The Victoria Thunderbolts travel north to Cairns this weekend, looking to claim their seventh straight win when they face the Northern Pride – the side who gave them their last taste of defeat back in Round 17.
Since that loss, the Thunderbolts have been arguably the most in-form team in the Colts competition and will be aiming to continue that form to move within one win away from a grand final berth.
The Pride, on the other hand, will be working to stop the Thunderbolts from striking and to inflict a second-straight defeat.
Thunderbolts coach Ben Jack said this weekend’s clash would be all about effort and leaving everything out on the field.
“The thing about this game is that there are no second chances, so if it doesn’t go our way it’s all over for us,” he said.
“They’re (Northern Pride) going to have threats all over the park, but if we can nullify their yardage game and force them to kick inside their own half, then we’ll give ourselves good opportunities to get some good ball and see what we can do.”
The Victoria side have exceeded their season expectations and Jack said anything from this point on “is just gravy”.
“We achieved our first goal of making the top six and I feel we’ve legitimised ourselves by being one of the final four,” he said.
“For a lot of our guys at the start of the year, they wanted to prove that Victorians can play rugby league and I think making the final four of a 15-team competition, where 14 of them are from rugby league heartland, making it over them is a massive achievement in itself.
“We’d like to beat the Pride this weekend for obvious reasons, but we’re really proud of where we’ve come.”
To set up this week’s win or go home game, the Thunderbolts proved too strong for Wynnum Manly at AAMI Park last Friday night with an impressive 28-6 victory; while the Northern Pride outlasted the Souths Logan Magpies 24-16 after getting off to a hot start.
However, before this game gets underway on Sunday, the first spot in the Colts grand final is up for grabs in the top-of-the-table contest between Townsville Blackhawks and Norths Devils.
Following their first-round finals bye, both teams will be ready to go as they try to book their ticket to Suncorp Stadium for the September 23 decider.
The Devils coach Kevin Neighbour said their early season matchup against the Blackhawks served as the “wake-up call” his side needed.
“The guys who played in that game got a hell of a shock and have really knuckled-down since, and used it a lesson to think ‘if we want to be part of the best, we have to become the best’ and they (Townsville) really set the mark,” he said.
“I think that was a really good wake-up call for a lot of our guys that day to feel that this is what Under 20’s is all about and that Townsville are going to be a very good side.
“So, if we want to be a part of that top group, then we’ve got to act a lot more like they do and credit to our guys, they’ve stood up and took it as a very harsh lesson.”
The Devils rattled off seven straight wins to close out the season, despite having used 39 different players throughout the course of the season.
“Everyone who has come into the squad has taken their opportunity to stake their claim and make the finals,” Neighbour said.
“We know they’re (Townsville) on top for a reason, but if we perform, we’re confident we can get a win up there and know it’s going to be very tough.”