Preliminary finals draw:
Seniors: Palm Beach-Currumbin v Sandgate
At Len Peak Oval, Kirra, 2pm Saturday.
Reserves: Palm Beach-Currumbin v Western Magpies
At Len Peak Oval, Kirra, 11.30am Saturday.

By Terry Wilson

A KNEE injury has forced Sandgate captain-coach Ben Long out of the Pineapple Hotel Cup preliminary final against Palm Beach-Currumbin on the Gold Coast on Saturday.
Long sustained a grade-one medial strain during last weekend’s first semi-final win over the Western Magpies and has conceded he is only a 50-50 chance of playing the following weekend, should the Hawks get that far of course.
Long’s spot in the side – the only change of personnel for the Hawks – has  gone to versatile key-position utility Shayne Etherton, which adds extra height to the side but robs them of a midfield, in-and-under type.
Palm Beach-Currumbin, on the other hand, have two changes to the side that was soundly beaten by premiers Noosa in the bog up at Weyba Road last Saturday.
Classy rover Brad Hewat and teenage wingman Nick Burton are into the side at the expense of Blake Schneider and Troy Brown.
The Lions could not consider co-captain Matt Carroll, central defender Chris Williams or forward Lee Clark. Williams’s dodgy calf did not come up this week, Carroll’s hamstring is much the same and Clark continues to be plagued by shoulder problems.
So fortunes at the selection tables look fairly even with the Hawks missing only Long and forward Josh Walker (knee) from their best 22 and the Lions missing only three regulars.
And results this season between the sides have also been even.
In round six, PBC lost at home to the Hawks by only four points after the visitors trailed by 30 points mid-way through the final quarter and stormed home with a late rush of goals.
Then, in round 14 up at Lemke Road, the Lions downed an injury-hit Hawks by 33 points.
Word from both camps is they don’t mind one little bit about playing the knockout preliminary final at Len Peak Oval.
“We like Cooly’s ground and I think we play better on smaller ovals,” said Long.
“Our key forwards can get a lot of footy to them quicker and give them more chances one-on-one.”
Yet Long feels the match will be decided in the middle where he expects some great ruck duels between his own Michael Pettit and Brendan Forbes up against Michael I’Anson and David Round.
His rival Craig O’Brien has already forecast that I’Anson will run with Forbes ‘wherever he goes’.
On the Len Peak Oval subject, O’Brien said: “We play pretty well there and we’ve had some good results.
“It’s in our back yard, really, and they (Sandgate) have that bit extra travel to do.”
Another factor in his team’s favour, O’Brien believes, is the six-day break between matches for the Hawks, plus the travel.
“We had the six days to recover after we beat the Western Magpies, then we had to go up to Noosa,” he said.
“We struggled with that and we had no bench left at three-quarter time. Sandgate have the six-daybreak, which we struggled with last weekend.”
The odds appear stacked against Sandgate, yet the hunger burns strongly in the Hawk inner sanctum to make amends for last season’s loss to Noosa in the grand final.
Ironically, PBC conquered Noosa the year before in the 2009gand final.
“We don’t want to lose focus on this weekend, but having another go at Noosa is definitely something we spoke about at training last night,” said Long.
“It has been a factor all year, but we have to get over a pretty good side to get there again.
“I’m definitely worried more about the first quarter this weekend, our starting point.”
There are so many exciting match-up possibilities away from who goes with whom in the midfield and ruck.
One possibility is a clash between the opposing Mr Versatiles, PBC’s James Drake and Sandgate’s Aaron Fabian. Both can play just about anywhere in key positions.
“Fabian is like Drakey,” noted O’Brien. “He can jump, he can run, he can mark and he can kick. He can do things a lot of others can’t do.”
In Saturday’s reserve grade preliminary final, Palm Beach-Currumbin take on Western Magpies, a side likely to be loaded with players with first-grade experience.
After losing just once during the home-and-away series, PBC fell to Sandgate in the first semi-final last weekend while the Magpies eliminated Surfers Paradise from the flag race.

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