It's finals time in the NRL, but many folk will be making their way to the North Shore to enjoy some finals hockey as the semi's and finals take over this weekend. On the ladies side we have Midlands vs Auckland as well as Northland vs Canterbury, while on the men's side we have Canterbury vs Midlands and Auckland vs Southern. Cowabunga, let's get it on.
- The Midlands vs Auckland ladies encounter will be pretty interesting, with the Jaffas taking the bickies earlier in the week 2-0. Midlands will be out to make the final for the second year in a row and surely the combination of general anti Aucklandness and some revenge will play a part for the Midland girls.
- The midfield battle will be enough to make many hockey fans get giddy with Danielle Jones and Jan Rowsell likely to take on Sam Charlton and Rose Keddell. Charlton and Keddell have been uber dominant, especially charging through the midfield but Jones and Rowsell are no mugs.
- The midfield battle will be key as both teams have plenty of fire power in attack and sturdy defences. The Aucklanders will look to Julia King and Danielle Sutherland to help out in midfield and you'd imagine it will be all hands on deck to help stop Charlton and Keddell.
- Throw in to the mix the Harrison sisters who have been in decent nick and along with Krystal Forgesson they'll be lethal.
- It's not like Midlands don't have the personnel to handle Auckland's attacking prowess though. Aussie import Kate Gimore is doing what typical left halves do - play super duper solid and with Natasha Fitzsimmons controlling the defence, it's hockey heaven.
- The naughty North vs the Cats. Boom. But it's hard to see this one being as awesome as the Auckland vs Midlands semi, but it'll be a gritty encounter. An earlier 1-1 draw resulted in a 3-1 shootout win for Canterbury.
- As you can imagine, Northland will rely heavily on Stacey Michelsen who chilled out for 3/4 of their last pool game. You'd have to think that she was resting for the semi, so expect her to come out eager to put on a show.
- The supporting cast will probably be more important though. Ella Gunson, Brooke Neal and Jasmin McQuinn will have to not only defend stoutly against a stacked Cats side, but they'll have to offer a fair bit going forward as well. Expect them to be organised and efficient in defence, give early passes in attack and let it flow ... until it gets to Michelsen.
- The Cats, their stacked but fitness they've lacked. Oh, killem. But it's been evident that the girls from Canterbury haven't quite reached the fitness levels of other sides, with Mark Hager rumoured to be a wee bit unhappy #GrumpyGramps.
- It's hard to ignore the playing talent for the Cats however with Bridget Blackwood and Pippa Hayward holding down the midfield fort for Sophie Cocks and Rachel McCann to attack from.
- Look to Sian Fremaux and Pippa Hayward to offer plenty in attack, early balls to these two will be the order of the day.
- Who knows how this one's gonna end up.
- The men, Auckland vs Southern. The classy Aucklanders with talent in abundance vs the Dogs. Auckland are coming off a tight top of the table 1-0 win against Midlands and don't look to have quite hit their straps just yet.
- The Dogs have looked good defensively all tournament and with Auckland able to call upon plenty of attacking fire power, headed by striker Jared Panchia, the Dogs will have to be at their defensive best to limit opportunities for the Aucklanders.
- We can't forget that Auckland has beaten the Dogs in finals games two years in a row so expect the Southern lads to be out for revenge. Southern scored most of their goals against the Aucklanders earlier in the week by absorbing waves of attack and hitting them on the counter. With sharp shooters/poachers/strikers waiting up field, Southern will look to hit them early and sneak a few goals in.
- Dean Couzins (A town) and James Nation (Dogs) will be interesting to watch. They're both great defenders with a wealth of experience and will have to keep everything organised in front of them, do the nitty gritty and also give swift, early balls going forward.
- It looks to be shaping as Auckland's attack vs Southern's defence. With a midfield jam packed with not only experience, but world class experience, expect Auckland to dominate the middle of the field.
- Midlands have been pretty surprising to be honest, but with Richard Petherick playing anchor, they have a lethal drag flick threat. It will be a nightmare for Canterbury's defenders who'll have to have the footwork of a dancer to avoid any cheap PC's and offer up a chance to Petherick.
- It would be awesome for Midlands if they can get an early goal and put Canterbury under the pump, throw a spanner in to the works and ruffle some feathers.
- Canterbury will look to Simon Orchard to lead them, with his big game experience likely to be a key factory as he'll be there to keep the lads calm and on track. You wouldn't want to face this Cavaliers side in knock out hockey, their tough, gritty but also capable of free flowing hockey. If anyone misses their defensive assignment on Orchard and he's offered a bit of time and space then watch out.
- Keep an eye on Cam Hayde for Canterbury, the Cavs are pretty stacked, but Hayde is in some fine form and he's going to be there to put any chance in to the back of the net.
- No NHL side is one dimensional, but Midlands will see their biggest chance as their PC bracket. Match this up against a Cavs side who'll look to exploit any over excited Midlands attack on the counter, as well as control the flow and temp of the game and you'll have a pretty nice game of hockey.
If you're in the Auckland area, get across the bridge and go watch some hockey. It's understandable if you didn't get out and watch the round robin games because of work or because you're soft, but it's the weekend matey. This type of hockey is only on display sporadically in New Zealand so make the most of it, there's international super stars as well as local heroes, there's provincial rivalry, it's mate vs mate ... it's kiwi hockey.
We're not too sure if we'll be able to pump out a preview for Sunday's finals, it'll be Saturday night so she'll be a tough ask but we'll see. To predict the finals, it would be awesome to see Canterbury vs Auckland finals on both sides of the comp. That'll be the business, but who knows. Maybe the Midlands men will just get a roll on? Maybe the Northland women will take the spoils back to Whangarei.