Time has come for the four best teams of the season to battle it out on the field and crowned the 2022 WNPL champions in two weeks. The Elimination Final sounds familiar, a rematch of Saturday’s blow-out result between Belconnen United and West Canberra Wanderers.
After a spectacular start of the season – six wins in eight games, only losing the Olympic and Croatia – the Wanderers could only get three wins in 13 encounters. The early successes included marquee victories against Belconnen and Gungahlin and proved enough to secure the fourth spot for Rey Castro and his troops.
The defence is probably where the shift happens for the Wanderers. Bar the games against the top two, the Wanderers only conceded three times, come week ten. That tally went up to 20 goals in the second part of the regular season.
The defeat 6-0 last weekend at McKellar is a perfect example of that shift. The defensive solidity, density and aggressiveness the Wanderers used to showcase early on has somehow vanished. The Elimination Final this weekend would be the perfect time to regroup and get the old tricks back out.
Scott Conlon and his Blue Devils have gone the other, improving week after week in 2022, with the climax, a dominating win over the champions on their turf in Round 19. Belconnen seem at their place at third: they are the third-best attack and the third-best defence in the league and were only able to grab 4 out of 18 points possible against the top two.
They also lost their first duel with the Wanderers in Round 7, but the evolution of the score between the two teams (1-2, 3-0, 6-0) paint an accurate picture of the progress the McKellar residents have made over the season.
Before the Federation Cup Semi-Final, Conlon had rightfully told the Capital Football commentary team that to win a trophy, his team “only” needed to be ready win three consecutive games when the time comes, proof of his ambitions for the end of the season.
The first of these three games come this weekend, and if the Blue Devil keep their run of form against the Wanderers, they have all chances to play again next week.
The Qualifying Final will be yet another opportunity to witness the clash of Titans between Canberra Croatia and Canberra Olympic. The title contenders have met four times in 2022 already, with an even record: a win each way and two draws.
Olympic took the cup tie of course, a semi-final that allowed Nicole Begg to later win her team’s first Federation Cup. Canberra Croatia had to wait until round 18 to get their win over the rivals, courtesy of a screamer by Maddison Sawkins with the last kick of the game.
The Deakin side has only lost once this season, to Belconnen in round 19, and are by far the best attack of the league. Zoran Glavinic has, despite absences and injuries to Alice Churchill, Nat Vasta, Krista Hagen, Jennifer Bisset or Brittany Palombi, kept the domination of Canberra Croatia over the league going.
He added depth and utility to an already strong team with Diane Wilson or Rebecca Kiting, and promoted younger players successfully, as the winning goal against Olympic showed. The finals is a different ball game, but the reigning champions can rely on their strong core of experienced players to try and get a second trophy in 2022.
Nicole Begg has done more than turning the fate of Canberra Olympic around. Bottom of the table three seasons ago, Begg, first as player and then on the bench, has helped the program grow, attract talented individuals, and eventually won silverware in the Federation Cup.
The fifth encounter with Canberra Croatia looks like the perfect moment to take the crown – metaphorically at first – and to make a strong statement, before potentially meeting again in the Grand Final. Despite the absence of Michaela Thornton, in Spain for the IFA Futsal World Championship, Begg can count on the depth talented group, starting with goal-scoring machine Ashleigh Sykes.
Her duel against Brittany Palombi could be the key to this Qualification Final. Until they (maybe) meet again.
Saturday 17 September
Canberra Croatia v Canberra Olympic (Deakin Stadium, 19:00)
Belconnen United v West Canberra Wanderers (Deakin Stadium, 16:00)
Words: Jeremy Magan