The biggest rivalry of the decade in the Bendigo Football Netball League adds another chapter tomorrow as Strathfieldsaye and Sandhurst clash for the remaining 2018 grand final spot.
Eaglehawk has already booked its spot thanks to a 40-point win over the Storm last week, while Kyneton slumped to a second straight triple-figure loss to play Sandhurst in the other semi-final.
Since 2010 no combination has appeared in as many grand finals against one another as Sandhurst and Strathfieldsaye’s three, and the pair has made finals every year since 2012 – Sandhurst’s stretch dating back to the start of the decade.
The Storm has again been the benchmark all season long and lost just its third game of the season last week against the Hawks.
Injuries may be starting to catch up with them.
Kallen Geary missed last week with a hamstring issue but should return for tomorrow’s clash, while Jake Moorhead and Harry Crone looked like they would be better for the run on return.
It is the absence of Lachlan Sharp that could be the worry for the Storm, which will instead have to rely on key marking targets Hugh Robertson and Bryce Curnow up forward.
Of their goalkickers last week, Robertson booted four, Curnow kicked two and Bailey Henderson slotted a pair, with Shannon Geary kicking the other.
While Robertson’s performance was mighty impressive, that list of goalkickers and a lack of smalls among it has to worry coach Troy Coates.
Geary may be the answer, as a reprisal of a role in the forward line a possibility unless Coates can find an answer to the team’s structural woes. It could even be himself stationed inside 50, a role he is not unfamiliar with.
The Storm faces the competition’s best defence this week in Sandhurst, which allowed fewer points per game than any side in the competition.
The Dragons have conceded 70-plus only four times all season – against Strathfieldsaye (97), Golden Square and Kyneton (93 each) while Eaglehawk scored 70 points in round seven.
Since round 10 against Square, the miserly Sandhurst back line has not conceded double-digit goals in a game and the highest score against them was Gisborne’s 9.11.65 in the elimination final.
The Dragons’ versatile, endlessly-switchable defenders will worry the Storm’s ailing forward line, but if Strathfieldsaye can manufacture rapid entries and scramble the defence they will create scoring chances.
So it becomes even more imperative that Sandhurst’s midfield of Tim Martin, Nick Stagg, Blair Holmes and Andy Collins control the battle in the centre and don’t allow Jake Moorhead and Kallen Geary the chance to pinpoint the Storm’s forwards.
Do that, and Sandhurst will go a long way toward returning to the grand final, where they triumphed in 2016.
The Storm won’t go down without a fight. That’s a fact their fierce rivals know all too well.