Charles Sturt University’s return to finals has had first-year coach Pat Noonan negotiating nervous excitement and big decisions in the build-up to Sunday’s elimination final.
The Bushpigs go in search of the club’s first finals victory since 2001 when they take on East Wagga-Kooringal at Robertson Oval.
“I’m pretty nervous, to be honest. Not anxious but excited, I think, for the club,” Noonan said.
“The feeling this week has been really good and really positive so going forward, hopefully that is reflected in our game on Sunday.”
CSU will field one of their strongest line-ups of the season with star off-season signing Joe Stapleton set to make his return from a knee injury on a half-back-flank.
“I want him there – I think he’s best suited there for the finals,” Noonan said.
“I just want him to dominate a game and control it and I think he can off a back-flank. I know I’ve got the guys in the forward line to get the job done there and I really hope Joe stands up and takes ownership of the backline with Dimmer (captain Diarmid Cleary) and the boys back there.”
Stapleton’s brother Tom is in the ruck with Vas Seker at full-forward and Zac McDonald and Will Stewart other targets up forward.
“It definitely is our strongest team and that’s what it had to be. I had to have some of those conversations (on Thursday night) and a couple of guys had to miss out (Clay Hamblin and Laing Whinfield) which was hard.
“But the team that we’ve put in is the team to get the job done.”
The Bushpigs’ loss to East Wagga-Kooringal in the wet a fortnight ago was their only loss in the last six weeks of the season and Noonan was encouraged by the way they returned to winning form at Coleambally last week.
The Hawks have won both games against CSU this year and have plenty of players who thrive on the big stage, including Nick Hull and Chris Gordon, while the likely inclusion of Brenton Roberts and Harry Fitzsimmons will add something.
But, with CSU midfielders Brayden Ambler, Louis Miller and Rob Herzfeld firing consistently throughout the season, Noonan wants his players to back themselves.
“We know what they’re like structure-wise (EWK) and they’ve got all the elements there… but I can’t tell my blokes who are dangerous to focus on someone else because it takes them away from their own game and what we want them to do,” Noonan said.
“The vibe I’m getting is we’re back to where we were a few weeks ago – the week before we beat Temora. That atmosphere is there again.”