Maitland are bracing for early finals-like footy with the Hawks and the Bombers lurking on the horizon for the second-placed team. Image via Rick Merrick.

The AFL Hunter Central Coast finals may still be a few weeks over the horizon for most clubs, but Maitland boss Chris Pedler has sounded the horn early in regards to the postseason quality of his squad.

According to the Saints coach, a “tricky” run home against Cardiff and Killarney Vale means the second-placed side must lift accordingly as they roll through the last month of the regular season. That surge began this weekend with a win over the Marlins.

“It’s good to get back into the winner’s circle, especially against a side like Nelson Bay who have been a benchmark team in the region for a number of years now,” said Pedler.

“We were in a weird situation for a little while, we were down a few players against Wyong recently and we played well, but we just couldn’t kick a goal. The same thing happened this weekend where we finished two and sent eight wide.”

It was against sharpshooter Sarah Burns that led the way in the goalscoring department, with the Saints locking on to their target properly in the final three quarters. Burns shot eight majors as Maitland fired to a 19.14-128 to nil win at Dick Burwell Oval.

There were two other standouts on the park for the travelling side, however. Engine-room commander Sarah James was at her unstoppable best, Pedler said, while 16-year-old young gun Halle Craigie made history for the Maitland club.

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Craigie was the first junior Saint to make the step up from the development ranks to the top grade for the women’s side. It was a momentous occasion for the club that has turned it’s focus to forging pathways in recent years. She even iced the day with a goal.

“This is the first time for the club that a junior girl has got into the senior side and so we made a big deal of it on the weekend,” said Pedler. “It’s huge for our club to finally be producing those youth players, it’s something really special for Halle and all of us.”

With the future cementing itself, Maitland’s coach has turned his attention to his team’s final three fixtures. More importantly, the last two: the Hawks and Bombers.

“We start our finals-like footy in the next few weeks with Cardiff and then Killarney Vale, so we have to be ready to come out with great footy on the park for those matches,” said Pedler of the impending showdowns.

“Honestly I’m not too fussed if we’re first or second, the top two would be good because we’ll have that week off, but the girls just want to play footy. Right now we’re just looking at each game individually as we build to those big tests.

“I actually only just started using the ‘F’ word [finals] in the past few weeks. I don’t think it will matter where we finish to be honest, we’re playing great footy and we want to be right at the end when it’s all wrapping up.”

The Bombers in particular have continued their strong run of form to keep control of first with a pile-over victory against Gosford at Adelaide Street Oval on Saturday afternoon. Third-placed Newcastle also chalked a win, 133-2 against the Power.

Also in Round 15, Warners Bay returned from the bye round with a 13.17-95 to 2.5-17 win over Wallsend-West Newcastle on the road, while Terrigal Avoca clocked up their third win in a row against Singleton at Hylton Moore Oval.

Finally, the Dockers continued their second-half rampage with an 11.14-80 to 4.5-29 win over the Cats at Weerman Field. Brianna Trappett and Emma Howe booted four each in the win. The Hawks, Blues, and Magpies had the bye round.

STANDINGS: Killarney Vale (92%), Maitland (85%), Newcastle City (78%), Wyong, Terrigal Avoca (76%), Cardiff (69%), Lake Macquarie (57%), Warners Bay (46%), Singleton (42%), Wallsend-West Newcastle (33%), Nelson Bay (30%), Port Stephens (21%), Gosford (15%), The Entrance Bateau Bay (15%), Muswellbrook (0%).