Welcome to the final Friday Forecast for the 2023 season ahead of this weekend’s NPL Grand Final. After a long road, we’ve reached the final stop, with one last battle to play out at Valley Road before it all comes to an end.
Modern Rivals To Fight It Out
It will be the NPL Champion’s Devonport Strikers up against the runner-up South Hobart for a shot at the final trophy on offer this season, as both sides looking to end on a winning note by adding another piece of silverware to their trophy cabinets.
It’s fitting that these are the two sides who will meet in the final, as they’ve been the two best sides in the state over the duration of the whole year. They’ve met in the Summer Cup and Lakoseljac Cup Final’s already, and were the top two sides on the final league table.
The Strikers punched their ticket through to the final with a 2-1 win over the surging Kingborough Lions last weekend, with their irrepressible Spaniard, Roberto Fernandez Garrido, sending them through in pure style when he opted for the Panenka penalty down the middle of the goals.
That came in the 90th minute as the match came very close to reaching a penalty shootout after Alfred Hess had cancelled out Brody Denehey’s opener. It was a game that could’ve gone either way, but once again in a big moment, the Strikers found a way to deliver, as they always seem to.
South Hobart had a more comfortable time of it, dispatching Glenorchy Knights 2-0 in a game they always seemed to be in control of at their home base of Darcy Street. Jaden Fidra had them ahead early on and when Bradley Lakoseljac doubled the lead midway through the second half it was curtains for the Knights.
The two sides have met five times in total this season, with Devonport holding an imposing 4-1 head-to-head record in those matches, amongst them, two Cup Final victories.
The first meeting was in the pre-season on neutral ground at Windsor Park as they met in a Summer Cup Final. The Strikers survived a second-half rally to defeat South Hobart 2-1, despite playing much of the second half with 10 men following a red card to Charles Bidwell.
Then it was onto the NPL season proper where again the Strikers took a 2-0 lead before finding themselves reduced to 10 men after Ali Dulleh’s dismissal, but again South could only pull one back and it ended 2-1.
The most important meeting between the pair was undoubtedly the Lakoseljac Cup Final, where a defensive contest with limited scoring chances, was settled by an 80th-minute goal from Roberto Fernandez Garrido to secure 1-0 win for his side. It was an extremely competitive match that could’ve gone either way, with both defences largely dominating.
South’s lone success against the Strikers came at Valley Road in Round 12, as they turned the tables and secured a 3-1 victory, producing a scintillating attacking performance, which would be the only defeat Devonport would suffer all season at the venue.
It threatened to momentarily ignite the title race but would ultimately prove to be just a minor blip on the Strikers season, winning their next six matches before the final and most recent clash came in Round 19. There the Strikers locked away the title with a 2-0 win, courtesy of a brace from Fernandez Garrido.
So for the most part in 2023, it’s fair to say the Strikers have had South’s number this season, even when they have been reduced down to 10 men. The games have been competitive, but with the exception of Round 12, the Strikers have continued to stand up in the big moments and get the better of their Southern rivals.
Stopping Fernandez Garrido looms as the biggest test for South Hobart and an enormous job for the Morton/Lancaster central defensive pairing. Time after time he has proved a match winner for his side, and this could potentially be the final time we get to see the talented Spanish hitman ply his trade in Tasmania. I suspect if that is the case, he will be eager to sign off in style.
He isn’t the only goal threat in this Strikers side though, as Brody Denehey has had a wonderful year in attack and Nick Lanau-Atkinson has enjoyed his best season as a Devonport Striker, scoring his usual array of eye-catching strikes from long range. Throw in the in-form Luke Bennett, who terrorized South in the Lakoseljac Cup final and it’s clear the attack is far from a one-man band.
At the other end of the park, South will be without Isky Van Doorne, who played a starring role in their Round 12 win, but have some major weapons of their own to counter, none bigger than the NPL B&F winner Nick Morton. Morton certainly looms as their ace in attack, he has compiled a superb season and has the capacity to win a win a match off his own boot. If South are to turn the tables on the Strikers here, it seems unlikely to happen without him playing a key role in it. With Van Doorne out, the likes of Jaden Fidra and Sam Berezansky will become all the more important in offering a multi-dimensional threat to a well-settled Strikers defence, who again boasted the best defensive record in the NPL this season, conceding just 17 times.
In midfield, look for a battle between some of the most exciting young players in the state, Charles Bidwell and Taylor Last have played with a maturity beyond their years in the Strikers engine room and Bradley Lakoseljac and Eduardo Castaneda will need to be at their best to stop them seizing control of the match as they’ve done with regularity this season. The battle in there is going to be fierce and it may well provide decisive.
So the stage is set for what should be an enjoyable final, every time these two sides meet it tends to bring the fireworks and it’s become a great modern rivalry, with the Strikers more or less displacing South as the dominant club in the state across recent years. They’ve won trophy after trophy these past eight years after South dominated the early years of the NPL.
Both will be keen to add another trophy to the collection and the final match of 2023 should be well worth tuning into.
Goal and Save of the Season
This is your last chance to get your votes in for the Goal and Save of the Season awards. Voting closes at midnight tonight with the winner to be announced prior to the Final.
Vote Here: https://forms.gle/xtZopZuEVqQ3VYD37
Vote Here: https://forms.gle/uMDCpt4aPQyPZxa3A
McDonald’s NPL Tasmania Grand Final
Saturday 23 September
Devonport Strikers v South Hobart, 4:00pm, Valley Road