtedly the team to beat; 2016 has seen them achieve the incredible feat of all three Minor Premierships. A hiccup two weeks ago may have the Belrose Eagles hopeful of an upset, while only a Round 24 forfeit could bring the Peninsula Seagulls’ 10-game winning streak undone and they are certainly capable of challenging for the title.

With the top four considerably more consistent than the bottom four throughout 2016, complacency may also be an issue in weeks to come.

East Campbelltown Eagles (5th) v Cabramatta Two Blues (8th) – Elimination Final
Campbelltown Stadium, Sunday 4 September
10am

Previous meetings: East Campbelltown 10 def Cabramatta 8 (Round 15)

After starting the season strongly with four wins from five starts, the Eagles looked to be much improved from the 6th-placed 2015 outfit – followed up by a five-game losing streak, however, they were brought down to earth and would be made to fight for a finals place. A two-point win over Guildford in Round 14 reignited their season, with the same margin earning them a victory the next week against Cabramatta. East Campbelltown have now won 11 of their past 12 encounters – their only loss came at the hands of Minor Premiers Mounties – and finished one position higher than last year’s effort. The Eagles could truly be a dark horse in 2016, but first must win their Elimination Final – a fixture they lost last season.

 “Just now before the finals the team is doing good so I think we’ll do good,” Bablon told NSWRL.com.au. “Some players came back, we worked hard and the team has played good before the finals.”

Cabramatta have had an entirely different season to their Sunday opponents, managing just eight wins across the 22 rounds but beating out Windsor, Western Suburbs, Auburn, Hills and Blacktown for eighth position. The Two Blues are by far and away the underdogs in the 2016 Finals Series, but having played sudden-death football for the past fortnight and won, they will be expected to handle the added pressure this week. Zac Wedesweiler remained optimistic that his side could prove some people wrong in Finals Week 1.

“We’ve been playing sudden-death football the past couple of weeks as is, so we’ve already had that Semi-Finals taste,” Wedesweiler said. “We feel as though we can actually push forward and give these finals a bit of a shake-up.

“East Campbelltown, they’re a tough team. We look forward to playing this week.”

Guildford Owls (6th) v Wentworthville Magpies (7th) – Elimination Final
St Marys Leagues Stadium, Sunday 4 September
12pm

Previous meetings: Guildford 44 def Wentworthville 36 (Round 4); Guildford 38 def Wentworthville 36 (Round 18)

Guildford head into their Elimination Final on the back of an impressive run of form this season; they have been victorious in five of their last seven meetings, although that included a forfeit win over Mounties a fortnight ago. The Owls began their season in similar fashion – five wins from their opening seven games – before dropping off somewhat in the season’s middle period. They haven’t quite displayed the consistency of the top four teams in 2016, but on their day can certainly challenge anyone. Two narrow wins over Wentworthville so far this season will give them some confidence, but it is a new competition come finals time.

The Magpies finish with one fewer victory than the Owls, but it has been more difficult to get a read on them this year.  They strung six wins together back in April and May which had them well and truly in contention for top spot after 13 rounds, before being put in their place by Mounties the following week. A solid run into the finals has Keehan Diamond feeling confident about his side’s chances in September.

“Whenever you get to finals football it’s always different from the season past,” Diamond said. “Hopefully all the boys turn up to play for each other.

“Being two local teams in Parramatta, I think it should be good, the boys will be ready and I’m sure Guildford will be ready as well. At the end of the day, we’re up to finals footy.”

Peninsula Seagulls (2nd) v St Marys Saints (3rd) – Qualifying Final
Campbelltown Stadium, Sunday 4 September
12pm

Previous meetings: Peninsula 34 def St Marys 14 (Round 2); Peninusla 26 def St Marys 22 (Round 19)

Peninsula have played like a second-placed side should this year and despite winning just one more game than their Sunday opponents, will be considered favourites for this match. The Seagulls had won 10-straight leading into last week’s game against the Belrose Eagles, which with no bearing on their final placing, they forfeited. The streak is officially over, but Peninsula will arrive at Campbelltown Stadium refreshed and ready to make it three wins over St Marys this year.

The Saints have been relatively consistent this year and while they have failed to beat either Peninsular or Mounties, they measure up to the Seagulls as a slightly better attacking but slightly poorer defensive outfit. Narrow losses to Peninsula and Wentworthville are all the only minor hurdles St Marys has had in the back end of the season, but will need to be at their best to win and book a spot in the Preliminary Finals.

Mounties (1st) v Belrose Eagles (4th) – Qualifying Final
Campbelltown Stadium, Sunday 4 September
2pm

Previous meetings: Belrose 28 def Mounties 20 (Round 2); Mounties 58 def Belrose 12 (Round 19)

The second Qualifying Final, also taking place in Leumeah, could be the most intriguing match-up of the weekend; the Eagles are the only team to legitimately defeat Mounties in 2016, although that came back in Round 2. Mounties, of course, will still be huge favourites for this game – with a points differential of 668, just the one loss and a forfeit loss to their name, they have dominated any in their path this year – but the Eagles are certain to lift in a bid to unseat the Minor Premiers.

Belrose had put four wins together leading into last week and following the forfeit Round 24 win over Peninsula, will be fresh ahead of what will be their toughest ask of 2016. Key to victory will of course be shutting down Mounties’ Maika Sivo – the winger finishes leading tryscorer with an incredible 35 four-pointers – but the Eagles will also need to worry about half and fullback Jake Horton, who has himself scored 19 tries. For the Eagles, fullback Chrisitan Bate is their main strike weapon and will hope to be on song on Sunday. It will be a major upset if Belrose can come away with victory, but they will be determined to prove themselves and earn a week off.