As we slowly approach the halfway point of the season, there’s a real traffic jam at the top of the competition ladder.
Only six-points separate first place to fifth place with a few teams still to play their catch-up games.
One of the closest fought premiership races continue this weekend with a top of the table clash at Lynwood Park between the Macarthur Rams and Football NSW Institute.
It’s 3v6 in the ‘Festival of Football’ at Lambert Park for the inner west title, while another intriguing clash takes place between the Blacktown Spartans and Manly United.
The Tigers will look to take care of their northern rivals at Christie Park and at Jensen Park Bankstown search for their first win of 2021.
Similarly, the Emerging Jets will be hoping to surprise Sydney Uni away from home and record win number one of the season.
North West Sydney Koalas v Northern Tigers @Christie Park, Sunday 5pm
The action kicks off on SATURDAY, yes, you read correctly, Saturday night 5pm, as the North West Sydney Koalas host the Northern Tigers in a derby double header with the men’s match taking place at 7pm, right after the women’s clash.
It’s been a fairly tough campaign so far for Adam Keramea’s side and they find themselves in 10th place with only six points.
With only one win in eight, finals hopes are slowly starting to creep away from the Koalas and three points are imperative Saturday night.
They have the quality in the side with Erin Pridmore, Nat Tobin, Rachael Soutar and Sophie Harding all there, making expectations much higher than where the team currently sits.
They were unlucky at time against the Institute but again, it took them too long to get going and the game got away from them.
It is a derby and Keramea will be hopeful his team can get up for the fixture.
But coming to Christie Park is a very well-oiled machine.
Jason Eagar has built a premiership-contending side and the Tigers currently sit in fifth place with a game in hand.
One of his star recruits, Aideen Keane is in some form scoring three goals in her last two games and creating havoc for opposition defenders.
She’ll be key along with top scorer Lauren Allan and Shay Evans who has crept into the starting line up over the last couple weeks.
They’ve only lost once in their past five appearances and are scoring goals at will but have only managed one clean sheet in their first seven matches.
Blacktown Spartans v Manly United @Blacktown Football Park, 3pm
The round resumes on Sunday at Blacktown Football Park as Manly United travel down to take on the Blacktown Spartans.
Manly secured their first win after five games without a victory, defeating a stubborn Emerging Jets 4-1.
The result doesn’t do the match justice though with the Jets creating a plethora of problems for Manly on the day.
Nevertheless, for Tom Hopley, most importantly, his team is out of the negative rut. They now need to look forward and potentially force their way back into the top five with a win.
Remy Siemsen is starting to find form, now on four goals for the season and the important goals Emily Minnett is known for are starting to find their way into the back of the net.
A loss will see them slide down the ladder and with the teams in fifth and sixth both having catch ups to play, they could see the finals slipping away.
It seems as though Brad Attard’s team has turned a corner and are going in the right direction.
Three games on the bounce without defeat after that 5-0 drubbing by Sydney Olympic and are now four points outside the top five.
A major talking point though is the contribution of Ash Crofts whose lack of goals in 2021 is beginning to take effect.
Rosie Galea and Maja Markovski have relieved the load somewhat but Crofts goals will be pivotal to a finals push.
Sally James has been in fine form and she’ll be another key factor in getting a positive result on Sunday which will see them leapfrog Manly on the ladder.
Bankstown City v Illawarra Stingrays @Jensen Park, Sunday 3pm
Bankstown City have brought their kick offs back to 3pm for their home matches as the Illawarra Stingrays come to town.
Still no wins and only the solitary point for Matthew Costantini’s side as they sit in 11th place on the competition ladder.
Again, like most times this season, Bankstown were right in the battle for the majority of the match but tailed off toward the end before Sydney Olympic put them to the sword.
With only three goals in eight games, Bankstown’s woes in front of goal continue and are now becoming a serious issue.
Finding a goal-scoring number nine will be at the top of Costantini’s shopping list when the transfer window opens.
For the Stingrays, they’ve only managed one win in their last five games, seeing them drop down to fourth place.
They’ll be disappointed with their performance on Sunday and with the late sending off of Sheridan Gallagher, Bruce Tilt would’ve been left incredibly frustrated.
Michelle Carney and Talitha Kramer have been Tilt’s go-to players, scoring 10-goals between the two of them, more than half of the team’s return.
They’ll need support from their team mates in order to continue their push for finals football.
A win is needed here to hold onto their place in the five with the threat of dropping out of the finals places for the first time this year.
Sydney University v Emerging Jets @Sydney Uni Football Ground, 3pm
Sydney University return to their home ground of Sydney Uni Football Ground as they host the Emerging Jets on Sunday.
Games will be coming thick and fast for the Students in the next month as they remain one of only two teams with six games played.
One loss in their last four has propelled them just outside the finals places and if they can pick up some points in the next few weeks will throw themselves right in the premiership race.
Kaitlyn Torpey has exploded in the last few weeks and leads the club’s scoring charts and will be key come Sunday.
Coaching duo of Emily Husband and Amy Shepherd will expect their team to get on a run and build on last week’s difficult away trip.
They are still searching for their first home win of the season, albeit only playing one so far this year at their normal home at the Uni grounds.
The Jets pushed hard on Sunday and really made Manly work for their win (much like they have all teams they’ve played this year).
Again, they hit the front first but couldn’t build on their lead and hold on.
Instead, they conceded four on the bounce as Manly ran away with the points. They’ll make it difficult for Uni though and could even spring a surprise.
APIA Leichhardt v Sydney Olympic @Lambert Park, 3:30pm
The biggest match of the week takes shape at Lambert Park as APIA Leichhardt and Sydney Olympic do battle in an inner west derby on a massive day of football.
So massive that the ‘voice of football’ Simon Hill will be at the microphone for the call for the ‘festival of football’.
Only one defeat so far this season for Spensor Prior’s girls in what was an uncharacteristic performance.
They bounced back and responded by comfortably defeating the current league leaders and inflicting on them their first defeat of 2021.
Lisa De Vanna was at it again, scoring her second brace of the campaign to take her tally to four goals in three games.
Another standout is Georgia Yeoman-Dale who is showing real leadership traits, captaining the side and leading by example, scoring a cheeky chip along the way on Sunday.
But, they do have their slight blips along the way as they fell away around the mid-way point of the second half, almost getting properly exposed against a Rams side that was reduced to 10.
They’ll need to stay focused and concentrated against a tough Olympic team.
An Olympic team that’s been good but not great after six games.
Two straight wins and seven goals scored in those victories will make you think it’s been easy for the Belmore based side but in fact they’ve been two difficult games.
They will need to raise their game, similarly to how they did when they destroyed the Spartans 5-0 in their best performance of the season at the start of May.
Aimee Phillips has been the most in form player, scoring four in her last two and sharing the top scorer tag with Teigan Collister.
With Sarah Yatim returning to the side, along with a dangerous Mackenzie Hawkesby and quality of the midfield duo of Teresa Polias and Taylor Ray, we’re in for quite the midfield battle.
Jess Framton and Angelique Hristodoulou will have their hands full and at the top of their game having to deal with the pace and skill of De Vanna and Yeoman-Dale.
We’re in for a fantastic game with so many quality players, former and current Matildas and young superstars in the making.
Macarthur Rams v Football NSW Institute @Lynwood Park, 4pm
If someone had said that by round eight, the first placed Macarthur Rams were hosting the second placed Football NSW Institute, people probably would’ve laughed at you.
Well, they’ve been the two most form sides and most consistent teams so far in 2021.
Stephen Peters saw his team fall to their first defeat of the season against APIA on Sunday but wouldn’t have been too discouraged by what he saw.
They fought to the death, even after Kylie Ledbrook was sent for an early shower minutes after the second half resumed.
Patty Charalambous showed she has a right foot too, scoring an incredible volley to give the Rams a fighting chance.
But they were at fault for the goals they conceded, giving away two of them trying to play out of defence.
Mel Caceres should be available to Peters this week and potentially Olivia Sloan, two important players for Macarthur.
Well if the Rams have been a revelation, much the same can be said for the young girls from the Institute.
They play with so much confidence and flair that they look like they could go all the way with it this year.
Jaime Gomez has this team so well drilled and prepared that on their day they can dismantle anyone.
They did it to Olympic, the Jets and Koalas and are currently doing it without one of their best, Bryleeh Henry.
Holly McNamara has been a standout, alongside Charlie Rule, with the two of them contributing to two-thirds of the team’s goals.
But the defence cannot be overlooked. Four out of eight clean sheets and Miranda Templeman in some form in goals for the Institute.
A win for Gomez’s side will push them into the leader’s position on the competition ladder.
BY: NIKOLA POZDER, CHIEF NPL NSW WOMEN’S WRITER