(by Terry Wilson)
WHAT a round is coming up in the Pineapple Hotel Cup on Saturday.
There is a choice of three early-season blockbusters, headed by the mouth-watering clash at Chelmer Oval between the rising and unbeaten Western Magpies and the reigning champions Noosa.
Then there is the visit of unbeaten Surfers Paradise to Lemke Road Oval where the Sandgate Hawks, season 2010 runners-up, await them.
And the other unbeaten side, Wilston-Grange, face their toughest test to date against Palm Beach-Currumbin at Hickey Park.
These three matches feature the top five sides on the ladder – with PBC yet to win but still very much up there in flag betting.
Should Wilston-Grange, Surfers and Western Magpies all lose, there would be five teams level on 12 points on top of the ladder.
Elsewhere, Maroochy-Northshore host Coolangatta on the Sunshine Coast and Mayne take on cross-city rivals Springwood at Everton Park.
Burleigh have the bye.
Western Magpies v Noosa
At Chelmer Oval, 2pm Saturday
FINE weather and a dry track is the wish for Western Magpies as they host premiers Noosa on a ground that was metres under water during the Brisbane floods in January.
Coach Peter McClennan knows full well that this clash, between sides sitting equal leaders and fifth on the ladder respectively, is his side’s toughest to date after they started off life back in the Pineapple Hotel Cup with three successive wins.
In those wins, the Magpies’ free-flowing brand has caught the eye, but now it’s up against a Noosa side renowned for its physical approach, especially in close.
The unavailability of up to a dozen players – including seven called up by the Brisbane Lions reserves – have put a strain on the Magpies’ depth.
And when big forward David Hamill broke down at training, the Magpies felt extra hurt.
The loss of so many meant McConnell was unable to confirm a final selection yesterday.
Hamill joins Conrad Hudghton, Scott Clarke, Callum Carseldine and Jye Spencer on the sidelines this weekend.
So it will take a top effort for the Magpies to lower the colours of Noosa, who will surely be smarting after Surfers Paradise upset them last round.
Asked about Noosa’s renowned aggressive approach, McClennan was upbeat.
“We thrive on intensity and a fast-moving game,” he said.
“But I’m praying for fine weather and we’re looking for a fast track.
“Our expectations are there will be a lot of physical and heavy work but I’ve got a lot of confidence in the boys and I’m backing we can get through.”
Noosa, in the opposite to the Magpies, do not have too many injury worries.
The 2010 champions lose rover Caleb Isles, who has had an accident at work, and last weekend’s debut ruckman Andrew Coates has family commitments in Victoria.
The Tigers will be hurt by last weekend’s shock loss to Surfers, but it is a result everybody at the club needs to quickly put out of their minds, said coach Wayne Fletcher.
“Obviously no one likes losing, but you can’t dwell on it,” he said. “You have to move on for a tough game against the Western Magpies down there.
“It’s a good challenge to come up for this one after a loss.”
Quizzed about the Magpies pace and play-on style, Fletcher said: “We have the strong bodies in close, but I also think we have enough pace around the ground.”
Sandgate v Surfers Paradise
At Lemke Road Oval, 2pm Saturday
A FINE strike rate by Surfers Paradise in Sandgate territory has the Hawks wary heading into one of three top-notch fixtures on Saturday.
Surfers, surprise winners over premiers Noosa last round, travel to the Hawks’ nest at Lemke Road Oval where so many sides have struggled but where the Demons feel comfortable.
Since 2006, Surfers have won six of nine matches against Sandgate. Four of those wins have been at Lemke Road.
And, considering Surfers downed the Hawks in an upset on the Gold Coast last season, little wonder home club player-coach Ben Long is wary.
“I’m not surprised at that record,” said Long.
“A few years ago they beat us in a knockout final up here and, I don’t know what it is, but last year they seemed to match up well on us.
“Last year, when we went down there and they weren’t going all that well, they beat us.
“So we’re definitely not taking them lightly any more. They’re ahead of us on the ladder – and they beat Noosa last weekend and you don’t beat Noosa unless you play well.
“We’re basing our approach on that.”
His Surfers counterpart Rob Martin believes the Demons’ good record at Lemke Road has a lot to do with the open spaces of a ground similar in size to Sir Bruce Small Park.
“I believe that’s and I know most of the boys are looking forward to playing there again,” said Martin.
The Demons have had to cover for the return to Melbourne of Fraser Pope, whose place in the side has gone to Mitch Ryan, brother of on-ball star Jake.
Martin said beating Noosa at home was a really good effort.
“But this side (Sandgate) is obviously going to be a worry for us because they are big,” he said.
“We’re going in positive, as we did last week, and we have minimal changes. So we’re pretty settled.”
Sandgate have four changes, regaining ruckman/forward Brendan Forbes, veteran on-baller Damien Garton, on-baller David Scott and key forward Shayne Etherton.
Out of the side are former Aspley trio Adam Fry, Jacob Hipwood and Mark Leddy and Scott Hines.
Wilston-Grange v Palm Beach-Currumbin
At Hickey Park, 1pm Saturday
SURPRISE packet co-ladder leaders Wilston-Grange will get a good indication of their title chances when they host a slow-starting Palm Beach-Currumbin on Saturday.
The Grange are in an unfamiliar spot atop the ladder after three successive wins under new coach David Martin, but are stepping up in class for the PBC engagement.
Yet they had a similar challenge when they downed 2010 grand finalists Sandgate in round one,
To date, PBC have not won. And they are coming off two weekends idle courtesy of the Easter weekend, then the bye.
Martin has no doubts that PBC will be there when the whips are cracking come finals time.
“It’s good to play these sides to see where you are at because I rate Palm Beach,” said Martin. “I don’t expect them to be out of the five for too long.”
The Grange welcome back midfielder Brendan McGrath and utility Chris Gerber, who are in for Shaun Myors and Josh Ubank.
If there are any false expectations bubbling beneath the surface at a club for too long starved for success, Martin has not noticed any.
In fact, he says, not too many have mentioned the club’s current position on top of standings.
“The mood is not too bad,” he said. “You’d expect them to be over the top, but it hasn’t been like that.
“No one around Wilston-Grange has mentioned that we’re at the top of the ladder.
“Were only taking small steps and this one is a massive challenge. We need these games to see where we’re at.
“I believe we still have a lot of deficiencies that we have to fix up. It’s just a general thing having so many new players.”
Palm Beach-Currumbin need a win – and quickly – because this year there are only 16 rounds and the Lions have already lost twice.
But the club is acting positively and are blooding youngster Tyler Cornish against the Gorillas.
At just 15, the Queensland under-16 squad member is understood to be the youngest to have played seniors grade, eclipsing Jesse Derrick who debuted as a 16-year-old.
PBC also named a new centre half-back in Brendan Rhodes, signed from Sunraysia league club Imperials, and 2009 [premiership defender Scott Vis is also back.
Out this weekend are Ben Walters (knee) and veteran Brett Ziedler.
Despite the poor start, coach Craig O’Brien remains upbeat that his side will improve in leaps and bounds as the season wears on.
That confidence is based on sound efforts against power clubs Noosa and the Western Magpies.
“The thing is that we played well in our first two games. But our fitness dies in the end,” said O’Brien.
“We really haven’t got going but we’ve had a fortnight off and our fitness is better. We’ve had a huge three weeks – we’ve trained 12 sessions in three weeks.”
Mayne v Springwood
At Everton Park, 2pm Saturday
DON’T be too surprised if you see a group of footballers, in full match gear, running around the streets of Everton around midday on Saturday.
Such an exercise could be Mayne player-coach Luke Faulkner trying to come up with a way to get his players properly warmed up for their match against Springwood.
Despite losing their only two games of the season to date, the Tigers have been reasonably competitive – after quarter-timer, that is.
Poor starts to both games have rookie coach Faulkner scratching his head for reasons why.
“If we can put together four quarters – and we’re capable of it – then we should win,” said Faulkner of the clash with the Pumas.
“Bu we have to learn how to start well because our first quarters in two matches have been appalling.”
Mayne have one change, bringing back on-baller Matt Hungerford for Jackson Quaife.
Springwood, so disappointing in a 126-point loss to Coolangatta last weekend have a huge gain this week in on-baller Michael Grose.
Grose is one of two changes the Pumas have made. A club junior product Taylor Pezzalato has earned his first-grade spurs.
Asked what affect the Coolangatta shellacking has had on his side, coach Paul Opbroek said: “The attitude been good and we’ve had good numbers at training. There is a lot more positive mood this week.”
Maroochy-Northshore v Coolangatta
At Fisherman’s Road, 2pm Saturday
MAROOCHY-Northshore have finally been able to book a game on their main oval at Fisherman’s Road for the first time this year.
Which is a good sign for coach Roger Delaney heading into Saturday’s clash with impressive last-start winners Coolangatta.
“Weather permitting we’ll be back on it,” he said. “Bu we still haven’t trained on it yet and it may still be a bit soggy.”
And, in further welcome news for the Roos, centreman James Page, half-forward Jesse Goldfinch and on-baller Brad Dolley are all available again – adding some much needed quality and experience.
“But we’ve lost Shaun McKenzie, who has probably our best in our last two games,” said Delaney.
McKenzie has family commitments in Melbourne this weekend.
Asked about the mood at Maroochy, Delaney said: “It’s absolutely still positive.
“The reason why is the four key things were working on, at the moment, we achieved three of them last week.”
Coolangatta, buoyed by their massive win over Springwood last round, head to the Sunshine Coast anxious to make it back-to-back wins under new coach Neil McKay.
And it is the McKay influence, through his role at the Palm Beach-Currumbin High’s school of excellence, that has led to a couple of changes for the Blues.
Ex-Broadbeach tall Jacob Spackman and Cameron Maxwell have both been promoted after best-on-grounds for Coolangatta’s reserves in their first two matches.
Both Spackman and Maxwell were enrolled at PBC High under McKay.
Andy Dowling is back from injury and the Blues reward tall utility Riley Willemse for his good form in the seconds.
Out of the side this weekend are Darcy Fitzgerald (flu). Matt Gallagher (family commitments), Junior Henry (omitted) and John Vogae (calf).
This is a game the Blues clearly expect to win, but McKay is cautious in his approach.
“We’re not taking any notice of Maroochy’s form,” said McKay. “Our aim is to bank eight points as quickly as possible – and away wins are worth their weight in gold because we’re coming into a three-match stretch at home against Sandgate, Palm Beach and Surfers.”
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