The inaugural Alex Scott & Staff West Gippsland Football Netball Competition season will end as it began when Inverloch-Kongwak and Cora Lynn meet in the maiden senior football grand final.
The pair first faced off in the standalone season opener in late March and they will renew hostilities at Wonthaggi Recreation Reserve on the final day.
The ledger sits firmly in the Sea Eagles’ favour, having won all three meetings so far, but coach Ben Soumilas knows that counts for little, come the big day.
“It gives you confidence you can compete but that’s all really,” Soumilas said.
“If we had played them three times and been belted by them three times you would say ‘anything could happen’ so we just go out there knowing our best is good enough.”
The Sea Eagles fell short on the big stage last year and up to 10 members of that side will have the opportunity to avenge that defeat one year on.
One player in particular that has his sights firmly set on redemption is gun on-baller Andy Soumilas, who has been so focussed on his preparation for the grand final he was unable to attend Monday night’s vote count, where he was announced the winner of the competition’s best and fairest medal.
Soumilas’ coach and brother, Ben, accepted the award on his behalf and told the 380-strong crowd that Andy’s disappointment at his fitness and performance in last year’s grand final defeat had driven his outstanding performances.
It was the 34-year-old’s fifth league best and fairest award, having previously won the West Gippsland Football League Breheny Medal (2004), Gippsland League Trood Award/Rodda Medal (2004 and 2011) and Ellinbank and District Football League Alf Walton Medal (2013).
The key battle could take place in Cora Lynn’s attacking half, with both coaches pointing to that area of the ground as a strength for their respective sides.
“They have got two forwards that like to operate in space so we’ll be going with a back six approach,” Soumilas said.
“Our team defence has been a real strength of ours this year and hopefully we can make it difficult for their forwards again.”
Cora Lynn coach David Main said supplying the likes of Nathan Langley and Ryan Gillis with enough ball to impact the scoreboard would be the key challenge facing his side.
“IK are definitely one of the best at restricting sides and our forward line is one of the best at scoring in the competition,” Main said.
“It’s pretty even everywhere else as well so whoever wins two of the three lines will win the game.”
The Cobras made two changes to the side that lost the second semi-final, with Kevin van den Berghe and Matt Langley replacing Justin Markulija and Darren Maggio for last week’s preliminary final win against Phillip Island.
Crafty on-baller Ryan Spierings has missed the past month with hamstring trouble, having not missed a game all season, and is the other member of the squad that will be desperate to prove himself, should he get the call-up.
Main said team selection hinged on balance and structure more than individual ability.
The Sea Eagles, on the other hand, will see little reason to change, having fielded the same 22 for the past three games.
With two weeks of rest in the past month, coupled with a good run on the injury front, it seems unlikely any changes will be made for the decider – a stark contract to the club’s lead in last year.
Inverloch-Kongwak will be favourites, but Cora Lynn certainly knows what it takes to win a flag.
As many as 12 members of last year’s premiership side will line up again, including seven that will be vying for their fourth flag in a row.
The Cobras held the Bulldogs to just one behind after half-time in last week’s preliminary final and won’t be letting the Sea Eagles have it all their own way.
The Sea Eagles will be keen to avoid being sucked into a physical battle against Cora Lynn’s bigger bodies and the Cobras will be desperate to restrict Inverloch-Kongwak’s ability to run and carry.
“Overall it has been a really good competition that has built a great reputation in a short space of time, so hopefully we’re set for a ripper grand final as well,” Main said.
Meanwhile, Korumburra-Bena and Dalyston meet again in a rematch of last year’s Alberton Football Netball League A grade decider.
Led by coach Christie Hillberg, who won her seventh league best and fairest medal on Monday night, the Giants have been imperious from day one and go into the grand final in pursuit of a perfect season.
However, they were also undefeated at the same stage last year, before being upset by the Magpies on the big stage.
Dalyston coach Jenny McRae was relishing the underdog status, after her side avenged its qualifying final defeat to Phillip Island to reach the grand final.
“Once again we’re up against Korumburra-Bena but there’s a lot of determination and positive vibes among our girls and leading in we’ve been getting better every week,” McRae said.
“A lot of people thought Phillip Island would win last week and Korumburra Bena might have thought they would beat us as well so we’re much more comfortable not being favourites.”
The Giants boast quality all over the court, but curbing the influence of star goal defence Christie Hillberg, who sets up and dictates many of their attacks from the back of the court, is top of McRae’s priorities list.
“They use Christie a lot going forward so we have to avoid long passes as she picks them off,” McRae said.
“We’ve got pace and smarts in the middle of the court so we’ll have utilise that area of our game.”
Hillberg confirmed her side expected to be facing Phillip Island this time around, but said the preliminary final result offered further evidence of one of Dalyston’s greatest strengths.
“We know Dalyston fight and fight to the end,” Hillberg said.
“I thought Phillip Island might get over the line after the season they have had but Dalyston are a bit of an unknown and you can never take them lightly.”
Hillberg said the introduction of three junior players to the A grade squad this year had added depth and versatility to the line up and last year’s heartbreak was driving the team this year.
“We go in with something to prove and we really want to get the cup back from Dalyston,” she said.
“We’ve rotated a lot more through the mid court, attack and defence this year and we need to be unpredictable with what we do.”
The Giants will be sweating on the match sharpness of defender Anna Van Rooye, who returns from a trip to Los Angeles 24 hours before the game.
2017 WGFNC GRAND FINAL DAY
Where: Wonthaggi Recreation Reserve – 79 Korumburra-Wonthaggi Road, Wonthaggi
When: Saturday, 16 September
8:30am – 13&U – Cora Lynn vs Koo Wee Rup
8:30am – Fourths – Phillip Island vs Bunyip
9:45am – 15&U – Phillip Island vs Korumburra-Bena
10:10am – Thirds – Cora Lynn vs Garfield
11:00am – 17&U – Dalyston vs Inverloch-Kongwak
12:15pm – C Grade – Koo Wee Rup vs Dalyston
12:15pm – Reserves – Koo Wee Rup vs Phillip Island
1:30pm – B Grade – Korumburra-Bena vs Dalyston
2:30pm – Seniors – Inverloch-Kongwak vs Cora Lynn
3:00pm – A Grade – Korumburra-Bena vs Dalyston