After one of the most unique and toughest campaigns in history, the 2020 BUPA TSL season is set to culminate in a Northern Derby Grand Final between North Launceston and Launceston.
These two northern sides have been the best teams this season, sharing the top two spots on the ladder for most of the year.
North Launceston head into this match on an 11-game winning streak and with only one blemish on their record. But Launceston are the team who provided that loss, a watershed moment for the Blues after losing their previous 18 encounters against the Northern Bombers.
Both teams had commanding Semi-Finals victories and will be full of confidence heading into Saturday’s encounter. North Launceston went on a 14-goal run to destroy Clarence, while an eight-goal second-quarter blitz from Launceston set-up their victory against Lauderdale.
Round 2: Launceston 8.12 (60) def North Launceston 6.5 (41)
Round 8: North Launceston 8.4 (52) Launceston def 5.4 (34)
There is no love lost between these two rivals, who represent different sides of Launceston and will divide a city come Saturday.
This stage is a similar and happy hunting ground for the Northern Bombers, they have made the last seven Grand Finals in a row and won six of them. A win on Saturday would make it a record-breaking fourth straight Premiership and further cement this North Launceston dynasty as one of the greatest teams in Tasmanian football history.
The Blues are back in the big dance for the first time since 2012 and are looking to bring some silverware back to Windsor Park. Launceston has been building towards this moment for years after falling short in recent finals campaigns, with a win on Saturday also having the added bonus of playing spoiler to their arch-rival.
North Launceston has the advantage of players with big-game experience on their side. Seasoned superstars like coach Taylor Whitford, skipper Bradley Cox-Goodyer, Josh Ponting, Jay Foon and Alex Lee are among the Northern Bomber’s elite multiple-time Premiership winning players who are looking to add to their already vast resumes. AFL draft hopeful Jackson Callow will also be hoping to get-up for the big game, while the return of Corey Nankervis and the recruitment of Daniel Withers have been welcome additions to the side this year.
Launceston comes into this match arguably boasting the competition’s two best players this season. Captain and Alastair Lynch Medal favourite Jobi Harper has bulldozed through the rest of the league in a commanding campaign, while Hudson Medal leader Dylan Riley has dominated up forward with 36 goals for the year so far. Coach Mitch Thorp has done another masterful job coaching this team and will play a big role up forward. The likes of Jacob Boyd, Jake Hinds and Jay Blackberry will also have a big say over Saturday’s outcome.
What To Watch For:
The Northern Bombers will likely try to expose the Blues with their talls’ up forward. Launceston run a strong, but undersized team defence that could be susceptible to the likes of Bart McCulloch, Tom Bennett and a possibly returning Jackson Callow.
Alex Lee has been the competition’s premier ruckman once again, so look for Launceston to run with two big men again in Tim Auckland and Joe Groenewegen, who will try to work Lee over.
Young Jared Dakin will probably get a job on someone, a role he has done so effectively this season. He shut down Taylor Whitford earlier in the year, while Josh Ponting and Bradley Cox-Goodyer also loom as likely targets.
Jack Avent has also down run-with roles this year and is the most likely option if the Northern Bombers decide to target Jobi Harper.
The BUPA TSL Team of the Year full-back, Corey Nankervis, kept Dylan Riley to just three disposals last time they met. This one-on-one match-up will likely have a huge say on who wins this match.
Taylor Whitford vs Jared Dakin:
All eyes will be on Jared Dakin just before the first bounce to see who he lines-up on. The 19-year-old has emerged as the league’s best tagger this season and he will be set for another big job on Saturday.
The likely target is North Launceston coach Taylor Whitford, who Dakin kept to just nine touches in Launceston’s win, while also limiting Whitford’s impact up forward. If Mitch Thorp decides to go in a different direction, Josh Ponting and Bradley Cox-Goodyer also loom as possible options, while a defensive forward role on Jay Foon could also be a possibility.
Alex Lee vs Tim Auckland/Joe Groenewegen:
Alex Lee has long been the competition’s premier ruckman, but the Blues’ recently introduced a new strategy that could neutralize the big man.
Launceston ran two ruckmen for the first time this season in their Semi-Final win over Lauderdale, with Tim Auckland and Joe Groenewegen double-teaming Sam Siggins. They will likely go for the same strategy again, which could impact Lee’s competitiveness and endurance as the game wears on. One of his greatest strengths is his work around the ground, which could wane as he tires due to Auckland and Groenewegen constantly working him over.
It also puts added pressure on Bart McCulloch to provide a genuine chop out when Lee is off the ground.
Corey Nankervis vs Dylan Riley
A bumper match-up that will likely shape the outcome of this match, as the BUPA TSL the Team of the Year full-back, Corey Nankervis, goes up against the Team of the Year full-forward and Hudson Medallist, Dylan Riley.
Riley has been on a tear with 36 goals for the year so far, but Nankervis kept him to just three disposals last time they met. Nankervis has been the league’s best lockdown defender this season, but will need to be at his very best to beat Riley once again, who’s had five games where he’s kicked four goals or more (including a bag of eight).
An added curveball is Mitch Thorp returning last week and Joe Groenewegen spending significant time up forward. These two could draw Nankervis’ attention and even check for Riley in marking contests.
The Midfield Battle:
Like most matches, this game will likely be won at the coalface with both teams packing all-star line-ups.
North Launceston boast a strong core of superstars with Premiership experience to back them up. Captain Bradley Cox-Goodyer has been all-conquering in the midfield once again and still sends shivers through opposition players when he’s lining up on 50. The reigning two-time Alastair Lynch Medallist, Josh Ponting, has brought his own footy this year, averaging 26 disposals a game despite shortened quarters. Coach Taylor Whitford has been damaging around the ball and is still the best finisher in the game. Youngster Oliver Sanders has been deadly in a wing/high-half-forward role, while Jay Foon has also rolled through the midfield at times.
But Launceston has the firepower to match them. All eyes will be on the league’s best player this season, skipper Jobi Harper, who has already taken out the RACT Insurance Player of the Year and is the favourite for the Alastair Lynch Medal. He’s led the competition in clearances, is second for disposals and is one-man wrecking crew around stoppages. Fletcher Seymour is another big contested bull who thrives on the contest and VFL star Tim Jones has been a welcome addition in recent weeks. Jake Hinds has been best on ground in his last two performances, he and former skipper Jay Blackberry will run through the middle while also impacting up forward.