“SEIZE the moment”.
That’s the key message from Leitchville-Gunbower coach Matt Hawken ahead of Saturday’s Heathcote District league grand final against North Bendigo at Huntly.
The Bombers have lost the past two grand finals to North Bendigo, still leaving the club without a senior premiership since 1995.
Those two grand final defeats to the Bulldogs by margins of 10 and 20 points are among just six losses the Bombers have suffered in their past 54 games.
“We keep giving ourselves an opportunity and it’s about seizing the moment and performing,” Hawken said on Friday.
“One thing we’ve learned over the past couple of years is about maximising your performance in that two-hour window of a grand final.
“All the hard work that we’ve put in this year is about making sure we perform to our best in these two hours on Saturday.
“No doubt there’s plenty of hunger from the boys who have been on the wrong side of the ledger over the couple of years.”
Nine of Saturday’s grand final team – captain Daniel Couwenberg, Adam Decicco, Daniel Meroli, Hoby Bussey, Jackson McEwen, Lee Pollock, Matt Perri, Steve Pretty and Tim Lincoln – have played in both grand final defeats to the Bulldogs.
The Bombers have played second fiddle to the Bulldogs all season in terms of premiership discussion, with many predicting at the start of the year it would be North Bendigo and then daylight to the rest of the competition.
But the Bombers have ensured the Bulldogs haven’t had it all their own way, and go into the grand final with a 2-1 head-to-head advantage over North Bendigo.
One of those wins came in the second semi-final a fortnight ago when the Bombers, after trailing by two points in time-on of the final quarter, kicked the last two goals to win by 10 points.
“At the start of the year everyone said it would be North Bendigo and then the rest, but as the year has gone on we’ve been able to show we’re a side that won’t be intimidated and we’ll keep cracking in, no matter what the state of the game is,” Hawken said.
“That has shown in the past two encounters against North that no matter what gets thrown at us, we’re able to hold up well and that gives the playing group a lot of confidence going into a big game.”
The young talent in Leitchville-Gunbower’s grand final team includes two Bendigo Pioneer-listed players in Brady Hore and Logan Prout, who after playing in the Bombers’ under-17 premiership team last year now get a crack at winning a senior flag.
Ruckman Lee Pollock and key defender Meroli return to the side in place of injured ruckman Michael Pilcher and forward Jack Dye.
One of the keys to the Bombers on Saturday will be restricting the influence of the Bulldogs’ star forward trio of Brady Herdman, Sam Barnes and Rhys Ford, who didn’t play in the second semi-final.
Meroli, Ryan Prendergast, Pretty and Bussey are all key defensive options, while the Bombers pulled a surprise in the second semi-final by sending usual forward Ayden Walton to Barnes.
The likes of Jackson McEwen, Daniel Coates, who was best-on-ground in the second semi-final, Tim Lincoln, Hore and Adam Decicco loom as dangerous on the big Huntly ground with their run and carry.
Two of the standouts for the Bombers this season have been recruits in Matt Ladson and Matt Pollock, who will both again have major roles to play in the engine room alongside Couwenberg and Liam Guinan, while star forward Perri (118 goals) looms as one of the game’s X-factors.
GRAND FINAL TEAM
Number in brackets is calculated off club best players each week – six votes for the player named best, five votes for the second best and so on.
B: 11. Hoby Bussey (0), 23. Ryan Prendergast (4), 14. Logan Prout (21)
HB: 17. Jackson McEwen (33),37. Daniel Meroli (8),10. Steve Pretty (3)
C: 3. Daniel Coates (16),4. Matt Ladson (44), 12. Shaun Turvey (2)
HF: 7. Joel Donehue (16),31. Ashton Dye (0),5. Tim Lincoln (15)
F: 38. Liam Guinan (6),27. Ayden Walton (5), 18. Matt Perri (32)
FOLL: 1. Lee Pollock (30), 15. Matt Pollock (44), 29. Daniel Couwenberg (16)
INTER: 9. Mitchell Bruns (9),2. Adam Decicco (13), 33. Brady Hore (14),6. Brad Ladson (8)
BY THE NUMBERS
Record – 17-1
Average for – 139
Average against – 51
Percentage – 275.5
Quarters won – 61 of 72
Time in front – 87.5%
Highest score – 218, v Heathcote, round 14
Lowest score – 76, v Colbinabbin, qualifying final
Matt Perri – 118
Jack Dye – 41
Ayden Walton – 28
Tim Lincoln – 22