IT is crunch time for former powers Palm Beach-Currumbin in the Pineapple Hotel Cup at Salk Oval on Saturday.
A round-nine match-up against ladder leaders Sandgate will unquestionably answer a couple of questions about whether this year’s Lions are the real deal or whether they are simply in-between in relation to the top and bottom groups.
PBC, the 2009 champions, lost to the top three sides in the opening four rounds, but have beaten all other sides since to sit in fifth spot on the ladder, three ins behind co-leaders Sandgate and Wilston-Grange.

By Terry Wilson

PALM Beach-Currumbin coach Craig O’Brien still has nightmares about the last time Sandgate visited Salk Oval to play the Lions.
In one of the most bizarre games ever witnessed at the Currumbin Creekside ground, PBC led by five goals at the 15-minute mark of the last quarter, yet collapsed like pricked balloons and allowed the Hawks to kick 11 unanswered goals to win by 40 points.
“A dead-set training drill it was, I’ll never forget it,” said O’Brien when recalling events of the 2010 round-seven disaster.
Sandgate captain-coach Ben Long played in that game and described it as one of the most amazing games he had featured in.
“It was the best 15 minutes I’ve ever seen a team play,” said Long.
So, although such events are highly unlikely to be repeated on Saturday, the game shapes up as a clinker between top-placed Sandgate and fifth-placed Palm Beach.
And, for a change, all the pressure is on the Lions, who sit 4-3 for the season knowing a loss to the Hawks would put them back with the pack battling for fifth spot on the ladder.
Unfortunately, neither side is at full strength.
PBC have lost midfielder Darryl Dyson, forward Lee Clark, Tom Wellington and Nick Burton.
“We have a few injuries at the moment and a few of the players pulled up very sore after last weekend,” said O’Brien.
“But we think we have the cattle to cover.’
The Lions regain handy forward Blake Schneider, half-back Jordan Bates, on-baller Mark Dwyer and wingman Danny Darnett.
O’Brien rightfully believes this is a crunch game for his Lions.
“We understand we’re back in the pack if we lose,” he said. “We have to keep building momentum and this is a big game, we know that.
“If we can win three of our next four games it will set us up for the finals. That’s our plan.”
Sandgate have suffered a talent drain because some players, after the original season draw was released and with the Hawks drawn for the bye this weekend, booked short holidays.
Champion ruckman Michael Pettit, Rowan Moody and Sean Cornish are all unavailable, while David Scott has a pectoral injury.
They are a handy list of outs, but the Hawks regain super veteran Danny Dickfos, veteran Damien Garton defender Michael Richardson and ruckman Luke Reynolds.
Long rates the trip to Salk Oval up there with the trip to Noosa’s Weyba Road in terms of a test.
“It’s probably the toughest for me,” said Long, who compared PBC to AFL club Geelong.
“They’re like Geelong,” he said. “They’re always consistent, they’re always in the finals and they’re always around the money.
“No matter where they are on the ladder, you look at them as a side that’s going to be a challenge.”

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