NEAFL Grand Final preview

By Alison Zell and Beth Newman

The Brisbane Lions Reserves will throw everything at the Sydney Swans Reserves tomorrow, when they face off for the NEAFL premiership.

Both sides were minor premiers and conference champions this season and have proven themselves the best of their respective competitions.

After a dominant performance last week, set up by a brilliant premiership quarter, the Lions are not taking the foot off the pedal as they vie for back-to-back titles.

Lions Reserves coach, Leigh Harding, said he was prepared for the intensity of the game to lift in the decider and the opportunity to play finals would be a valuable one for every player.

“It’s a good test for all our young guys to see how they respond as the intensity of the game does go up,” he said.

“It’s the last game of the year and we take great pride in playing well in these sorts of games,” he said.

The Lions go into the game with 15 listed players, including Callum Bartlett, Niall McKeever and Richard Newell who will play their final games for the club after being delisted this week.

Brisbane have made one change, with Cain Tickner coming in for Maroochydore’s Daniel Henderson.

The Swans are fielding only 10 listed players, with a number of players taken to Perth as cover for the senior side as they prepare for tomorrow night’s AFL preliminary final against Fremantle, but Harding said that wouldn’t give the home side any false sense of security.

“They’ll have a couple less but they’re only one game away from an AFL grand final as well,” he said.

“Injuries can happen (or) reports, and they could potentially be one game away from playing in an AFL grand final, so that will be driving force for a lot of the guys playing against us.”

Sydney have made five changes to the side that defeated Belconnen in the Eastern Conference final last weekend, with Mitch Crawford, Jacob Dawes, Blake Guthrie, Doug Hadden and Brad Plug coming in for Gary Rohan, Brandon Jack, Jed  Lamb, Lewis Roberts-Thompson and Matthew Spinks.

Despite their relative inexperience, Swans ruckman, Sam Naismith said they knew the job was not done just yet.

“After last week it was a good celebration knowing we won the Eastern Conference, but it felt like a bit of a Preliminary (Final) considering that this one’s the big one.”

The Swans have fallen to the Lions in all three of their encounters this year and the job will only be tougher this week with the seniors and reserves to play on the same day which means the side could lose up to five players to cover injuries, and those flying to Perth as emergencies.

“The players that we lose will be the closest ones to senior selection,” Naismith said.

“It’s going to be a bit difficult without a few of our best players flying over to Perth, but I think as a group, the whole team will lift for a big occasion like a grand final anyway.

“We’ve got trust in the top-up players that come and help us out each week that they can pull their weight as well.

“It’s in finals where you actually prove your worth really, that’s where you stand up in the big matches, and we’ve got confidence that everyone will stand up this weekend.”

While they may be undermanned, the Swans reserves have proven this year that their spread of contributors is the strength of the side.

The backline, led by Xavier Richards, is rock solid, rookies Jake Lloyd and Dan Robinson have been joined by AIS-AFL Academy Player Lloyd Perris to form a formidable midfield trio and after returning from long-term injury, the 203cm Naismith has caused havoc in the ruck and up forward.

Swans half back Tony Armstrong was awarded the Alex Jesaulenko Medal for Best on Ground in last week’s game, and will again play a crucial role for the Swans

“We’ll be all switched on, we’ve all been pushing the seniors at training so we’re all switched on,” Naismith said.

“We’re confident in our team; we’ve got a really good team, so we think if everyone plays their role we’re confident.”

The NEAFL Grand Final kicks off at 12:30pm at Graham Rd, Aspley.

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