The first finalist for the 2014 Canterbury AFL has been found, with the Christchurch Bulldogs looking like strong contenders for the major premiership.
As top qualifiers, the Bulldogs will progress automatically to the Grand Final. The are likely to be joined by the Blues, but there is always the possibility of an upset win from the Eagles, who will be playing their semi final this weekend.
The Eagles will be hurting after being thumped by a rampant Bulldogs, though are expecting to put together a stronger side for the semi final with players returning from a Labour Weekend break, and injuries. The match was, for both teams, an excellent chance to impress the selectors for the upcoming NPC, a chance taken by Richie Hazlewood for the Eagles and Jarred Percival for the Bulldogs.
However, there was only going to be one winner after the Bulldogs racked up 98 points in the first half. Their win will be ominous for any team looking to challenge them in the Grand Final.
Christchurch Bulldogs 19 20 134 def Mid-Canterbury Eagles 2 6 18
Best Bulldogs: K Smith, T Foley, Andrews, Percival
Best Eagles: Hazlewood, Robles-McGill, Peters, Lines
In the other match of the round, the Blues shook off a strong challenge from the University Cougars to record a more modest win. The Cougars, who finished the season in 4th place, played a tough, fierce brand of football, and at times looked like they could record an upset win.
However, the difference in experience proved to be crucial, with the Blues pulling away late in the game, in part thanks to mature performances from New Zealand Hawks Dan Benny and Levi Inglis.
Brendon Swift was inspirational for the Cougars, and the team as a whole showed serious potential late in the season. Providing they can return next year with a similar squad, they will be seen as strong contenders to improve on their position on the ladder.
Eastern Blues10 17 77 def Uni Cougars
Best Blues: Sherlock, L Inglis, Young, Court
Best Cougars: Swift, Risdon, Mountiev, Day
Eagles vs Blues: Saturday 1st November, Northwood Park, 12.30
Auckland and Wellington
Matches will resume this weekend after a Labour Weekend break in Auckland and Wellington.
Demons vs Eagles: Sunday 2nd November, Hutt Park, 1.30
Bulldogs vs SaintsL Sunday 2nd November, Hutt Park, 3.00
University Blues vs Manurewa Raiders: Sunday 2nd November, Mountford Park, 2.00
Waitakere Magpies vs Pakuranga Panthers: Sunday 2nd November, Bell Park, 2.00
North Shore Tigers vs Mt Roskill Saints: Sunday 2nd November, May Road, 2.00