HEATHCOTE and District Football League’s biggest rivals will renew their massive rivalry this Saturday, going head to head in a third straight grand final.
North Bendigo sits atop the league as the two-time defending premiers, a third straight flag only to add to its legacy as the era’s best side in the league.
But Leitchville-Gunbower has set itself for this encounter, the memories of two straight grand final losses to the Bulldogs burning away at the Bombers as they look to win just a second premiership in club history.
From the start of the season, LG coach Matt Hawken has said his side can’t change the past or dwell on the previous heartbreak — 2017 has been about breaking through and making the most of the strong potential of the playing group.
‘‘Success would be the reward for the many hours put in since our last premiership in 1995,’’ Hawken said. ‘‘There’s been a lot of volunteer hours and work since then, it provides opportunities and a journey for our people. If this group can seize the moment, I’m sure they’ll become a part of the legacy of this club.’’
The Bombers sealed a grand final place with a semi-final triumph against North Bendigo, the Bulldogs qualifying the hard way having beaten Huntly last weekend in the preliminary final.
LG holds a 2-1 edge in games between the sides this season, but it knows only the fourth encounter really matters.
It’s become the league’s strongest rivalry, based on a respect between the clubs with a healthy dose of dislike, clashes often marked by fiery play.
‘‘Our group has a high respect for Leitchville-Gunbower,’’ North Bendigo coach Rob Bennett said.
‘‘Our boys have developed friendships playing against them in the past few years as well as playing together in interleague.
‘‘Our group respects them highly, and that rivalry is out of respect.’’
Hawken agreed, but said his players were focused on what was ahead for them rather than looking back at previous defeats.
‘‘We reviewed it last year and early this season but if you look at this side, there’s 12 or 13 different players, not a lot of carry over,’’ he said.
‘‘The ones that were there no doubt remember those experiences but have developed resilience and know what the day is all about. Last year we didn’t play well and our players are aware they have to produce at a high level for four quarters, and we’ve been good with that this year.’’
It is a different side from last season’s decider, the Bombers having added Matt and Brad Ladson, Joel Donehue, Matt Pollock, Mitch Bruns and Shaun Turvey to the line-up building considerable depth and on-field leadership.
The week off suited the Bombers perfectly, able to regroup after the losses of Jack Dye and Michael Pilcher to injury as well as allow a handful of players with niggling injuries to freshen up.
‘‘Our mantra has been if we’re missing one player, we’ll fill the void and someone has always stepped up,’’ Hawken said.
‘‘We’re a really strong, young group that’s had everything thrown at it. Our guys won’t be intimidated and it’s really pleasing to see them stand up for each other. We will see that intent on Saturday and a will to succeed.’’
Lee Pollock will return from injury to lead the way in the ruck for LG in the absence of Pilcher, North also missing its lead ruckman Brett Strange.
The Bulldogs will also miss Tyson Findlay, the gun’s absence perhaps tilting the crucial midfield battle in LG’s favour.
‘‘We’ve got to sustain effort, momentum is big and swings will happen,’’ Hawken said.
‘‘We’ve got to be able to defend when our opponent gets momentum and not let them get away.
‘‘The midfield battle will be critical, the forwards that get more looks and quick entries will be huge because both forward lines are potent.’’
Bennett said whichever side could bring its best for the longest would have a match-winning advantage.
‘‘The more recent match (against LG) we needed to play four quarters and we didn’t do that,’’ he said.
‘‘Against a side of their quality you can’t afford that, and if we had have won that game we wouldn’t have deserved it.
Both forward lines have match-winning potential, North’s Sam Barnes (69 goals this season), Brady Herdman (64) and Rhys Ford (46) all super dangerous while the Bombers will need someone to step up in Dye’s (41) absence to help Matthew Perri (118) kick a winning score.