Gunnedah received a “reality check” in a 69-point final-round loss to Inverell at Wolseley Oval and it is debatable as to whether they will make back-to-back grand finals, says Bulldogs midfield ace Jake Spackman.
Table-topping Inverell and second-placed Gunnedah, the reigning premiers, will meet in Inverell on Saturday in the first finals weekend, with the winner advancing to the grand final and getting a home-ground advantage.
Spackman said that in the loss on Saturday, the Bulldogs failed to executive a game plan they had been honing for a number of weeks to use against Inverell.
But he said the job of doing that was made much harder after Gunnedah only fielded 19 players and then lost two players through injury in the first quarter.
“I reckon it’s a reality check,” Spackman said. “Inverell were there to win it. They wanted it more than us.”
Spackman, the 2017 AFL North West player of the year, admitted there was a different feeling within the Bulldogs’ playing group compared to last year, owing to a spat of retirements and the recruitment of young players.
He added: “This year we’re trying to get numbers. It’s one week from the finals and we couldn’t fill out 22, so we shot ourselves in the foot.
“It’s really hard to work out whether we’re gonna be in the grand final or not. We need a big turnaround in such a small space of time.”
Spackman said he could not find one positive to take out of the match, which Inverell won 18.12 (120) to 7.9 (51).
The Saints kicked five goals to one in the first quarter to establish a 23-point lead and were never headed from there.
Spackman kicked three goals to take his season tally to 66, seven behind Inverell Saint Marli Gobbert’s competition-best 73 majors.
“Inverell are the team to beat. They’re in good form,” Spackman said.
Elsewhere, the Kangaroos secured fourth spot for the finals without firing a shot after Narrabri forfeited. The Eagles would have finished fourth had they won the match.
The Kangaroos will play New England in the knockout final in Armidale on Saturday.
The Nomads tuned up for the encounter by hammering the Suns in Moree, the final score 45.18 (288) to 1.2 (8).