HUNTLY co-coach Jamie Hogan acknowledges his side is the rank underdog in Saturday’s Heathcote District league preliminary final against North Bendigo.
But all that matters to Hogan and his 22 players who will take to the field is that they believe they are good enough to beat the Bulldogs at Elmore.
“Within our playing group and the club we think we’re right in it up to our teeth,” Hogan said on Friday.
“We know no-one else really gives us much of a chance, and that’s fair enough with how North Bendigo has performed this year. But we’ll go out there on Saturday with the belief that we’re a big chance.”
The Hawks go into Saturday having already pushed the Bulldogs to the limit in round 11 when the game was still up for grabs in the dying minutes, before North Bendigo kicked the last two goals to win by 14 points.
However, the Hawks have also felt the full force of the Bulldogs at their best when they copped a 149-point hiding in round two.
The Hawks go into Saturday’s clash on the back of five wins in a row, including in two cut-throat finals against White Hills by 122 points and Colbinabbin by 16 points last week.
Hogan said the Hawks would give Stacy Fiske (hamstring) and Michael Ryan (groin) until as late as possible to prove their fitness for the match, while Tom Skewes has been ruled out.
“I definitely won’t be taking anyone into the game who has a question mark over them, but I’ll certainly give Stacy and Michael until as late as we can on Saturday,” Hogan said.
Having finished on top of the ladder, the Bulldogs were forced into the preliminary final after losing last week’s second semi-final to Leitchville-Gunbower by 10 points.
Bulldogs’ coach Rob Bennett said his side was let down by a lack of midfield pressure last week and expects a strong response from his group on Saturday.
“We didn’t have enough pressure on the ball-carrier last week and were beaten around the stoppages,” Bennett said.
“We know it’s an area we’ve got to get a lot better at and we’ve certainly addressed it this week.”
The two-time defending premier Bulldogs are poised to be boosted by the return of forward Rhys Ford for his first senior game back from a medial injury.
“Rhys put his hand up to come straight back in last week, but because it was a fair lay-off (five weeks) we decided to bring him back through the reserves and he got through unscathed,” Bennett said.
It’s the second year in a row – and third time in the past five seasons – the Hawks and Bulldogs have met in the preliminary final.
The game starts at 2.15pm.
• How they match up:
Record – 15-2
Average for – 148
Average against – 51
Quarters won – 58/68
Record – 12-6
Average for – 118
Average against – 79
Quarters won – 50/72