Last weekend’s results saw the Brisbane Strikers stretch their lead over their nearest challengers, Sunshine Coast Fire, at the top of the QSL table to ten points while a similar gap opened up between the top four and the rest. The race for the title and the top four are by no means over yet, but with ten games remaining the task ahead for the challengers is sizeable. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the competition heading into Round 17 is that the reigning champions, the Fire, might have a problem on their hands holding on to second position with both the FNQ Bulls and the Whitsunday Miners having closed to within two points. Meanwhile, in the chasing pack, three teams – Capricorn Cougars, North Queensland Razorbacks and QAS Football – are locked together on fifteen points with Bundaberg Spirit just three points behind them.
Capricorn Cougars v FNQ Bulls, Saturday 14 July, Jardine Park, Rockhampton, 7.00 pm
Last Sunday the Capricorn Cougars showed real character in putting the previous week’s 4-0 loss to the Brisbane Strikers behind them to beat a talented QAS Football team 4-1. Despite conceding a very early goal, the Cougars responded with two goals in each half to achieve one of their most impressive results outside of Rockhampton since the QSL began. Back on their own turf this week they will be faced by a FNQ Bulls team fresh from an impressive away performance of their own – a 2-1 win over champions Sunshine Coast Fire that followed up a 2-0 win over QAS Football. They have now closed to within two points of the Fire and will be looking to chase them as hard as possible with a win here.
Both the Bulls and the Cougars have quick, skilful forwards who are in form – Chris Swain and Sander Waterland for the Cougars, and Joe Rusch and Jamie Carroll for the Bulls and, while the Bulls have been more defensively solid, they now have some squad depth problems to overcome since the reported departure of midfielders Bronson Koppen and Peter McGrath, and A-League star Wayne Srhoj. These losses, with home ground advantage thrown in for the Cougars, might just be enough to swing things the Cougars’ way in what should be an entertaining match.
North Queensland Razorbacks v Brisbane Strikers, Saturday 14 July, Townsville Sports Reserve, 7.00 pm
Last weekend’s 3-1 loss in Mackay to a resurgent Whitsunday Miners brought to an end a run of good results that had seen Ken Mitchell’s young Razorbacks rise from near the foot of the table to the fringe of the top four. But if anyone should doubt their ability to be competitive against the top teams this year, they need only look to their 1-0 loss earlier in the season in Brisbane to the Strikers, their two draws with the FNQ Bulls and their 1-0 away victory three weeks ago over the Sunshine Coast to dispel those doubts. Certainly, in beating the Sunshine Coast they achieved something that the Strikers, for all their consistency this season, have not yet been able to do.
For their part, the Strikers go into this fixture unbeaten for eleven consecutive games and in scintillating form, and even appeared in last weekend’s 6-1 win over Bundaberg Spirit to be finding another gear. Having extended their lead at the top of the table to ten points in Round 16, they will have their sights firmly set on making every post a winner in their quest for the club’s second QSL championship. However, they are unlikely to make the mistake of approaching this fixture with an over-confident attitude, given the history of hard-fought contests with the Razorbacks. The Strikers are by some distance the most potent attacking outfit in the competition to date, spearheaded in recent weeks by the goals of Matt Thurtell and midfielder Chris Di Sipio, but they now also boast the competition’s meanest defence.
Clearly, the task ahead of the Razorbacks on Saturday is a big one. They will need to have their most experienced players, such as Anthony Galliozi and Gareth Edds in midfield, step up to the plate to match it with Di Sipio, Chay Hews and Michael Angus of the Strikers. If they can, then another huge tussle is in prospect. It is also worth noting by Townsville football fans that the match will give them an opportunity to check out the form of Sean Burke, Josh Searle and Lorenzo Sipi – all former Razorbacks who have made the move south to the Strikers .
Bundaberg Spirit v QAS Football - POSTPONED
Both of the teams in this fixture will be looking to rebound from heavy defeats last weekend, with the Spirit having suffered their worst result of the season in losing 1-6 to the Strikers while QAS Football were on the receiving end of the biggest shock of the round in losing 1-4 at home to Capricorn Cougars.
However, Bundaberg were decidedly under-strength last week and, with the likelihood of several key players returning this week they will be optimistic that they can get back to more competitive ways for the visit of the QAS, to whom they lost 2-1 to in Round 8. Over the course of this season there has been little to choose between the two teams here, who are separated by just three points on the league table with Bundaberg needing the win to bridge the gap.
The QAS, like Bundaberg, have a game in hand over most of the teams above them, so a win over the Spirit could position them as the team outside of the top four most likely to mount a challenge for finals football. On the other hand, a loss would just about destroy their finals hopes, so the desperation stakes are higher for them.
Gold Coast v Sunshine Coast Fire, Sunday 15 July, Meakin Park, Slacks Creek, 3.00 pm
Still winless this season, but having drawn with (and very nearly beaten) Bundaberg Spirit in their previous home fixture, the Gold Coast come off the bye this week with the challenge of taking on the champions – a team they have never previously beaten. The Fire, however, are currently not in the best of form, having lost two of their last three matches and taken only four points from the last twelve on offer to them. The nett result of that uncharacteristic lean spell is that their hopes of winning a third consecutive league championship are hanging by a thread.
Could the battling Gold Coasters be the players who cut that thread? Form does not suggest so, but there are never any certainties in football and the home team will gain encouragement from knowing that influential midfielder Tyson Holmes, who has been integral to the success the Fire have enjoyed in the QSL, is still away trialling with A-League club Perth Glory. The Fire have struggled to ignite in Holmes’s absence but they still have enough quality in their ranks, and enough defensive solidity, to see them through here.
So, if the Gold Coast can match the Fire physically and find a way to use the pace of Jason Doherty up front, they might just be some chance of causing another upset.