YOU don’t have to remind Strathfieldsaye coach Darryl Wilson how important second semi-finals are.
You can mount a strong argument that Strathfieldsaye lost last year’s premiership on second semi-final day not on grand final day.
The Storm led Golden Square by 34 points at half-time of last year’s second semi-final only to crumble in the second half and lose by eight points.
Square earned a much-needed week off and went on to defeat the mentally-scarred Storm by 21 points in the grand final.
“You can still win flags from preliminary finals, but you’d rather not have to play another quality opponent,’’ Wilson said.
“We’ll be working hard on our defensive mindset because that’s what cost us in last year’s second semi-final.
“Golden Square showed what finals experience is all about. Hopefully, we’ve learned from all our finals last year and we’re better for it this time around.”
This year the Storm’s second semi-final opponent is not a battle-hardened, reigning premier.
It’s a Sandhurst side looking to qualify for its first grand final in a decade.
The Storm and Dragons split their home and away encounters, but it’s Strathfieldsaye who go into the game as warm favourite.
Both sides will wait until Saturday morning to finalise their squads.
Storm key forward Tom Bartholomew (knee) and Sandhurst full-forward Ryan Haythorpe (calf) both face fitness tests.
“We didn’t expect Tom to come up this week, but he trained really well on Thursday night,’’ Wilson said.
“He’s jumping out of his skin to play, but we’ll wait until he sees the physio on Saturday.”
Jake Hall (knee) is a certain starter meaning the Storm could have a forward six of Stephen Milne, Sam Mildren, Bartholomew, Kris Lea, Lachlan Sharp and Hall.
That’s enough to give Sandhurst coach Brett Fitzpatrick a sleepless Friday night.
“Strathfieldsaye’s forward line is very potent, so that makes the midfield battle even more important,’’ Fitzpatrick said.
“If we can get our hands on the ball through the middle of the ground then we have the capabilities to stretch Strathfieldsaye’s defence as well.”
While the Storm are fresh after two weeks off, the Dragons have had a light week on the training after last Sunday’s win over Gisborne.
“No matter what happens we won’t be using the short break as an excuse,’’ Fitzpatrick said.
After going into the qualifying final against Gisborne as hot favourite, the Dragons are happy to be the hunter this week.
“Having the first final out of the way and getting some success means the players aren’t as anxious this week,’’ Fitzpatrick said.
“As a group, and individually, they are a lot more comfortable with where we are at.”