The 15th and final round of the 2023 Namoi Premier League campaign will be contested today and both first grade games will have an impact on the minor premiership.
Narrabri FC will host local rivals Wee Waa United FC at Hogan Oval, while Inverell FC welcomes Moree Services FC to the Inverell Sporting Complex.
Narrabri are currently on top of the ladder on 30 points following 10 wins and four losses from 14 games this year. The side also boasts the best attack, with 43 goals scored, and defence, with 24 goals conceded.
Just two behind Narrabri in second place are Inverell (28), who have won nine matches, drawn one and lost four. Those two teams have locked in a Major Semi-Final showdown against one another; however, the venue of that match will be determined based on who finishes on top of the ladder.
Inverell was first with two games remaining but went down 3-2 away from home against Narrabri last Saturday.
Wee Waa United FC (22) and Moree Services FC (3) occupy the two spots in the bottom half of the table will contest the Minor Semi-Final at Cooks Oval in Wee Waa on Saturday, August 26.
Before that though, Wee Waa will be looking to establish some form heading into the finals series by knocking off the ladder leaders on their home soil.
Narrabri will claim their sixth minor premiership in seven years with a win today and would finish first no matter what the result if Inverell drops points. The second-placed side will meet a motivated Moree outfit that has already scored a win in Inverell this season and is now searching for win number two.
Narrabri’s coach Neil Brayshaw maintained that a top-two spot was still his side’s goal this year, which he was proud of his men for achieving, but declared that first place was his sides to lose.
“I couldn’t be happier with where we’re sitting at this time of the year,” he said.
“It’s ours to lose now though, the minor premiership.
“Even though there are only four sides in the competition, it’s tough this year. Moree have improved out of sight, and then Wee Waa and Inverell and us are all on an even playing field, I think. It comes down to who turns up and produces on the day. It has made a great battle for the minor premiership, and it will for the major premiership as well.”
While Brayshaw has been pleased with the majority of the football his side has produced in 2023, he said they’d only put one or two full games together so far, and he wanted to see another tomorrow heading into the finals.
“All year, we’ve been playing well in patches, but not for 90 minutes. But we are getting there. We just need to play like we’ve been training all year, and we need to start putting two halves together and produce 90-minute performances if we want to be credentialed as the best side in the comp,” Brayshaw said.
“I have faith that we can do that.”
Inverell coach Damien Schultz said that a top-two finish was their goal as well this year, and that his side are determined to host the grand final in Inverell for a second consecutive season.
Schultz, who coached Inverell to a minor/major premiership double in 2022, is pleased with the way his team is playing in 2023.
“I think we’re a little bit improved on last year,” he said.
“We had a lot of new Solomon Island players there last year and they’ve all settled in now, and we’re cracking along alright.
“We did lose a few key players from last season’s team, but a few young players from second grade have stepped up and done well so far.
“We’re playing really well as a team. We changed our formation this year and the style we play. We’ve done that through all three sides (including the two teams in the Armidale Local Competition) and so anyone we bring up or drop back, everyone knows what their role is on the pitch.”
Wee Waa are going into todays’s match determined to end the regular season with back-to-back wins after they downed Moree 3-0 away from home last Saturday in Round 14.
The side’s captain-coach Ben Cooper is proud of the way his team have been playing all year and said that they can go all the way in 2023 if they tighten a few things up and start taking more of the chances they create.
“I think we started off very well and I think overall we’ve been playing some excellent football,” Cooper said.
“There’s a few errors and a few things that when we tighten up, we’ll be a really, really solid team. A few things that if we work on, it’ll help us see out the rest of the season and come home strong.
“Finishing is something we’ve been working on a lot in training. We’re creating a lot of chances because we’re playing really good football, but we’re just not finishing enough of them. There are other teams that create fewer chances against us, but they are finishing them, and that’s been killing us off. We just need to improve that.
“The main aim is to go into the finals feeling confident. When the finals arrive, on any day we’re capable of beating any team.”
Moree have only won once this season but are still a quality side that will be a danger come finals time. They won their first and only game of the season when they prevailed 3-2 away from home against Inverell in Round Nine, a result that has the other three teams on notice.
Their coach Matt Urquhart is confident they can make an impact in the finals series.
“Our wins are just based on people showing up and supporting each other. If we can put together a few more performances where people are really putting in the effort and having a go, we’re a good chance of coming away with a couple more wins,” he said.
“We’ve been playing alright this year. It’s always a gutsy effort from us and the boys are always putting in the hard yards, which we really have to do because most weeks most of us have to play two games.
“Our reggies are a good chance for the grand final this year if they don’t get ahead of themselves. They should make the grand final. In first grade, it’s going to be gutsy effort after gutsy effort to get us to the grand final. If everyone shows up, we’re a good chance.”
The Moree player-coach was thrilled that his side was finally able to get a win on the board before the holiday break on a day that they almost had to throw in the towel before kick-off.
“That was a fantastic win,” he said.
“That morning, I wasn’t even sure if we could scratch enough people together to take a side over there. We ended up having two juniors step up and a couple of absolute reggies, guys that have only showed up to have a muck around in reserve grade.
“Everyone really stepped up. It was a solid effort. If we’re talking the more skillful side on the day, it was definitely Inverell. But we just really hooked in and had a go and they turned up for each other. It was a team effort.”
The Namoi Premier League’s reserve grade minor premiership has already been wrapped up by Narrabri, who are undefeated this year with 13 wins and a draw in 14 games. They play against third-placed Wee Waa this Saturday.
Moree are second on 28 points following nine wins, a draw and four losses and will take on Narrabri in the Major Semi-Final. Before that though, they will host the last-placed side Narrabri Eleven FC on Sunday.
Wee Waa (8) and the Elevens (5) are locked in to meet in the Minor Semi-Final.