Finals football arrives in the Hastings Deering Colts tomorrow night (Friday, August 31) with the Victoria Thunderbolts hosting Wynnum Manly in an elimination final.
Being played as a curtain-raiser to the Melbourne Storm v Penrith Panthers NRL game at AAMI Park; it will launch a big weekend of action fitting of the close finals race.
The competition is anyone’s for the taking at this point as all six remaining teams have shown glimpses of being able to take the premiership home.
The Townsville Blackhawks and Norths Devils have earned the bye for the first week of the finals, finishing first and second respectively.
Hopeful of joining them in Week 2 of the finals next weekend are the Thunderbolts and the Wynnum Manly who are two teams in blistering form.
Victoria will be looking to continue their run of performances and make it six wins on the trot; but will come up against a Gulls side who are flying high after a huge win over the minor premiers (Townsville Blackhawks) last weekend.
Seagulls coach Joe O’Callaghan said that whilst the win that saw them score 40 points on a Blackhawks side who hadn’t conceded more than 24 points all season would give them confidence heading into the finals; he was happier about how his side approached the game.
“The most pleasing thing is that they treated it as a semi-final game, a must-win, and the fact that they played to that in their head, that’s probably more important going into a finals game that they’ve done it a week early,” he said.
The win came at a cost for Wynnum Manly though with the physical test against Townsville causing a few injury concerns for the side.
“We had Payden Porter, our starting front rower, tear his hamstring and we had three other boys off to hospital; one with a suspected broken foot, one with suspected broken ribs, and the other for HIA (Head Injury Assessment) after a pretty bad head knock,” O’Callaghan said.
“As much as we want the best 17 on the park, if injuries rule them out, hopefully the other three or four guys in the squad take the opportunity and run with it.”
Despite the injury woes, O’Callaghan remains confident for their clash with Victoria and believes the Thunderbolts are the side to beat at the moment.
“Not to undersell us, but I think Victoria has been the best team in the comp over the last five or six weeks and they’re probably the most inform team, not Townsville,” he said.
“If we can hold the ball and get ourselves into an upbeat and fast game of football against Victoria, as we showed on the weekend, I think we can match it with them; Because if you try to play a power game against a team like Victoria, you’re always going to come off second best.”
Cairns will host the second game of the finals as the Northern Pride take on the Souths Logan Magpies, which will see the Pride’s home semi-final moved to another local ground due to conflicting schedules.
Despite the slight change of scenery, Pride coach Dave Scott said the fast track in the middle of the day should suit his side much better than the Magpies.
“We played there a few weeks ago; it’s a fast track which will suit us and hopefully we’ll get a decent crowd because it feels like they’re on top of the players, so the atmosphere should be pretty good,” he said.
The Pride have lost two of their past three games with both losses coming against teams who’ll only be watching the finals.
Scott said his teams form hasn’t been good enough, but he feels they can turn it around.
“Pretty simple errors have been costing us; we haven’t been blown out of the park or felt like they were the better side, it’s generally been our own undoing and our performance is nowhere near what I expect as a coach going into the finals,” he said.
“Souths are a big, athletic side so we’ll try and counteract that size and strength with our speed.
“With that and coming up to far north Queensland at 1 o’clock in the afternoon, we’ll be getting those big boys moving around and hopefully fatigue them if we can hold the ball and get extra effort out of them.”