AFL stars to shine on Wollongong footy feast

Illawarra players Elise Kidd, Erin Franklin, Laura Russell and coach Dave Nolen. Picture: ANDY ZAKELI
Illawarra players Elise Kidd, Erin Franklin, Laura Russell and coach Dave Nolen. Picture: ANDY ZAKELI

A four-game extravaganza of Australian football, including a cast of former and potential Sydney Swans stars, will feature at North Dalton Park on Sunday.

As part of a massive day, three Wollongong teams will be playing supporting fixtures around the North East AFL clash between the Swans reserves and Canberra powerhouse Ainslie.

The opening match will be an AFL Sydney Division One game between the Wollongong Lions and UTS Bats commencing at 9.30am.

Following the Swans clash, Wollongong's best female players take the field, before the 10-hour schedule is completed when South Coast arch-rivals Kiama and the Bulldogs go into battle.

Lions coach Dave Nolen said the players are ready to rise to the pressure of playing before Swans contracted players.

"It's great exposure for AFL in the area, and hopefully local footy fans will get behind the concept," he said. This is a must-win game for the sixth-placed Lions after a disappointing - and costly - loss to St George last week.

The loss was compounded by fifth-placed Parramatta's upset win over Pennant Hills.

The Goannas' win, and the Lions' loss, puts Wollongong two games behind Parramatta, leaving them with a difficult task to make the top five.

Nolen believes last week's loss could be a turning point for the team.

"The loss to St George put a decent gap between us and Parramatta, so we really must rise to the challenge this week, and for the rest of the season if we're to stay in touch with the top sides," Nolen said.

"I'm confident, though, that if the boys knuckle down and turn up for four quarters we'll get the job done."

The Lions game will be followed by the NEAFL match between the Swans and Ainslie at 12pm, and this in turn will be followed by an AFL Sydney women's game between the Wollongong Saints and Manly Giants.

Wollongong captain Leanne Kidd said the girls are very excited at the prospect of playing in front of what they hope will be a healthy crowd.

"We don't usually get much of a crowd for our games, so hopefully a lot of footy fans will turn up, and show their support", she said. "I'm sure it's going to be a fantastic day."

The Saints are sitting in third place on the ladder and, after a narrow loss to ladder leaders Southern Power two weeks ago, bounced back strongly last week with a two-goal win against sixth placed Auburn.

Manly, on the other hand, lost to lowly Gosford, so the Saints will be looking for a good win to consolidate their place near the top of the table.

"We had a good win over them earlier in the year, so hopefully the girls can repeat that this time around," Kidd said.

The final match of the afternoon will feature the two grand finalists from last year's AFL South Coast competition, Wollongong Bulldogs and Kiama Power. This will be the first time the two sides have met since the Bulldogs narrowly defeated the Power in last year's grand final.

Kiama sit on top of the ladder, however a win by Wollongong would put them in first place as they have a far healthier percentage.

It's a position that would be difficult to be removed from as they also have two games in hand.

Bulldogs coach Lee Murray said he is confident they can come away with the points on Sunday.

"Both teams will be understrength but considering the players we have out and the amount of byes we've had recently, I'm pretty happy with our preparation," Murray said.

"The rivalry between the two sides is pretty fierce, so it should be a massive game and the team is primed for a big effort."


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