Central North grand final: Pirates and Walcha set for grand final rematch

Here we go again.

Walcha centre Pat Keen attempts to wrap up Pirates winger Sam Bowden during their second round clash. Photo: Peter Hardin

Walcha centre Pat Keen attempts to wrap up Pirates winger Sam Bowden during their second round clash. Photo: Peter Hardin

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Pirates and Walcha are set to reenact their epic grand final battle last season on Saturday as they go head to head for the silverware on what will be a historic day at Ken Chilingworth Oval with the first-ever women’s 7s champions to the crowned.

Pirates coach Mat Kelly referred to it as “Chapter 2” and if it reads anything like the first chapter it should be a cracker.

The Rams’ preparations have been far from ideal with five-eighth Simon Newton and breakaway Thor Crombie under injury clouds.

Both though have been named to start.

Half-back Angus Mactavish has also been cleared to play after he was successful in his appeal against his four game on Friday night.

The ledger between the two sides sits at one apiece this season, Pirates claiming the honours in the first round before the Rams returned the favour in what was their first win over Pirates for about six years.  

The home side are chasing a third straight premiership for the second time in the club’s history, and while it has been a rocky road at times this season Kelly said they are “very content with how we sit at the moment”.

“(But) We don’t take anything for granted. We know it’s going to be a tough battle, as they always are,” he said.

“We know this is going to be our biggest challenge to date.”

Pirates prop Bart Leach charges into the Walcha defence. Photo: Peter Hardin

Pirates prop Bart Leach charges into the Walcha defence. Photo: Peter Hardin

“They’re great all over the park. Their forwards have definitely come on and their backs, everyone knows they’ve got a fantastic backline starting with Newton.”

This season has been the toughest of Kelly’s tenure.

“It’s taken the most to get to this grand final than the others with a lot of disruptions through injury and all that sort of stuff. But it’s been a good year nonetheless and we lucky enough we got there,” he said.

He said they haven’t taken any lessons out of last year nor the second round loss to the Rams. They were a very different side then to what they are now. There was no Andrew Moodie, Brendan Rixon, Doug Biffin or Sam Collins.

“We’re not really worried about the past. As we know when the whistle blows it doesn’t matter,” he said.

That said, they see the first round as a bit of a blueprint of what they need to do.

“We’ve got a game plan that we think we can execute well and is good enough to get the job done,” he said.

Their defence has not surprisingly been a big focus over the last two weeks.

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“It’s no secret our defence has to be better. And our composure in attack probably hasn’t been there. We’ve been giving sides opportunities, we haven’t before,” Kelly said.

Despite the distractions, Walcha captain Will Fletcher said the feeling is “really positive” going into Saturday.

“The reason why it is is because we were there last year and we know what is expected of us and what is expected of them,” he said.

Looking to end a 20 year premiership drought, the fairytale didn’t eventuate for the Rams but Fletcher believes they are in better position this time round.

“I think last year we peaked a little bit early. I think this year we’ve nearly hit it on the head. We’re starting to peak at the right time,” he said.

“And just the self-confidence of everyone where they don’t feel like it’s going to be a one-way show.”

Their structural play is also “10 times better than it was last year”.

“We’ve worked hard on our set pieces and where everyone was probably going on about the backs last year, this year we’ve tried to turn it around a fair bit and make it a bit more about the forwards,” Fletcher said.

Pirates will be wary of giving Dom Bower too much space. Photo: Peter Hardin

Pirates will be wary of giving Dom Bower too much space. Photo: Peter Hardin

The backs have still been at the forefront of the Rams success, but they haven’t been as reliant on them and are probably a more rounded team this year.

Conscious of not giving Pirates a head start like they did last year, he said they have to make sure they “play a full 80 minutes regardless of where we stand, if we’re in front or behind”.

“Opportunities will come but it’s just being able to make sure that we take those one percent sort of opportunities that come our way. That will be the difference,” Fletcher said.

There has been a real buzz around the town this week and he spoke of his how proud he is to lead the Rams.

“It’s one of the biggest pride things for me, being able to be out in front with the boys that we do have because everyone wants to put 150 per cent in,” he said.

“They don’t sort of want to just try and do whatever they can. Everyone will die to do it.”