No matter the competition, grand final week always produces a hard-luck story.
This year at North Launceston it involves 18-year-old Fletcher Bennett, who has been relegated in favour of 2017 premiership coach Tom Couch despite the 30-year-old playing the last of his five matches this season in July.
“Fletcher has played a variety of roles back and forward for us and just with our structure going into this week we didn’t see a role for him in the defensive half,” North boss Taylor Whitford said on Thursday ahead of his side’s bout with Southern rivals Lauderdale.
“He was more forward half and realistically that’s where Tom’s going to play so unfortunately he’s the one that misses out.” There is a silver lining for Bennett, who has played 13 senior matches this year, as he will line up in the Northern Bombers’ development league decider at UTAS Stadium on Saturday.
Bennett, Lochlan Young, Jack Mazengarb and two-time premiership defender Jay Foon, who fractured his C5 two months ago, have been named as emergencies.
North advanced to its fifth-straight senior grand final with a powerful first term in the second semi against Glenorchy and never let them back into the contest.
North has lost just once to Lauderdale in seven encounters over the past two seasons – winning six by an average 64 points.
“If you could plan out a game how you want it to go, you’d want to lead from the start and right through but realistically it’s not going to pan out that way,” Whitford said.
“Our good first quarters have been spoken about, internally it’s nothing we focus on, we have a focus on playing a four-quarter game.
“Lauderdale has a potent forward half so we’ve got to make sure we’re understanding our match-ups defensively as they swing different numbers through there.
“Defenders aren’t going to be on (Ryan) Wiggins, (Thor) Boscott, (Jacob) Gillbee or (Henry) Kerinaiua all the time.
“And their midfield is damaging as well so we have to be clear in understanding how they want to go about it.”
Whitford said he is fortunate enough to have several charges that can play a variety of positions, midfielders in particular who can go forward and kick goals.
And a prime example is skipper Brad Cox-Goodyer, who almost certainly gives Lauderdale nightmares after last year’s eight-goal-and-five-behind grand final effort on one leg.
Whitford said despite already being the most successful club in the TSL era, there was still hunger in his playing group for more glory.
“There is only four of us that have played in all four [Whitford, Cox-Goodyer, Zach Burt and Jack Avent] so the list turnover has been large, which gives each group motivation on a yearly basis to go on,” he said.
Underdogs better for 2017 disappointment
Rewind 12 months and Lauderdale’s maiden TSL grand final fate was sealed by half-time with a 10-goal-to-one second term as North Launceston took full advantage of a man-focused Southern Bombers.
But Lauderdale coach Darren Winter, who received a six-week ban in the aftermath of the 2017 decider, has no desire in looking back to move forward with the small Eastern Shore club hoping to end a 27-year premiership drought on Saturday.
“[After] finishing fifth and playing North Launceston at York Park I would think most people think that we haven’t got much of a chance, which is probably fair enough on the season that they’ve had,” Winter said.
“But we’re going up there to have a good account of ourselves. There is a really healthy rivalry between the two clubs… and with that rivalry comes, not hatred, but certainly a mutual respect for each other.”
Lauderdale has taken down Clarence, Launceston and Glenorchy in the past three weeks to advance and has made three changes with Ben McGuinness, Ryan Wiggins and Corey Laoumtzis to return from injury and soreness at the expense of Ray Hill, Matt McGuinness, Josh Williams.
Winter said the fact his players have played good football for the past three months holds them in good stead to try and dethrone their Northern Bomber counterparts.
“[The playing group] know what to expect so I think they’ll draw on that from last year… [which] was probably a bit of an unknown for them,” he said.
“There has been a lot written about last year and I certainly don’t think we got sucked in too much.
“There has been stuff on social media from their players to our players so I would think they will try and get under our skin but I certainly don’t think that will work this year.”
Winter said he is not expecting Tom Couch to play a high percentage of game time and be more of an impact player considering his lack of game time.
And he expects him to do it well and said his players would cause Taylor Whitford’s men some headaches.
“We move the ball quickly, they’ll have to shut down the way we move and we attack,” Winter said.
“We won’t go into the game and try and defend, we will go in to try and win… so that might mean we get beat by 10 goals or we win by 10 goals – and we’re capable of doing both.
“And we’ve got bigger bodies this year than we had last year, except for the two NT boys obviously.”
Lauderdale is at full strength with captain Bryce Walsh making a successful return from a debilitating ankle injury last week.
Three of five coaches not featuring in Saturday's finale have tipped a fourth North Launceston in five season, but there is some hope for Lauderdale.
TIP: North by 73 points.
“North have the runs on the board and on numerous occasions they have stood up when it counts. They’ve got players that know what to do when it comes to the crunch.”
TIP: North by 27 points.
“Lauderdale have got the weapons to challenge them and a bit of it will come down to the start. North have had many greats starts against them… but I feel on a ground that big North have got more running power.”
TIP: Lauderdale by eight points.
“They are in good form, they have been dominant in their three finals so far and you’d hope they’ve learnt a few lessons from last year.”
TIP: North by 22 points.
“They’ve been the best all year and Tom Couch will win the medal with four goals up forward. Both teams’ strengths are their forward lines but North will win enough midfield territory.”
TIP: Lauderdale by 14 points.
“Lauderdale has played a month of footy while North has had some byes, so if they are ever going to get the job done it will be this weekend.”
- FINAL TIMES
- 9.45am: development League – Launceston v North Launceston
- 12.30pm: Tasmanian State League Women's – Clarence v Glenorchy
- 3pm: Tasmanian State League – North Launceston v Lauderdale
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