The QAFL grand final is only a couple of days away now and both coaches will be up late at night, meditating over the best ways to thwart each other.
These sides know each other so well, they’re cross town rivals and have gone head to head in some massive games over the past few years.
Though Labrador has had the upper hand earlier in the season, Palm Beach Currumbin was thoroughly on top last time they played, setting this one up as a thriller without a favorite going in.
Let’s look at some of the matchups that could give either side the slight advantage they need to take home the premiership cup. Whether they’re direct or indirect, these are the matchups that matter.
Hall and Retzlaff vs. Emblem and McNeven
Barry Hall and Bryce Retzlaff, arguably two of the biggest and best forwards in the QAFL, jammed into the one forward line. Baz close to home and Retzlaff wandering up the ground to grab marks and wheel and go, sending the footy deep.
Up until week two of the finals they looked unstoppable, but Palm Beach proved that if you can cut off their supply and pressure the midfield into delivering poor service, the big forwards struggle to get into the game.
Not only was it about pressure though, it was about speed. Lions’ defenders Jackson Emblem and Liam McNeven were both prepared to run and take the game on in the back half, making the Tigers talls chase and burn out.
Emblem and McNeven read the footy exceptionally well and although the Labrador delivery didn’t help, they were first to the ball, at times leaving their opponent behind to attack the footy.
The two Lions defenders and the two Tigers forwards will no doubt switch opponents many times over during the game, but it’s a clear two-on-two contest; Hall and Retzlaff vs. McNeven and Emblem.
Brain vs. Derrick
Brain and Derrick are different players, but they both go through the midfield and both don’t mind taking a big grab. They’re both strong contested marks for their side and like to press forward and kick goals when given the opportunity.
Derrick’s season hasn’t been up to the standard of last year’s Grogan medal winning season, but the tall midfielder still poses a huge threat with his gut running ability and tendency to win the footy at ground level and in the air.
Zac Brain, just like Derrick, steps up in big moments and his physicality around the football will be important for the Tigers. Brain closes down space brilliantly when the ball gets on the outside, dragging down runners that think their free and clear. When he’s at his best, the opposition ball carrier gets nervous.
These two may cross paths on the day, but it will likely be their ability to push forward and hit the scoreboard that will determine if they’re a winner for their side on the day.
Super Grogan Bros
Mills vs. Burge
A fascinating battle within the war, is watching how Labrador handles Jason Burge and how Palmy handle Wayde Mills.
Both of these ex-Southport Sharks can be lethal if allowed to do their thing and if anyone is giving coaches pre-grand final nightmares it’s one of these two.
Mills requires a fast-moving, experienced tall to go with him and prevent him spoiling the party as the Lions try to head forward. If he doesn’t have company on Saturday, he’ll just go about business as usual, intercept marking and creating off the half back line.
Though it’s always great when coaches back their players to win the footy and play their own game, Burge needs a run-with player and he showed it last time these two played. The skillful midfielder looks likely to have a shadow on Saturday and his ability to break free could be vital for the Lions.
Cornish vs. Clarke
The midfield contest in this game is massive. There are some seriously good players in there on both sides that know premierships don’t grow on trees.
Tyler Cornish has had a fantastic year for the Lions and adds some real class to their midfield. Cornish is clean with the ball and seems to set up those around him and bring them into the game.
Much the same could be said for Clarke, the zippy midfielder is damaging on the outside and finishes games incredibly well.
These two often do their best work when they run and carry the footy and will no doubt lock horns from time to time on grand final day.
Goldsmith vs. Woolley
There seems to be a player or two in every team that has that little bit of x-factor. At Palm Beach Currumbin that’s definitely Josh Woolley.
Whether it’s at half back, half forward or on the wing with ten good minutes of solid football Woolley can change the game. That raking left boot seems to give the ball extra wings and with the forecast pointing to more wind on Saturday, he’ll get some serious distance with that kick of his.
Goldsmith might seem an odd choice when talking about x-factor, but he’s unique for the position he plays and can have a purple patch that can lift his team. The big ruckman can cover the ground and takes some huge grabs providing the outlet kick option down the line. Not only can he go forward too, but he can get hold of the footy in the middle and rack up the touches.
Owens vs. Shattock
Both coaches have been here before, but only Owens has been in the box seat, while Shattock was an assistant coach of the Labrador premiership side last year.
Tactics on gameday no doubt play an important role, but arguably more important, is what these coaches have been able to impress on their sides throughout the year.
Last year’s grand final loss would have hurt the Lions players and they’ve had a long time to dwell on it, so Chad Owens is in a great position to be able to channel that hurt into a frenetic performance on Saturday.
Shattock is in a different position, his side has been the goliath of the competition for nearly two years and from the outside, it seems as if they received a wake-up call against the Lions two weeks ago. After their loss to the Lions, some punters are going so far as calling Labrador the underdogs.
Shattock and his Tigers wouldn’t want it any other way.
By Sean Melrose