Casey Comets and Box Hill Inter both had plenty to play for at Comets Stadium, with Inter aiming to secure the minor premiership, while Casey had to win to actually make the finals. Unfortunately for the home side it was Box Hill that prevailed, abruptly ending Casey’s season in heartbreaking fashion. Inter took the advantage early, with Teodora Balint opening the scoring after fifteen minutes, and it took that narrow lead into the interval. It effectively wrapped up the victory shortly after the break, when Morgan Anderson scored, doubling the visiting side’s advantage. Casey did its best to fight back, and it halved the deficit twenty minutes into the half through Jeni Black. It was, however, not to be Casey’s day, and Belinda Pacella wrapped up the victory for Box Hill when she added a third in the dying seconds of the game. The victory ensured the Inter claimed the minor premiership for the third time in the last four years, giving it a home final and the security of the double chance of making the Grand Final. For Casey, one of the real surprise packages of this WPL season, the dream is over, but it can take great confidence from the achievements of its young side, and if it can maintain stability within the team, the future looks bright for the WPL stalwart club.
Heidelberg United wrapped up second place on the ladder at a canter, providing a dismal end to GRFA’s WPL adventure in the process. United ran riot at Howard Glover Reserve, scoring four goals in the first half, and adding a further five after the interval. Melanie Camilleri sewed up the WPL top goalscorer award with an impressive seven of the nine goals, with Michelle Verzi adding the other two. Heidelberg finishes the season second, one point behind Box Hill, which it will now face next weekend for a place in the Grand Final. For GRFA, the game marked the end of its second foray into the WPL, both of which have seen it finish the season at the foot of the ladder. It did at least end this campaign having achieved one victory, and it must now return to State League One and regroup for another attempt at returning to the top flight.
With Casey facing a tough match against Box Hill, Ashburton looked to be in the box seat for making a last minute entry into the top four, given that it faced second bottom Bendigo on home soil. However, Bendigo has proved a much improved team in recent weeks, and it produced a major upset to defeat Ashburton and ensure that it missed the finals for the first time since they were introduced to the competition. The game was a close encounter, with one goal proving the difference between the two sides. Hayley Rickard scored that all important goal just after the hour mark, securing Bendigo’s second victory of the season, and giving the regional side a positive end to what has been a mixed season of results. Ashburton finishes the season in sixth place on the ladder, its lowest ever finish.
Sandringham proved itself to be the Steven Bradbury of the WPL, taking advantage of Ashburton and Casey falling at the last challenge, to sneak into the top four at the death. Despite never really seeming to be in contention all season, Sandringham has quietly gone about producing some strong results, especially at home, which have enabled it to grab fourth spot on the ladder when it really matters. Playing Preston Lions at BT Connor Reserve in its final game, Sandringham had to win and hope other results went its way. Things were not looking favourable at half time, with the sides still locked at 0-0. However, the visiting team turned it on in the second half, scoring three unanswered goals to claim the three points, and a spot in the finals. Ashlee Good, Keryn Walters and Lucy Kapusta scored the all important goals.
Next weekend is the first of the finals, with two matches taking place. The times and venues are yet to be determined, but the sides finishing first and third, Box Hill and South Melbourne, have the opportunity to play the matches at their home grounds. Box Hill Inter and Heidelberg United will face off in the Qualifying Final, with the direct passage to the Grand Final and a week off the reward for the victor. The losing team will play the winner of South Melbourne and Sandringham, who will meet in the Elimination Final.
The Qualifying Final is a rematch of last year’s Grand Final, and should be an entertaining encounter. It has been honours even between the two sides over the course of the regular season, with each side defeating the other once. Box Hill Inter certainly had the upper hand in the first meeting between the two in Round 4, comprehensively defeating Heidelberg 4-0, but United bounced back to beat Inter 2-1 in Round 13. Perhaps tellingly, both sides won their home fixture, so Box Hill securing the right to play the game on its home turf could prove crucial.
The Elimination Final promises to be a fiercely fought game, with no second chances for the losing side. South Melbourne has been one of the league’s big improvers this season, having finished last year in tenth place, and climbed to third this year. Sandringham had a slow start to its season, but has had particularly strong home form, defeating all three of the other finalists on its home turf. The points have also been shared in meetings between these two sides: South had a strong 4-2 win over Sandringham at Bob Jane Stadium in Round 8, with Sandringham snatching a last minute 1-0 win in Round 17.