By Beth Newman
Palm Beach and the Magpies are facing off in one of the biggest games of the year at Stafford tomorrow.
It seems like deja vu should be deja vu, after the two played in the grand final at the venue last year, but Lions coach, Daryn Cresswell says it’s anything but.
“We’re a far better side than last year- by streets,” he said.
“We’ve proved that this year by some of the footy we’ve played.
“But, finals footy is a different kettle of fish to regular season games. It’s how you adapt to that pressure and the team that’s done that the best that will win.”
The Lions will be at full-strength for almost the first time this season, with Kristan Higgs coming into the side and Shane Hutchinson back in.
With that in mind, Cresswell said there would be no excuses for his side tomorrow.
“We know it’s going to be a tough game and we have a lot of respect for the Magpies,’ he said.
“But our boys are confident, we‘ve trained well and we’re at full strength.
“No excuses about this weekend at all.”
Captain, Angus Munro, has fully recovered from a corked thigh and Creswell said he would be “cherry ripe.”
Swingman, Clint Kelly, will be a key part of the Lions’ chances tomorrow, with the ability to play forward or back.
In their round five clash, Kelly did a job on Anthony Corrie, keeping the league’s leading goal kicker relatively quiet in a purple patch.
One of the most intriguing clashes of the day will be the Magpies’ forwards versus the Lions’ backs.
The Sherwood attackers have been in super form and they will need to be on their game on Saturday against the best half-back line in the competition.
They will be boosted by the inclusion of Matt Thompson, who returns from a broken leg for the clash.
Thompson has been playing in reserves the last three weeks, his first games since he kicked 18 goals in the first four games of the year.
Thompson is a major boost for the Magpies, adding another weapon to their attacking end.
The game will ultimately boil down to a battle of the midfields, and Cresswell hoped that the bigger ground would play into his side’s hands, with a stack of run, built from half-back.
“We’re quite relieved to get away from our ground,” he said.
“We’re looking forward to the bigger spaces of the Grange ground, for sure.”
The Magpies have had some injury headaches during the week, with Jimmy Rozynski the head of a list of key players under question.
But the star midfielder was cleared of broken ribs and will be ready to take on the
Lions, while Reid Dobson and Kale Reed are also likely to overcome illness to play in the grand final qualifier.
Cresswell said the side had trained for a Magpies outfit with Rozynski in it.
“There’s been a lot of rumour and innuendo but we always prepared for him to play,” he said.
“He’s one of their generals and we’ve got plans in place to try and quieten his influence.”
Youngster Brady Allen was named as an emergency on the team sheet, but assistant coach, Peter McClennan, said the rising star would definitely play.
Despite their recent strong form against the Lions, McClennan said the Magpies wouldn’t have any extra mental edge going into the game.
“I don’t personally don’t think that’s an advantage,” he said.
“Both sides are well-equipped and both are in the same position of having been there over the last number of years as well.
“It’s all who wants to win it more and both sides are pretty desperate I reckon.”
McClennan said the battle in his side’s forward line would be an intriguing one to watch.
“One thing we do have is very good forward options and certainly they have to think about their match ups big time,” he said.
“With Thompson back in the side, that’s another decision they have to make, who goes to who.
“They are a very good backline but it’ll be a good contest to watch.”
If they win, the Magpies have a chance to go back-to-back, which is a major goal for the side and McClennan said they had timed their run well this year.
“They had a slow start to the year, but over the last six or seven weeks, they’ve started to build and play reasonable footy.
“The challenge to go back to back is something they’d really like to do.”
The preliminary final will kick off at 2:30pm.
We will have live coverage of tomorrow’s prelim.
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Download the preliminary final record, with full seniors, reserves and colts starting sides, here: