CLOSE RACE: Wanderers gun Nick Sharp takes on a Lithgow Zig Zag opponent in their tough 3-2 win over Ziggies a fortnight ago. Photo: STEVE GOSCH 0521sghock8HOCKEYWITH just two wins separating the top six teams in the men’s Premier League Hockey competition after 10 rounds, the battle for a finals berth this season is already shaping up as a thrilling one.
Defending champions St Pat’s are setting the pace as the halfway point of the season approaches, an 11-0 rout of Bathurst City on Saturday moving them into first place.
The Saints (30 points) boast the best attacking record in the competition, while in terms of defence, the blue and whites share top ranking with Lithgow Panthers as they have been beaten just 14 times.
While the Bathurst outfit could have an even better record were they not stripped of four points for fielding an unregistered player in round one, local rivals Souths proved they are beatable.
The two blues, who currently sit in third place behind St Pat’s and Lithgow Panthers, beat the Saints 2-1 in round seven.
Souths also looked a level above fourth-placed Orange Wanderers in their most recent outing, which resulted in a 3-1 win on Saturday.
Wanderers skipper Alex Said believes any of the competition’s top six sides can realistically win the 2016 title.
“For us, it’s just about going out there and doing our thing,” Said added.
“We’ve got to go out there each game and work hard, stick to our structures so we can come away with that win.”
Souths and Wanderers both sit on 24 competition points, as do Lithgow Zig Zag, after Saturday’s round with the Bathurst outfit ranked highest due to their superior goal differential.
But Zig Zag gave a strong indication they are a team to watch on Saturday when beating Lithgow Panthers 2-1.
It confirmed the opinion of Souths coach Ray Winwood-Smith, who labelled Zig Zag the “dark horse” of the competition a week earlier.
Still, Panthers (28 points) are a team that the Souths’ mentor respects as well.
They beat his men 5-3 a fortnight ago and unlike Wanderers, who opted to conceded space through the midfield to strengthen their defence against Souths, Panthers constantly applied pressure.
“It was more of a physical game down there [in Lithgow]. Orange played off us a lot, so they gave us a lot of time and a lot of space to do what we wanted to do, but Lithgow don’t give you that time,” Winwood-Smith said, Parkes United the sixth team in title contention on 22 points.
“We’ve got St Pat’s next up, so that’s a big test for us,” the Wanderers skipper said.
“I’m confident if we keep playing they way we are, we’ll be in that top four or higher. We’ve been really consistent this year, although last week’s loss was disappointing.
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