GANMAIN-Grong Grong-Matong may be unbeaten, but it's far from a one-horse race after the Riverina League reached the halfway mark last week.
Collingullie-Glenfield Park led the Lions in the final term and came close to claiming their scalp, but a late Lions flurry was further proof of their resolve. The Lions knew they'll be taking the best punch from their rivals down the stretch, and Coolamon is also showing signs they will reach their peak in the next few weeks.
The top five looks almost locked in, with jostling for positions and the vital double chance on the agenda as the chasing pack tries to close in on the Lions.
Here's our rundown of each team and predictions for how the second half of the season will transpire.
Position: First, 8-0, 32 points, 220.75 percentage
Pre season prediction: Premiers
Season so far: The Lions certainly have a target on their backs after going unbeaten through the first round, while racking up a big percentage of over 220. The pre-season question mark was whether they could adjust to life without key forward Riley Corbett after his move to SANFL. George Alexander has stepped up with 30 goals in just six games. Daniel Foley, who played in the ruck and defence last season, has filled the centre half forward role with eight goals in five games. Fellow ruck Jacob Olsson has also been effective when resting up forward with nine goals in five matches. All three have spent time on the sidelines, but others like small options Kai Watts (19 goals) have stepped up when required.
Key player: Jacob Olsson - Experienced big men don't grow on trees, and the two-time Jim Quinn medallist could effectively be the major difference against other contenders. MCUE, Coolamon and Collingullie-Glenfield Park all rely on young ruck options, and Canberra recruit Shaun Allan has struggled to stay on the park for Turvey Park through injury. The Lions have the luxury of rotating Olsson and Foley in the ruck and resting up forward, a huge advantage.
The verdict: They have experience in key positions all over the park, with the likes of Ben Walsh in defence, ruck Olsson, in-form forward options and youthful class in the midfield like Matt Hamblin and Tom Anderson. Collingullie-Glenfield Park showed they're not invincible by leading the Lions at Ganmain before fading late, but are clearly the team to beat.
Mid season prediction: Premiers
Position: Second, 6-1-1, 26 points, 169.97
Pre season prediction: Fourth
Season so far: The Demons have been one of the feel good stories so far, developing from willing grinders last year to one of the more attractive teams to watch thanks to some shrewd recruiting. Sam Stening, second in the league with 29 goals, and Andrew Clifford have straightened up their attack and allowed them to play more quickly. Matt Klemke and Steve Jolliffe have added class and experience to the midfield. They have the scoring potential to trouble the Lions, as they showed in round five when they led them by 19 points in the final quarter, only to go down by ten.
Key player: Sam Stening - His offsider Andrew Clifford is yet to fully find his feet, but youngster Stening is capable of kicking a bag on his day. He was well held in last week's draw to Coolamon, kicking one goal and was quiet in general, but before that he racked up 26 goals in his five previous games. That included a six-goal haul against Ganmain-Grong Grong-Matong.
The verdict: There's no doubt the Demons are in the premiership race right up to their eyeballs, if they can put it all together when it matters most. They were well below their best against Coolamon last week and still escaped with a draw. The late fadeout to the Lions would have stung, but it removed any doubts they had mentally they could stand up against the benchmark.
Mid season prediction: Second
Position: Third, 6-1-1, 26 points, 161.05
Pre season prediction: Third
Season so far: They did well to overcome a handful of key injuries early and grinding wins over Wagga Tigers (47-41) and MCUE (53-48) showed they are prepared to win ugly if required. Have one of the best midfields in the league with Jake Barrett, Jeremy Maslin and a fit again Jeremy Sykes joined by Canberra recruits Allister Clarke and Shae Darcy this year.
Key player: Jeremy Maslin - Maslin has grown to be arguably Coolamon's most important player. His midfield disposals are damaging more often than not, and that's complemented by 16 goals in eight games when having a breather up forward.
The verdict: The Hoppers are showing promising signs they will reach their peak at the right time of the year. They haven't been at their best for the first half of the campaign, but have still lost just once to sit equal second. They should have beaten the Demons in last week's draw, had they seized some late chances. Fitness is an area they have seemingly improved this year and they are building nicely.
Mid season prediction: Third
Position: Fourth, 5-3, 20 points, 135.56
Pre season prediction: Fifth
Season so far: Although MCUE was well understrength, last week's one-point win at Mangoplah was crucial for Turvey Park's belief. They have struggled to grind out close, ugly wins since Michael Mazzocchi took over as coach last year, it was the first time they've come from behind and their first top five scalp this year.
Key player: Shaun Allan - The ruck has managed just four games after suffering a hamstring injury in round five, but is expected to return for the back half of the year. He is vital to their structure, while the acquisition of key position players Tim Doyle (defence) and Andrew Emery (centre half forward) has added much-needed height and stability at both ends.
The verdict: Yet to convince they can compete with the top three sides once the whips are cracking, and this Saturday's home clash with the Demons will reveal plenty about their potential. Have the leg speed and over lap running to break lines and trouble teams, but they are too inconsistent during games, and from week to week to be considered a flag contender at this point.
Mid season prediction: Fifth
Position: Fifth, 4-4, 16 points, 105.52
Pre season prediction: Second
Season so far: Goannas coach Jeremy Rowe must have walked past a few black cats while breaking a mirror walking under a ladder at some point this year. Their injury and illness list has been extensive all season, and squaring the ledger at 4-4 isn't a bad result. However they are running out of time to attain the synergy and confidence they need to have a serous crack at breaking their premiership drought.
Key player: Ryan Turnbull - Oozes class with everything he does, never takes the wrong option and by all accounts is a great clubman. His skills are complement by a willingness to do the hard stuff and can also work forward and kick the odd goal.
The verdict: Had a chance to prove they can win without forward Trent Castles (illness) against Turvey Park last week, and didn't get the job done. He needs more help up forward, aside from Jonathan Male (16 goals in eight games) who has been impressive in a variety of roles. If they can get their best team back together and get a few weeks to build cohesiveness before finals, they could be one of
Mid season prediction: Fourth
Position: Sixth, 3-5, 12 points, 62.01
Pre season prediction: Ninth
Season so far: On paper the Eagles have exceeded expectations, and ticked off wins against rivals they'd fancy themselves to be competitive against. They already have three wins, after recording just two last season. All have come against bottom three sides Leeton-Whitton, Griffith and Wagga Tigers, but they'd be happy they've taken chances to sing the song when they've presented themselves. Don't have the class to compete regularly with the top five teams, but leaders like Luke Mckay and Fergus Inglis are the right men to lead a young team towards further improvement.
Key player: Luke Mckay - It's a testament to his class he was named in the Riverina League's team of the year last season, despite the Eagles only registering two wins. Has shown admirable commitment to the cause travelling from Canberra the past couple of seasons and is rated by some good judges as arguably the best player in the competition.
The verdict: Have the necessary ingredients to provide a couple of 'banana peel' games for finals contenders in the back end. That will be the focus, to play the spoiler, and build on the improvements they've made under coach Shaun Brooker for next season.
Mid season prediction: Seventh
Position: Seventh, 2-6, eight points, 97.24
Pre season prediction: Sixth
Season so far: It's been a tough year for the boys from Robertson Oval. The top six or so players on their list are high quality and stack up against anyone, but depth and experience has been their downfall. Butchered a couple of chances to win games, in particular a four point loss at Narrandera in round five where they booted 0.7 in the first half. A few youngsters have been given chances and that will likely bear fruit in years to come.
Key player: Shaun Flanigan - Coach Murray Stephenson is a constant standout in attack or defence, but Flanigan remains the heartbeat of the team. His performances in the midfield haven't dwindled despite the Tigers' struggles, and a lack of midfield options to take pressure off him. He leads from the front in his hardness at the ball and gut running, and that will hopefully rub off on the youth coming through.
The verdict: Two wins from their last three, albeit against struggling opposition, will give them some confidence, but a tough stretch awaits with three top five sides in succession on the schedule, starting with the Lions this Saturday. The back end is all about pumping more games into the kids and building towards next year.
Mid season prediction: Sixth
Position: Eighth, 1-7, four points, 53.47
Pre season prediction: Seventh
Season so far: They've had a couple of committed performances which have prompted praise from rival coaches, but a lack of experienced and battle hardened bodies is starting to tell. A 133-point loss was followed by an 87-point defeat to Coolamon, before the ship was righted slightly with a 14-point loss at Narrandera last week. The challenge will be to continue to chase certain benchmarks in games and if the odd win or two transpires as a result, that's a bonus.
Key player: Jack Rowston - Leadership has certainly agreed with Rowston after taking over from James Toscan as skipper this year. The on-baller has been named in their best players in six of eight games.
The verdict: It's difficult to see them beating a top five side, but a trip to Griffith is never easy and they can certainly take a team or two by surprise on their day.
Mid season prediction: Eighth
Position: Ninth, 0-8, zero points, 39.50
Pre season prediction: Eighth
Season so far: It's been a brutal initiation to senior coaching for first year mentor Tom Groves. No recruits and a lack of experienced heads means they simply don't have the tools to contain the best teams once they put their foot on the throat. To his credit Groves has committed to a second season next year as the Crows look to rebuild. Getting games into kids takes time and the club needs to remain patient as the rebuild progresses.
Key player: Tom Meline - The skipper has been part of a defence under siege and his experience has been vital in trying to keep his side looking at the long term picture. His job is to help the youngsters keep their heads up and keep building their game.
The verdict: It was always billed to be a tough year results-wise, but running through the tape and looking to be as competitive as possible for the rest of the campaign will be the focus.
Mid season prediction: Ninth
George Alexander (GGGM) - 30
Sam Stening (Collingullie-Glenfield Park) - 29
Baxter Wallett (Turvey Park) - 28
James Toscan (Griffith) - 23
Joe Redfern (Coolamon) - 22
Ed Perryman (Collingullie-Glenfield Park) - 20
Kai Watts (GGGM) - 19
Corey Baxter (Turvey Park) - 18
Matthew Hamblin (GGGM) - 22
Jake Barrett (Coolamon) - 21
Jeremy Maslin (Coolamon) - 20
Matthew Klemke (Collingullie-Glenfield Park) - 17
Luke Mckay (Narrandera) - 16
Ed Perryman (Collingullie-Glenfield Park) - 13
Jack Rowston (Griffith) - 13
George Alexander (GGGM) - 13
Team P W L D B % Pts
GANMAIN-GRONG GRONG-MATONG 8 8 0 0 1 220.75 32
COLLINGULLIE-GLENFIELD PARK 8 6 1 1 1 169.67 26
COOLAMON 8 6 1 1 1 161.05 26
TURVEY PARK 8 5 3 0 1 135.56 20
MANGOPLAH-COOKARDINIA UNITED-EASTLAKES 8 4 4 0 1 105.52 16
Narrandera 8 3 5 0 1 62.01 12
Wagga Tigers 8 2 6 0 1 97.24 8
Griffith 8 1 7 0 1 53.47 4
Leeton-Whitton 0 8 0 1 39.50 0
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