Impetus’ Kieran Yap looks ahead to Sunday’s NPLW Grand Final as two teams stacked full of top players go head to head (8/9/22).
Above: Calder United (green) overcame FV Emerging in the semi-final last week. They face the challenge of Bulleen Lions in Sunday’s Grand Final. Photo: Jack Dilks/171819.
Victoria’s NPLW Grand Final is upon us. After 21 rounds and a weekend of finals, Calder United and Bulleen Lions will face off at Olympic Village to battle for the championship.
Calder United defeated a persistent but unlucky FV Emerging in their semi-final. Matilda Lohrey had the first chance of the game. She was played behind Calder’s defence by Rosie Curtis, but her shot from close range was saved by Alyssa Dall’Oste.
Sarah Cain, who was awarded the NPLW Gold Medal alongside Sofia Sakalis, created the next chance. Her pressure and pace forged an opening on the wing and her cross fell to Sewards. Candice Kilderry got the final touch of the move, but once again Dall’Oste was equal to it.
It would take something special to beat an in-form Miranda Templeman in the FV Emerging goal. The newly announced Melbourne Victory signing has been in sparkling form of late and only Raquel Derales’ piece of magic could beat her on the day.
Stacy Papadopoulos’s run through the midfield opened up space. She spread the ball wide to Aleksandra Sinclair who crossed it in quickly ahead of Derales.
The first touch fook the ball down and the second lofted it over Templeman in incredible style. It would be the only goal of the match and one worthy of winning any game.
Templeman was called into action late to stop a powerful drive from Melissa Taranto, but FV Emerging could not trouble Dall’Oste up the other end.
It ended a brave and encouraging season from the NTC side. Sarah Cain announced herself as a major talent, and her form should propel her to a strong season with an ambitious Perth Glory. Candice Kilderry and Caitlin Karic were other strong standouts, but the entire squad was impressive as they surged late to an unlikely fourth position.
Calder are exactly where most observers expected them to be. They have been dominant all season long, but their top-place finish and Grand Final appearance is down to great management and a trusted youth system.
Seven players joined the senior squad from the Under 19’s for 2022. There were no big-name signings and only two A-League Women players – Emma Robers and Harriet Withers – in the side.
Despite this, they dominated and met every challenge. They have a squad of even contributors, but the players with enough individual skill to break open a final.
Stacy Papadopoulos or Melissa Taranto loom as potential game changers for Sunday’s big match, but as Derales showed, the danger can come from everywhere.
Bulleen’s semi-final win was a slight upset. They finished comfortably in third, but were missing some significant players heading into the semi-final. Rebekah Stott and Tyla Jay Vlajnic both earned overseas moves, but Caitlin Friend has rarely had her full squad available all season. Bulleen would not be frightened by form or reputation. They have the players to win any knockout game.
Heidelberg struck first. Emily Roach received the ball wide and created space for herself with a clever turn. With the Bulleen defenders expecting a cross, she instead opted for the incredible.
Roach looked up and spotted an opportunity that only exquisite skill could exploit. From outside the box and on the wing she sent a perfectly hit chipped shot over the goalkeeper. Words barely do the goal justice. It was a true moment of magic from the new Canberra United signing.
For most of this season, once Heidelberg hit the front, they stay there or extend their lead, but Bulleen had other ideas.
It was Alana Jancevski who brought things level. The unpredictable forward played a short corner and got the ball back. She carried the ball a few yards in and whipped the ball into the near post to catch Melissa Maizel’s by surprise and make it 1-1.
Soon after, Bulleen had the lead through captain Lia Privitelli. A defensive calamity from a goal kick was pounced on by the Bulleen number nine. She kept her composure to cruise around her fellow Melbourne Victory champion and tap it into an open net.
This was an unfortunate way for Heidelberg to bow out, but their season has been remarkable. They have been a guaranteed source of goals all season, with Stephanie Galea and Danielle Wise both prolific.
Rebecca Burrows earned plaudits at the awards night. She was named Players player of the year, while Roach, and Grace Jale both earned contracts at Canberra United in the A-League Women.
Johnno Clemente’s side played stylish, fast-paced football all season and were a credit to the competition. Second on the ladder and a semi-final place is a significant achievement from the club and hints at a brilliant future for all involved.
Bulleen will be confident going into the final. They have not beaten Calder United this season, but until last weekend they had lost three times against Heidelberg. They have trophy-winning experience and a wealth of talent that Caitlin Friend has gotten to peak at exactly the right time.
Paige Zois has grown into a star of the competition and earned a call up to the Under 20 World Cup, Jancevski is a threat from anywhere within 40 yards of goal, and Privitelli has lightning pace.
Calder will go in as favourites to lift the trophy. But Bulleen will have no concerns about being underdogs. The stage is set for a terrific match.