LADDER-topping Sandgate settle in for their toughest three weeks of the Pineapple Hotel Cup season when they host Palm Beach-Currumbin at Lemke Road on Saturday.
The Hawks, one win clear of Noosa, Wilston-Grange and Western Magpies, have a huge three weeks ahead with home matches against PBC, then the Magpies and Noosa.
Palm Beach are currently fifth, so the influence the Hawks could have on shaping the top three – indeed the final five – is profound.
By Terry Wilson
As captain-coach Ben Long pointed out, the Hawks could finish anywhere from first to fifth for the finals, but at the same time have a huge say in who gets the vital finals double-chance.
IT is getting to the tricky stage for last year’s beaten grand finalists Sandgate, who play host to Palm Beach-Currumbin in an all-important clash at Weyba Road.
Should the Hawks beat Palm Beach, they would find themselves in a situation probably unprecedented in the AFLQ’s second-tier competition.
Sandgate’s draw for the remaining fixture list is PBC (home), Western Magpies (home), Noosa (home), Maroochy-Northshore (away), then the final round 18 bye.
Given they do not play on the weekend of August 13-14 because of that bye, the Hawks would then be idle the next weekend courtesy of their No.1 finish when the elimination and qualifying finals are being played.
Sandgate would then play in the second semi-final and, if they happened to win that one, they would be idle again the following weekend when the preliminary final is played.
That would mean just one match in four weeks – a far from ideal scenario but one Ben Long accepts as the luck of what has been an unusual fixture draw this year.
“It’s not ideal, but that’s the draw they’ve give us,” said Long of possible events coming up.
“We’re not too focussed on that sort of thing actually. There is a possibility we will lose our three next three games and finish out of the top three.
“We’ve worked out that we have to win two of our next three and we can get a top-three finish.”
Long also estimates that should PBC lose this weekend, the Lions can not finish any higher than fourth or fifth for the finals.
The Hawks, refreshed after finally having their round-12 bye, the club’s first of the season, have three big gains with the returns of Queensland under-18 star Tom Overington, midfielder Ben Drew and super veteran Danny Dickfos.
They come into the side for Trent Morrissey (unavailable), Curtis Ricker (groin).
“The bye has been really good for us,” said Long. “We had a long 13 weeks playing week-in and week-out and we’ve had a lot of players with niggling injuries.
Despite this, the Hawks could not consider the trio of Damien Garton (pneumonia), Sean Cornish (broken jaw) and Will Bradley (shoulder).
Palm Beach-Currumbin, holding down fifth spot on the ladder, need to win to keep Surfers Paradise out of the five for this weekend at least.
Assistant coach Darren Beaufoy said everybody at the Lions knows the importance of this weekend’s clash, given PBC’s relatively easy draw over the remaining three rounds.
“We’re treating this as the club’s biggest game of the year,” said Beaufoy. “We’ve been steadily improving over the season – and there’s a top-three spot up for grabs.”
Beaufoy said the Lions have been working hard at training adapting to life at Sandgate’s roomy Lemke Road oval.
He said fitness work had intensified and is confident a problem area for the Lions is being sorted out.
For several seasons now, PBC have had a history of running out of legs late in their matches. And memories of a round-nine loss to the Hawks, when the Lions butchered a certain win to lose by four points at Salk Oval, still linger.
The Lions have lost big David Round (suspended), co-captain Matt Carroll (knee) and Jordan Bates (ankle) and have replaced them with veteran utility Tom Dubelaar and youngsters Stephan Thynne and Daniel Darnett.
Goalkicking on-baller Brad Hewat has been passed fit after hamstring soreness in last weekend’s win over Burleigh.
For Round 14 team lists click here