East Wagga-Kooringal and Charles Sturt University will engage in a pre-finals dance at Gumly Oval on Saturday, sizing each other up ahead of a likely elimination final duel in a fortnight.
The teams are fourth and fifth respectively with eight wins each, both four points and percentage behind Temora, who take on Barellan on Saturday and then have the bye in the final round.
Although an upset at Temora might open the door for the winner at Gumly to make a bold play for third, the Hawks and the Bushpigs know the odds are they’ll be meeting again in two weeks, with their seasons on the line.
Hawks coach Matt Hard says it does play into preparations.
“Absolutely, you obviously want to go in full of confidence in a couple of weeks time, most definitely. You want to win and we’re definitely up for the challenge,” Hard said.
Coming off a bye, the Hawks are starting to glimpse the sunshine through an injury cloud that nearly derailed their season.
Chris Gordon, Luke Cuthbert and Keigan King return against the Bushpigs. Defender Joe Banks is set to come back through reserves. Forward James Hodges, backman Brenton Roberts and midfielder Harry Fitzsimmons hope to be back for finals.
“Cuthy and Gordo are obviously two very big inclusions and young Keigan King we’ve sort of missed his bite around the packs up forward,” Hard said.
“He’s been very good for us when he’s been playing as far as putting pressure on and forcing turnovers so he’s another pretty big inclusion. We rate him pretty highly in the side, so it’s good.”
The Hawks took the points when the teams last met, riding their luck, momentum and big plays from their big names to a comeback victory at Peter Hastie Oval.
“They were very good last time we played them over there. It was a pretty sloppy sort of day but we had to pull all stops out to get past them,” Hard said. “I think they’ve improved a fair bit since then so they deserve to be where they are. They’re definitely an up and coming side, there’s no doubt about that.”
Any good fortune the Hawks might have had that day wasn’t with them at Temora three weeks ago when they crashed to a fourth straight loss. But Hard saw signs of recoverynand hopes they’ve righted the ship and are ready to sail towards the sort of football they’ll need to play in finals.
“We are sort of working towards that. Against Temora we were very good for probably three quarters,” Hard said. “Obviously then we had Coleambally and then the bye so we probably haven’t got a real handle on where we’re at, just because of the personnel in and out and not getting a settled line-up.
“But the guys that are in know what’s required and I’m looking forward to seeing how they go playing our style of footy and against quality opposition.”
CSU welcome captain Diarmid Cleary back to their half-back line but centre-half-forward Joe Stapleton will again miss with a knee concern.