There will be history to be made and club servants to be honoured when Bracknell runs out onto Windsor Park on Saturday.
After joining the NTFA in the 1998 season as the last club to win the Esk-Deloraine flag, the Redlegs are yet to add their name to the competition’s honour board despite winning through to a handful of grand finals.
But last week’s win over reigning premier Rocherlea has given the club another chance to break its drought, leaving competition heavyweights South Launceston as the final hurdle in the Redlegs’ premiership pursuit.
They will, however, be without the services of outgoing club icon Josh Nunn, who was stretchered off in the dying stages of the preliminary final with a suspected broken ankle.
Coach Gary Shipton said his troops would be just as inspired to win the premiership for a grandstand-bound Nunn as they would if he was lining up on the ground.
“It was very disappointing the way he finished his time at the club so we’ve got something big to play for this week, and it’s also been 20 years since the club’s won a flag so it’s a big week for us,” Shipton said.
“Having a taste for it last year we’re focused and we know what we want and how we want to go about it.”
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Shipton is not without his own injury concerns, having attained a “sore foot” in the second semi-final which saw him confined to the coaches box for last weekend’s prelim.
He has since ditched the moon boot and will have until Saturday to prove his fitness.
“If I’m right I’ll play and if I’m not I’ll coach, we’ll prepare for anything.
“We’ve got a fantastic list so if I don’t play someone will come in and I’m sure they can do the role.”
After going down in last year’s decider the Redlegs worked hard to strengthen their list, recruiting Uni-Mowbray’s Glenn Dawson to take over from long-time full-forward Josh Adams and adding Will Fisher, Jack Dyer and Eric Izbicki.
Shipton said the club was in a strong position with most of the list re-signing for next season.
“Losing Tom Broadhurst at the start of the year and not having a traditional ruckman (has been difficult) but Craig Burling stepped up to that role fantastically and Conan (Duhig) has been playing the last six weeks in the ruck.
“Glenn coming on as our full-forward replaces Adda so it’s just trying to keep the playing group we’ve got for as many years as we can - we’ve got a great list there and we’ve tried to keep it all together.”
There’s nothing quite like premiership success to help keep a list together, and Shipton knows a good start is crucial if his side is to get over the line on Saturday.
“We’ve played South three times this year and we’ve lost by 16 points and 9 points I think, we know it’s going to be a tight game, it’s just going to be about who settles earliest and gets a bit of a break.
“They got us on the outside a lot at Longford, we turned the ball over a lot so if we can not turn the ball over so much it’ll be a ripper of a game.”
They may be aiming at their third NTFA flag in four years, but you’d be wrong to think South Launceston’s success has come through anything but hard work.
The Bulldogs will contest senior and reserves grand finals on Saturday, which senior coach Leigh Harding puts down to dedication and focus on the training track.
“I think I counted that we’ve had 90-plus sessions since the middle of November when we started... so obviously the boys have put in a lot of work and the whole reason behind it is to play in this last weekend,” Harding said.
“To now have two sides out of the three with the opportunity to win is amazing, but the hard work is ahead of us now, we want to stop at nothing but two wins and at the end of the day that’s why we play, to firstly be in a grand final and then to win one.”
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After finishing the home and away season with only three losses to their name, the Bulldogs took out the minor premiership by edging Bracknell on percentage.
A bye late in the season combined with the top-five finals system has meant the Bulldogs have had three of the past six weeks off, however, Harding is positive the club has made the most of the chance to rest players and simulate gameplay.
“Obviously we don’t make the fixtures or the roster or anything like that so we just work with the cards that we’ve been dealt.
“It’s been a great opportunity for guys who have had little niggles and for some of our older guys to freshen up, having said that we’ve trained pretty hard.
“Because we’ve gone game, bye, game, bye, game, bye we’ve been really mindful of what we’re doing at training to get as close to game simulation as possible but also looking after our bodies.
“But this week’s been all about mentally preparing, we’re not going to learn a lot more or gain any fitness, it’s just about reinforcing the point now and maintenace stuff on the track and getting our minds right.”
Many have pitted Saturday’s game as a battle between the hard, outside running game of the Bulldogs and Bracknell’s expertise at winning in-tight, contested footy.
The wide expanses of Windsor Park should suit the Bulldogs’ style of play but Harding knows his side will need to be at their very best to come away with silverware.
“One thing we know about Bracknell is that they’ve been the most consistent side all year.
“Any time you come up against them you know they’re always going to be right there, it’s always going to be a tough, hard contest and I think the grand final is going to highlight that even more.”
9.15am: Under-18s grand final – Longford v Bridgenorth.
11am: Under 18s premiership cup and David Marshall Medal presentations.
11.30am: Reserves grand final – South Launceston v Longford.
1.35pm: Reserves premiership cup and Graeme Khan Medal Medal presentations.
2.15pm: Seniors grand final – South Launceston v Bracknell.
4.45pm: Seniors premiership cup and Clarrie Boon Medal presentations.