The home stretch: How your PFNL club is shaping up in the run home to finals

The Peel Football and Netball League will be back in action this week, following a brief hiatus for the Landmark Country Football Championships.

The return marks the beginning of the home stretch of season 2019, so fans can expect serious contenders to amp up their intensity as they look for form ahead of the finals.

As things stand at the moment the top five appears all but locked in.

It would take a monumental collapse from one of the five sides and a blistering finish from one of the bottom three to change things, but hey, stranger things have happened.

So as we enter the final straight of the regular season, here's a quick look at where each club sits with six games to go.

Baldivis

  • Ladder position: First
  • Record: 10-2
  • Last five: W, W, W, W, W

The Brumbies' last eight weeks have been spectacular.

They haven't dropped a game in that stretch, and four of those wins came against fellow top-four sides (including two over Centrals, one over Rockingham and one over Pinjarra).

Throughout that run it's been the consistent dominance from ruckman Josh Branchi and star forwards Blaine Johnson and Ben Higgs that's propelled them, along with the usual reliable efforts from Brendan Tingey, James Russell and Emmanuel Collard.

So, with all that accounted for, are they the flag favourites?

Yes, they certainly are, but there are some teams snapping at their heels for that title so they'll need to keep their good form rolling over the coming weeks.

Baldivis star Blaine Johnson leads the league's goal kicking tally. Photo: Justin Rake.

Baldivis star Blaine Johnson leads the league's goal kicking tally. Photo: Justin Rake.

Centrals

  • Ladder position: Fourth
  • Record: 6-6
  • Last five: L, L, L, W, W

Prior to the three weeks leading into the Landmark bye, the Blues looked like they had rediscovered their 2018 form.

They were on a roll with three straight wins (one coming over what was an unbeaten Pinjarra unit at the time), and appeared ready to make a charge up the ladder.

But they ran into a rampant Rockingham in round eight, and went on to lose to Mandurah and Baldivis in the ensuing fortnight to put them on a three-game skid heading into the break.

The dour stretch also threw their ability to beat top sides into question, having lost all three games to top-five opposition, which was unlike the Centrals side we saw thrive in those tough match-ups last season.

So where to now for the boys in blue? Well, thankfully, recent history is somewhat on their side.

Last year the Blues came good late and rode that wave all the way to a grand final berth. This year, they'll need to do the same.

Halls Head

  • Ladder position: Seventh
  • Record: 2-10
  • Last five: L, L, L, L, L

Not exactly where any side would want to be at this point of the season, but not exactly a doom and gloom scenario for the Lightning either.

They knew from the outset of the season they would head in young, and while playing finals was the goal, it was always going to be difficult as they continue to develop their youth.

In that regard, the year's been somewhat of a success, with the likes of Mitchell Jones, Andrew Barker and Travis Sexton all stepping into league roles.

In terms of the run home, their first game back from the break is perhaps their most crucial if they want to avoid the wooden spoon, as they take on Waroona.

Both sides have a 2-10 record, and a win would go a long way to dodging that dreaded last-place finish.

Mandurah

  • Ladder position: Fifth
  • Record: 6-6
  • Last five: L, W, W, W, L

Far and above the most interesting team to follow this year, the Mustangs have surged off the depths of the ladder and look almost certain to break their finals drought.

But its been a polarising season for the determined Mandurah outfit, with their wins and losses coming in bunches as their form fluctuates.

Coach George Costello told me earlier in the season they are looking to "bridge the gap between their best and their worse", and if you look at the past month before the bye round they were finding some success with that.

Three straight wins over Rockingham, South Mandurah and Centrals had them in great form, and even their loss to Pinjarra prior to the break was an admirable one.

Mandurah's challenge now becomes picking up where they left off.

Their next four weeks consist of two showdowns with top dogs Baldivis, another with top-four outfit Centrals and a clash with Halls Head.

Pinching two wins from that run would suffice, while three would be superb and four downright luxurious.

Pinjarra

  • Ladder position: Second
  • Record: 10-2
  • Last five: W, W, W, W, L

So this is usually the time that Pinjarra gets motoring.

Over the past two years, in which of course they've won back-to-back flags, the Tigers have been ultra impressive over the final six games of the season and entered the finals in ripping form.

Their personnel might look a little different this time around, but it still sort of feels like they've just been treading water, waiting for the right time to hit the ground running.

Pinjarra heads into each season aiming for a top-three finish, giving them the second chance in the finals.

They've basically already sewn that up, but if they want to finish first then pinching a win away from home against the top-three Rockingham Rams this weekend is a good start.

Their percentage may fall well below both Rockingham's and Baldivis', but with the likes of Brock O'Brien, Rob Beswick, Lloyd Beever, Stephen Martin, Jarrod Bowman and plenty more experienced players the Tigers still have every chance this season.

Rockingham

  • Ladder position: Third
  • Record: 9-3
  • Last five: W, W, W, L, W

Here is what I know about the Rams: They're really good at attacking footy, and they clearly belong in the top tier of the league.

Here is what I don't know about the Rams: Whether they are genuinely in the premiership conversation.

I actually like watching Rockingham more than any other side in the competition, if not just for the sheer excitement in their brand of footy.

They're relentless in attack and they score insane amounts of points, which makes them a delight to watch.

But does that all-out, guns-blazing offence have a place in the finals, where sides like Pinjarra and Baldivis are going to do everything they can to bottle you up?

Well, they won through to a preliminary final last year, so maybe it does.

I'm not sure what the answer to that question is, but they have a pretty good chance to prove they're legitimate finals threats when they play Pinjarra this weekend.

South Mandurah

  • Ladder position: Sixth
  • Record: 3-9
  • Last five: W, L, L, L, L

The Falcons have faced their share of hurdles through the first two thirds of the season.

Top midfielder Michael Humble flew the coup to play in a different league early on, and spearhead Brad Holmes made his way north just before the Landmark break.

Injuries haven't exactly helped them out, and the up-and-down form that is expected with a young squad can be a gift or a curse.

Still, through all that, South Mandurah remain the best of the bottom three sides and to be completely fair, have kept their finals hopes alive.

The performance of Jack Shanahan (who is a real chance to take out the league's Ross Elliott Medal, by the way) is to be applauded, as is the Falcons winning mentality at a time where they could easily have thrown in the towel for a year.

I wrote a piece earlier in the season stating the Falcons were going to be just fine despite this year looming as an indifferent one to the proud club's usually high standards, and while I personally think the top-five is already set, I'll stand by that.

Jack Shanahan has been superb for the Falcons. Photo: Justin Rake.

Jack Shanahan has been superb for the Falcons. Photo: Justin Rake.

Waroona

  • Ladder position: Eighth
  • Record: 2-10
  • Last five: L, L, L, L, W

Not something I'd usually say about a side with a percentage in the 40's, but Waroona have seemed an improved unit from their 2018 campaign.

Both of their wins have come against top-five teams in Centrals and Mandurah, showing they're capable of playing a formidable brand of footy, and pushing a few more young guns through the ranks has breathed a bit of fresh air into the Demons' make-up.

No doubt they're not thrilled with their 2-10 record, and far less with the fact they're (probably) going to miss finals for a second straight year, but there are a few positives they can fall back on.

Much like Halls Head, their biggest positive may be dodging the wooden spoon, which makes the clash between the two this weekend more interesting than your average bottom two battle.