Every season 12 teams compete for the chance to put their name up in lights. Twenty-two rounds separate the best from the rest and leave us with six and soon enough we are left with two.
It must be Grand Final time.
All things considered, it would have been hard to pick two teams more deserving of the right to play-off for the right to be called PS4 National Premier Leagues NSW Men’s 1 Champions than Blacktown City and Bonnyrigg White Eagles.
Blacktown – the Premiers and reigning Champion – against Bonnyrigg – the one team Blacktown has not managed to beat this year and arguably the stand-out side of the last half-decade.
Neither side is a stranger to the big stage.
Blacktown saw off Sydney Olympic at the same stage last season to be crowned 2014 Champions, while prior to that Bonnyrigg competed in the previous three, taking the prize in 2013.
One will reign supreme again in 2015, and who will take the crown is anyone’s guess.
All over the park, key battles become immediately clear.
Can Robbie Younis get the better of Zach Cairncross and Matt Lewis – this season’s stand-out central defensive pairing – as he did two weeks ago?
How will Bonnyrigg captain Chris Tadrosse cope with the threat of Danny Choi and-or Travis Major?
Can Ray Miller assert his authority over Sasa Macura and the Blacktown City midfield?
Those are just three of the burning questions, which will help to decide the outcome of today’s do-or-die clash.
Blacktown City has set the benchmark all season. Mark Crittenden’s side conceded the least, scored the second most, had the best goal difference and finished five points clear of next-best APIA Leichhardt Tigers after 22 rounds.
There’s just one thing City hasn’t done this season and that is beat Brian Brown’s Bonnyrigg White Eagles.
In three previous encounters this season, City has lead the White Eagles. Twice they have drawn and most recently City lost, dropping a 2-0 lead to lose 4-2 after extra-time in the Major Semi Final.
The win granted Bonnyrigg a week off heading into the Grand Final, which may just prove handy.
Blacktown, on the other hand, had to play, but that might not have been a bad thing given Crittenden oversaw a 6-1 win against APIA – a result and performance that will surely boost Blacktown’s confidence.
It came at a slight cost, however, with midfield revelation Connor Evans left struggling with a knee injury and facing a nervy wait to prove his fitness for the clash, while Bonnyrigg will be without Aaron Peterson, who received a yellow card in the Major Semi Final win.
Even without Peterson, there is no shortage of threat from Bonnyrigg and Younis, Tynan Diaz and Yuta Kokada will prove every bit as dangerous as the likes of Patrick Antelmi, Joey Gibbs and Danny Choi for Blacktown.
Whatever the outcome, goals, excitement and entertainment seem likely, but when it’s all said and done, only one team can be Champion.
NPL Grand Final: 3pm Sunday 13 September, Leichhardt Oval