Districts set sights on fourth NTFL premiership win

After a tough couple of years Southern Districts are back in the NTFL grand final, and have their sights firmly set on securing their fourth premiership.

After a tough couple of years Southern Districts are back at the top of the NTFL and this weekend have their sights on their fourth premiership win.

The Crocs claimed their last title in the 2017-18 season beating the Darwin Buffaloes by just a single point in a thriller.

They’ve had their strong moments since, making the grand final again the following year only to lose to a Nightcliff side about to embark on its threepeat.

There have also been some low moments with the Crocs not making finals at all in the 2020-21 season, while they were bounced out in the 2021-22 elimination final.

The return of the club’s longest standing coach Shannon Rusca, who has won premierships as both a coach and player, indicated the club was intent on returning to the top.

From there the club enjoyed an injection of talent such as the league’s best ruck Matt Dennis, former AFL player Cam Ellis-Yolmen and talented midfielders Luke Smith and Matt Shannon.

And all of a sudden the Crocs were back on top winning against top sides all season to secure the minor premiership, and now back in a grand final they have a chance to claim title number four.

“We had to work really hard throughout the season to put together a team that could compete with Waratah and St Mary’s,” Rusca said.

“Around midway we thought we had the right mix of players and then it was just about gelling the group and playing synergy footy, I think we’ve accounted for ourselves very well.

“It’s great to be in a grand final, the club is pumped and excited to see their team in this last game, and for the volunteers who put in a mountain of work it’s their reward too.

“It’s great to be coaching, you never lose your competitive edge. I thought the club was at a really important stage of its lifecycle, and when I got asked to coach again I jumped at the opportunity.”

Districts had their stumble in the lead-up to the grand final losing to Waratah in the major semi-final after a disjointed preparation.

However, they rediscovered their game in the prelim final against St Mary’s with the return of skipper Dean Staunton and SFNL player of the year Kaine Stevens.

Crocs’ pressure game, involving important contributions from defenders Frazer Driscoll and Michael Bowden, forced Saints out of the contest and ultimately secured Districts spot in the big dance.

Now they have some consistent game time in their legs and have had a wake-up call to finals footy, Districts are hoping to get the win over Tahs in the grand final.

And if they do it will be a finals pattern very similar to their win in 2018, where the Buffs beat them in the semis only for Districts to strike back in the trophy match.

“We’re definitely ready for them. We had a bit of a wake-up call and we realise now we’ve got to go up a notch if we’re going to compete with them,” Staunton said.

“It was kind of a rehearsal, they really showed us what finals footy is about, and against Saints the next week the boys responded really well.

“To win this match will mean everything. It’s why you play footy and why we’ve run out every week.

“We’ve had a tough couple of years, we missed out on finals a couple years back, so we’ve been building and hopefully we’ll reap the rewards.”

Waratah on the hunt to end NTFL’s longest title drought

Waratah have the longest premiership drought in the NTFL Premier League, and 23 years on from their last title they want more than anything to finally be rid of that title.

Tahs last had their hands on the flag in the 1999-00 season, and despite finishing runner up three times since, nothing will satisfy their hunger quite like having the trophy back at Gardens Oval.

For a Foundation Club with a celebrated history, including 15 premierships since their formation in 1916, Waratah know more than any club what it’s like to wait.

But now in 2023, with a side who knows heartbreak after losing the 2021-22 grand final, the club is done with waiting.

And if finals form is anything to go by, it’s easy to see why this group of Tahs have so much confidence, having beaten both the reigning premiers St Mary’s and minor premiers Southern Districts on their way to the big dance.


Captain Brodie Carroll credited his side’s composure heading this season, saying the side had come a long way since their 2021-22 defeat.

“Making the granny last year we were all a bit nervous, but this year we’re much calmer and more composed,” Carroll said.

“Last year we had a much younger group, this year we’ve got more mature heads because of that experience, with our youngest players now in that 20-23 age bracket.

“It was disappointing to lose the grand final, still having that longest drought which is a title we don’t really like, but what we learned last year gives us a better chance to win it this year.

“If I can be a premiership captain in a drought-breaking year that will be unreal, I have a lot of family connections to that last win so to break the drought would be pretty special.”

In the grand final they face the Crocs once again, and despite Waratah being the dominant side last time around, both know this will be a tough contest.

There’s been plenty of big performers for Waratah throughout the season including proven goal kickers Jayden Magro and Darcy Hope.

Vice-captain Dylan Collis has marshalled Tah’s rock solid backline all season, while the explosive Tom Cree and on-ballers Scott Carlin, Robbie Turnbill and Ed Morris are also expected to have big games.

But one of the key battles will come in the ruck with Arnold Kirby matching up against the league’s best in the position, Matt Dennis.

“There’s a little bit of confidence knowing that we beat Districts, but this is going to be a completely different game, a much harder contest,” Carroll said.

“They’re pretty quick, they’ve got a lot of good players, they’ve got a lot of depth and love contesting the ball, and we’ve got to respect that.

“We’re similar, we don’t have any passengers this year, and everyone just plays their role and contributes.”

It comes as Waratah have four teams playing in grand finals this season, including their women’s premier league, the premier league reserves and the under-18s.

The Women’s premier league side have greatly impressed so far in finals with wins over the regular season top two, PINT and St Mary’s.

Key to their success has been the form of some of their star performers from skipper Kierra Zerafa to dual rucks Stephanie O’Brien and Annabel Kievet.

Now they face another contest against minor premiers PINT with a win here sealing Tahs’ first premiership since 2018, a long gap for the most successful women’s club.

Coach Heidi Thompson was delighted with the progress her side had shown so far in finals, and was hopeful the momentum would continue through the big dance.

“We’re just delighted. We went into that game (vs PINT) as underdogs,” she said.

“Everyone had written us off and to run over the top of them in dry conditions was pretty exciting.

“I think momentum is everything in finals footy. Throughout the home and away season we had plenty of changes, but now we both have our strongest team so it will be a battle for the ages.

“It’s all about clicking at the right time. When we played them throughout the season we had our injuries and now it’s coming together just at the right time.”

PINT had been the form side all season, and showed in a fourth-quarter prelim-final comeback against St Mary’s they can’t be counted out.

It was a win which sent notice to the Waratah women, who now know they need to be at their best across four quarters to get the job done.

And Tahs will be hoping a bit of X-factor from the likes of Aggie Singh might just be the ticket for success in the grand final.

“We were pretty surprised, we thought Saints had it in the bag heading into that fourth quarter,” Thompson said.

“But credit to PINT, they’re minor premiers for a reason and it just goes to show that if you put in a four-quarter effort and show the fitness that PINT showed then you earn a spot in the grand final.

“There will be nerves, but they will be good nerves, there’s a good bit of energy and a great vibe around the club to have so many teams in the grand final.”

Originally published as Southern Districts Dean Staunton believes his side is ready for the grand final meet vs Waratah

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