The Ron Massey Cup finals are upon us and the best team will emerge on top of what has been the tightest NSWRL competition this year. With the Minor Premiership – once again taken out by Mounties – only decided last week, a number of upsets could be on the cards for the games at Windsor, St Marys and Campbelltown.
While Western Suburbs squandered their chance to finish on top of the competition last week, they will look to bounce back against Wentworthville who have finished the season with three straight losses. Mounties, on a six-game winning streak, come up against St Marys, who sit on seven. In the Elimination Finals, Concord-Burwood face off against Hills, who have enjoyed three big wins in the last month, while Auburn and Guildford play each other in another evenly-poised battle.
Western Suburbs Magpies (2nd) v Wentworthville Magpies (3rd) – Qualifying Final
Windsor Sporting Complex, Saturday 3 September
Neither Magpies side will be particularly happy with their end to the regular season, but the higher-placed Western Suburbs will have the mental edge having overcome Wentworthville just two weeks ago. It was the second of two narrow victories for Western Suburbs over Wentworthville this year, but it means little come finals time.
The second-placed Wests side has seen somewhat of a drop in dominance in the last two months; after defeating Mounties 34-8 in Round 17 – their seventh consecutive victory – the Magpies have gone on to win just three of their final six clashes to surrender what appeared to be a certain Minor Premiership.
For Wentworthville, it is an even more grim picture – they have lost their last three games to Asquith, fellow top four contender St Marys and their Saturday combatants. They do have the added advantage of a Round 24 bye, however, giving them a full two weeks to turn it around against the team they last faced. They will head into the clash at Windsor knowing exactly what they have to do to improve on their last-start effort.
Auburn Warriors (6th) v Guildford Owls (7th) – Elimination Final
St Marys Leagues Stadium, Sunday 4 September
This is a particularly intriguing contest between two teams that have been neither here nor there throughout the season. Like Wentworthville, the two sides will take part in an instant rematch this weekend, after Guildford were too good for Auburn last week.
Apart from a 56-6 thrashing at the hands of Mounties four weeks ago, the Warriors have taken it to all of the top teams this year – but have failed to come up trumps on any occasion. Auburn’s recent record includes just two wins from five games – a sub-par end to the year that is mirrored in Guildford’s latest results.
The Owls were always in the lead against the Warriors last Sunday at Lidcombe Oval, which will give them some confidence this week. Their recent losses have come against Mounties, Concord Burwood and Western Suburbs, so they have been challenged by the top sides in the run into the finals. It is a toss-of-the-coin matchup that will see one team progress and the other start organising Mad Monday.
Concord Burwood Wolves (5th) v Hills District Bulls (8th) – Elimination Final
St Marys Leagues Stadium, Sunday 4 September
Previous meetings: Hills 26 def Concord Burwood 10 (Round 15)
While on the surface, this could appear to be a simple one to pick – the fifth-placed Wolves have won three more games than the eighth-placed Bulls and hit the finals on the back of a five-game winning streak (including a forfeit) – there is more to this match than would first seem. The Wolves’ recent patch of form has conveniently come against five teams lower than them on the ladder and in total, they have only overcome finals-bound teams on two occasions – both coming against the Owls, who also sit below them. While winning games is considered a good way to reach post-season football, the Wolves have not been challenged by a top side since Round 19, when they lost 44-18 to Mounties.
The Bulls, meanwhile, have been beginning to look more impressive than their ladder position would indicate in the past month. They have enjoyed three big wins in that time – admittedly, also against bottom five teams Asquith, Kingsgrove and Cabramatta – which has seen them reach the finals with a sizeable for-and-against. Their differential of 196 places them fifth in that category and they are now the equal fourth-best attackers and sixth-best defenders. If Hills bring their a-game they can certainly cause an upset and send Concord Burwood packing at this early stage.
Mounties (1st) v St Marys Saints (4th) – Qualifying Final
Campbelltown Stadium, Sunday 4 September
Previous meetings: Mounties 44 def St Marys 16 (Round 15)
Mounties are the top team on the ladder and for very good reason; their recent run of six wins, in which they’ve scored 238 points and conceded just 70, is invaluable at this time of year and pits them as the team to beat. They will not have it all their own way on Sunday, however, with St Marys going one better to string seven together in recent times.
The Saints failed to challenge Mounties in their only meeting back in Round 15, but their recent run has been particularly impressive when looking at their opposition. They have overcome second-placed Wentworthville, eighth-placed Hills and third-placed Wentworthville in the last three weeks, which will do wonders for their confidence when they arrive at Campbelltown. It will still be an upset if St Marys can come out on top, however, and Mounties will ensure all guns are blazing in September.