BOTH the Shellharbour Sharks and Kiama Knights will have one thing on their minds come 3pm Sunday – book their ticket to the first grade Group Seven grand final.
While it sounds obvious, this is an opportunity both teams have been working towards all season.
Minor premiers Shellharbour, who will host the match at Ron Costello Oval, will come into the match fresh, after having a week off last round.
“It was training as per normal for us last week – we weren’t going to to put a halt to our hard training just because we had a week off,” Sharks coach Abed Atallah said.
“The boys feel fresh and are looking forward to playing in front of their home fans for a spot in the decider – it’s the reward for finishing first we wanted.”
Despite the Sharks falling one game short of the grand final the past two seasons, Atallah said that won’t impact his side this time around.
“We knocked that thought process on the head pretty early, because this is a vastly different team to years past,” he said.
“This group has their own set of goals and if we produce like I know we can, I’m confident of a win on Sunday.”
The only time these two teams played this season was back on April 29, when a Jye Brooker try at the death sealed a 22-18 win for the Sharks.
“We played them very early on in the season, so you can’t really gauge how the teams match-up on that,” Atallah said.
“Both teams have improved a lot since then.
“Look at our new spine for example, it took a while for it to click but now it’s finally started to click, with their combination making everyone else’s jobs easier.
“If we can focus on playing our game correctly, doing the little things right, while shutting down their key players, I know we will find ourselves on top come full-time.”
Contrastingly, the Knights come into the match battered and bruised, after defeating Warilla-Lake South last Sunday at Cec Glenholmes Oval.
“A few of the boys have pulled up a little sore from last week but all of them, including Kieran Poole [head knock], will be right come Sunday,” Knights coach Matt Clarke said.
Clarke, who agreed with his counterpart that the team’s meeting in round four carries little substance as ‘plenty of footy has been played since then’, he believes the key to shutting down the Sharks is limiting the impact of their halves – Matt Carroll and Sam Clune.
“Obviously their halves are heavily involved in everything they do, helping their big and mobile forward pack around the park,” he said.
“If we can limit their [Carroll and Clune] time on the ball and work hard at slowing down their go forward, it should suffocate their attack, especially their backline.
“But more importantly, we need to concentrate on our own games and play like we did in the second half against Warilla-Lake South – we kept the ball in play for long periods of time, completed our sets and kept their forwards moving and allowed our fit and fast team to get on top.”
If Clarke’s troops do win on Sunday, the Knights would have qualified for their second straight decider.
“For me, making it straight into the grand final, would be very exciting, especially in my first season,” he said.
“It’s a big achievement but I’m just building on the platform the boys developed last year.
“All the players really want to get there and make amends for last year, especially considering what happened.
“It would mean everything for the club as a whole.”
The qualifying finals at Ron Costello Oval will start with the Women’s League Tag division two clash between Albion Park-Oak Flats and Shellharbour (8.30am), followed by Sussex Inlet and Mount Warrigal (third grade at 9.30am), Albion Park-Oak Flats vs Milton-Ulladulla (under 18s at 11am), Kiama vs Jamberoo (WLT at 2.30pm) andKiama vs Jamberoo (reserve grade at 1.30pm).
On Saturday, Warilla-Lake South will attempt to rebound from last weekend’s loss to Kiama, when they travel to Kevin Walsh Oval to battle the reigning premiers Jamberoo from 3pm.
Also on Saturday, are the following elimination semi-finals; Warilla-Lake South vs Kiama (WLT at 8.30am), Jamberoo vs Wreck Bay (third grade at 9.30am), Warilla-Lake South vs Berry-Shoalhaven Heads (under 18s at 11am), Milton-Ulladulla vs Stingrays (WLT at 12.30pm) and Shellharbour vs Albion Park-Oak Flats (reserve grade at 1.30pm).