Stars loom as Rovers final frontier in 2007
By MARK ROBINSON
ON their way to winning the 2007 minor premiership, Richmond Rovers have managed to beat 2every 1side in the league except one Italo Stars.
But tonight at Oakes Oval, Lismore, Rovers will have one last chance to overcome their nemesis and claim a rare premiership double when the two arch rivals contest the Football Far North Coast Premier League soccer grand final starting at 7.15pm.
While Stars finished second on the ladder to Rovers, they have had the wood on the minor premiers all season and after five games between the two sides, Rovers are still looking for their first win.
They came close with a 2-all draw in the major semi-final two weeks ago before eventually going down in a penalty shootout, but earned another crack at their bogey side thanks to the heroics of goalkeeper Andrew Marshall in the preliminary final.
Another 2-all draw, this time with Goonellabah, meant Rovers faced another penalty shootout to reach the decider, but this time two acrobatic saves from Marshall allowed them to scrape through.
Whether Rovers can recover from two such gruelling finals against a rested Italo Stars is sure to be a factor.
Rovers have lost nippy flanker Chris Simmons to a knee injury and have doubts over how long Scott Coster's knee will stand up to the rigours of what is sure to be a highly physical grand final.
Making things even tougher for Rovers, their reserves will be busy contesting their own grand final immediately before, including coach Tim Sheridan, leaving him with no fresh subs on the bench.
"We're cutting it fine with players and there's no doubt we've just been through two tough games, but I see that as a positive," Sheridan said.
"The boys are match hardened and I think the open expanses of Oakes will favour our style; we haven't met Stars on a big pitch yet and that could just be the difference for our first win over them."
Sheridan will look to use flankers Ben Casagrande and Adam Gray, who comes in for Simmons, to capitalise on the width of Oakes Oval, but also to try to starve Stars' central midfielders Max and Billy Latimer of the ball.
"They generate a lot of Stars' play, so we want to see as little ball for them as possible," Sheridan said.
Rovers' hopes will largely rest with lethal strikers Troy Matthews, who capped his best season by winning the Player of the Year award, and former Golden Boot winner Matthew Olley.
Their ability to get behind Stars' telepathic brothers Rick and Jamie Austen in central defence will be one of the key duels.
But Stars have an equally formidable strike force that blends the canny experience of Wayne Mortimer, who has added an extra metre of pace to his game this season, with the youthful exuberance and ball skills of Brenton Mumford.
Stars will have one player missing in wide defender Troy Williams, but have the accomplished Matt Weir filling his shoes, leaving coach Darren Cormick optimistic.
"We only just achieved a full-strength side coming into the semis and now we have a bit of stability going, so we have every chance," Cormick said.
"It'll be tough and it'll be physical, as games between us always are, and while we have a few things up our sleeve to try during the game, it'll still come down to who takes their chances when they come."
As well as finishing first and second on the ladder, the two Lismore clubs also rank one and two on the all-time winners' list.
Stars have 10 grand final wins to their credit (six of them as premiership doubles), while Rovers have won nine major premierships (but curiously only two doubles, the last more than two decades ago in 1986).
Most of Rovers' line-up experienced their last grand final appearance in 2004, a heart-breaking 2-1 loss to Lismore Workers which ended the club's remarkable record of winning all nine of their previous grand final appearances.
In contrast, Stars last appeared in a decider in 2003 when a win over Ballina completed a rare undefeated season to gave them two titles in four years.
But in an uncanny echo from the recent past, the last time Rovers and Stars met in a grand final was 2002, when Rovers had also failed to beat Stars all season but made up for it with a 3-1 win when it counted. Likely line-ups
RICHMOND ROVERS: Andrew Marshall (gk), Joel Saye, Mitchell Flower, Scott Coster, Russell Dent, Aaron Heffernan, Ian McGregor, Adam Gray, Ben Casagrande, Matthew Olley, Troy Matthews.
ITALO STARS: Trent Battistuzzi (gk), Craig Wiblin, Rick Austen, Jamie Austen, Matt Weir, Jeremy Pollard, Max Latimer, Billy Latimer, Mark Maslen, Wayne Mortimer, Brenton Mumford.