History beckons for Rovers
The defending champions have the chance to complete an undefeated premiership season by winning their third premiership double, something achieved only once before by the now defunct Goonellabah Stars from 1958-60 when the league was still in its infancy.
To achieve the feat now in a far more competitive league is something that may not be seen again for many years, if ever.
The chance to write themselves into the record books as arguably the best local side ever is powerful motivation for Rovers, with coach Scott Coster quietly confident they can complete the treble.
“The boys just love September football, and they’re ready and raring to go,” Coster said.
“Most of the players have been together for about 10 years now and every one of them has had a good season, so we couldn’t be any more ready for it.”
Rovers will run on a full-strength side and will start favourites after a stunning 5-2 win over the Hornets in the major semi two weeks ago.
Despite trailing 1-0 at half-time, Rovers called on their renowned ability to go up a gear when they have to and overran the Hornets in an ominous reminder of not just their skills, but also their resolve.
The win gave Rovers a week off to prepare for the grand final, while Goonellabah earned the right to a re-match with a confidence-boosting 2-0 win over Italo Stars in the preliminary final.
The win has created some selection headaches for Hornets coach Brendan Logan, with debutant goalkeeper Brad Robertson having a blinder as stand-in for the suspended Craig Attewell.
With Attewell available again, Logan will have to make a tough call on who to omit, and will also have to leave out one of three possible strikers.
With Dave Arnett in deadly touch after scoring one of the goals of the season last week, Ben
Andrews back to top form and Chris Matthews fired-up to face his former club, Logan has another tough call.
The Hornets are relishing the tag of underdogs, with Logan using it to motivate his players.
“Plenty of people have written us off this season and didn’t expect us to be there on grand final day, so now we have a fantastic chance to prove them all wrong,” Logan said.
“It’ll be a frantic pace with little time on the ball and we’ll have to keep our intensity high to make it uncomfortable for Rovers when they have the ball, but how each side handles the transition phase between defence and possession will be the key.”
The Hornets’ ball skills and team cohesion will be vital to their game plan and they will not want to get drawn into an overly physical contest against a generally larger Rovers side that enjoys a tough, physical confrontation.
Rovers’ pace will also be a key factor, with flankers Ben Casagrande and Jonathan See sure to be heavily involved, while their formidable central midfield of Aaron Heffernan, Brett Lane and Russell Dent will look to assert themselves against the Hornets combination of Kale Hopper and Mark Rosenstein, along with wide midfielders Matt Dorigo and Sam Ireland.
While every Rovers player except Jonathan See has plenty of grand final experience, only one of the Hornets’ line-up, Ben Andrews, was around for their previous grand final appearance in 2005.
But three of their ranks have played grand finals in the top tierof the Coffs Harbour competition – towering defender Paul Pomroy, elusive midfielder Kale Hopper and energetic flanker Sam Ireland.
Goonellabah last won a decider back in 1995 to achieve consecutive premiership doubles, leaving the Hornets determined to end their lengthy drought and re-establish the club as a major force.
But overcoming Rovers’ ambition to complete the treble in time for their 50th anniversary celebrations next season looms as a massive challenge for the Hornets.
Rovers’ line-up bristles with goal-scorers, led by strikers Troy Matthews and Tim Casagrande, and the Hornets’ back four of Paul Pomroy, Daniel Morrow, Dylan Rippon and Braden Burgess will need to minimise Rovers’ chances of getting behind their defensive line.
Playing the ball into the corners for flankers Ben Casagrande and Jonathan See to chase down and cross is sure to be part of Rovers’ game plan, while the Hornets will stick with their possession-based game and patient build-up.
After finishing first and second on the ladder, the two sides have since proved worthy grand finalists after their semi-final campaigns and it now comes down to the final 90 minutes for either Rovers to rewrite the record books or Goonellabah to start their own chapter.
Luke Mackney will referee the grand final. Mackney this week was made a life member of the FNC Referees’ Association.