Edgeworth captain Josh Evans said last year’s grand final loss will provide extra motivation when the four-time Northern NSW NPL premiers face surprise semi-final rivals Lambton Jaffas.
The Eagles secured top spot last week and had the luxury of a meaningless final-round clash against wooden spooners Valentine at CB Complex on Sunday in which they rested Pat Wheeler, Dom Bizzarri, Adam Cawley, Dylan Holz and Aaron McLoughlin.
A 72nd-minute goal from Jamie Byrnes off an Evans cross gave Edgeworth the win, taking them to 46 points – 11 clear of second-placed Broadmeadow.
Maitland defeated a weakened Broadmeadow 2-0 at Cooks Square Park on Saturday night to beat Hamilton to the last finals place up for grabs. Olympic downed Weston 2-0 at Darling Street Oval at the same time to stay a point off the pace.
The big surprise was the Jaffas’ 2-1 loss to Lake Macquarie at Macquarie Field on Saturday, which dropped last year’s grand final winners from third to fourth spot on goals difference behind Maitland.
It meant Edgeworth will take on Jaffas, and Maitland will meet Broadmeadow in two-leg grand final qualifiers. The Jaffas beat the Eagles in last year’s decider and in round one this year, but draws with Hamilton and losses to Maitland and Lakes dropped them from contenders to fourth.
“I honestly don’t know how that happened,” Evans said of meeting Lambton in the semis. “We were worried they were going to get us for the minor premiership, so to get them in the finals, I think it’s a good opportunity for us, especially after losing to them in the grand final last year. It’s a bit of motivation.
“But they’ve got quality players, so we know we’ve got a challenge on our hands.”
Jaffas led on Saturday with a Tom Waller header in the 28th minute but their fortunes changed when speedster Ridge Mapu went down with a serious knee injury in the 54th. Paul Sichalwe equalised in the 74th and Sam Walker slotted the matchwinner with a right-foot free kick into the top corner in the 90th minute. It capped a golden boot season for Walker of 16 goals, two clear of Magic’s James Virgili and Kale Bradbery.
At Maitland, Ryan Clarke scored off a goalmouth scramble in the 25th minute and Liam Thornton a 63rd-minute touch off a Matt Thompson free kick. Broadmeadow were assured of a finals spot and rested Luke Virgili, Shane Paul and Josh Piddington ahead of their FFA Cup round of 16 game against Bentleigh Greens on Tuesday night.
Magpies coach Michael Bolch said belief was strong at Maitland ahead of a tougher semi-final test.
“They will get back all the players they rested but we’ve just got to keep doing what we’re doing,” Bolch said.
At Hamilton, Scott Pettit scored in the 24th minute and with a penalty in first-half injury time. Coach Peter McGuinness rued missed chances through the season but celebrated Olympic’s fourth club championship in the past five years.
“It was nice to get that over the line, I know it’s always important to the club and the committee to know we’re strong across the deck,” McGuinness said.
Charlestown scored a 3-2 win over the Jets Youth on Saturday to finish sixth on 31 points.