The Bulldogs expect their major semi-final clash against New England at Wolseley Oval on Saturday to be a sterner test than their last encounter against the Nomads.
The Dogs secured the minor premiership this month when they defeated the Nomads at Armidale by 32 points, and have won their past two matches against the reigning five-time premiers after New England beat them in the opening round of the season.
But Gunnedah coach Greg Piggott admitted his side did not face a full-strength Nomads outfit the last time the teams met.
He also emphasised that the Nomads are a battle-hardened outfit in big contests. “It’ll be a tough game against a finals-hardened team,” he said.
Piggott believes the midfield battle will be decisive on Saturday. “The centre will probably be where it’s won or lost,” he said. “I’m confident in our guys, such as Badge [Al Hillard] rucking and Benny Maher and Spackers [Jake Spackman] roving. They’ll have a big job but I’ve no doubt they’re more than ready for the challenge.”
The winner of Saturday’s clash will host the grand final in two weeks. The loser will face the winner of the Inverell Saints and Tamworth Kangaroos minor semi-final in Inverell on Saturday.
Gunnedah are the feelgood story of the competition this season, capturing their first minor premiership since reforming in 2002 and enduring years of lopsided scorelines. They are vying for their first premiership since 1991.
Spackman, named AFL North West’s best and fairest player for 2017, will be looking to continue his stellar form on Saturday, while Dogs captain Andrew George and vice-captain Brad Jenkinson will also be key to the side’s chances.
Gunnedah will be missing swingman Brent Hartley for the match but gain Michael Leven – who missed the Dogs’ last game against the Nomads – as Hartley’s replacement.