Whyalla's best two sides, West and Central, will face off in the much-anticipated grand final for 2019 at Bennett Oval on Saturday.
The mighty green-and-gold army are chasing their fourth consecutive flag and will feature in the grand final for an 11th straight year, an amazing feat by any means. The Roosters on the other hand last held the premiership cup aloft some 12 years ago and will feature on the big stage for only the second time since.
Previous meetings between the two sides heavily favour the reigning premier who hold a 4 to zip record, and apart from the 48 point blowout in round 12 the Roosters have been up to their eyeballs in all three of the other encounters only to fall short, losing by 11 points in round 4, 10 points in round 7 and 5 points in the second semi-final a fortnight ago. The Dragons will start favourites and here's a look at what they bring to the party:
They are a finals hardened team with a wealth of finals and premiership experience both on and off the field, club stalwarts Shannon Winders and Aaron Smith will be playing in their 12th grand final and are shooting for their seventh premiership flag. Kode Patterson, Nathan Grzona, Ben Butler, Ian Mills and Saul Tonkin are all looking for their sixth while coach Brad Smith is looking for his fourth consecutive premiership in charge, to go with his 8 grand finals and 2 premiership as a player
The Dragon defence is the best in the competition and have only conceded 50 points or more on three occasions with 60 points being the highest in their semi-final clash with the Roosters a fortnight ago.
The back six is a good mix, Ian Mills, Sam Maule and Kode Patterson attack the ball and contest with content and rarely give their opponents easy possession. Ben Haseldine can play both tall and small and looks to attack off half back every chance he gets. Blake Cleary now has a defensive part to his game and will look after the rovers but the standout of the back six who will have a major say in the end result is Saul Tonkin, his ability to read the play and leave his player to impact the next contest is superb and if the intercept marking machine has any sort of influence on the game West will be hard to beat.
Up against Nick DeJonge in the ruck, it's fair to say the Dragons will need to be more defensive at the centre bounces and around the stoppages than they would against other sides, Ben English is no mug in the ruck and will be looking to get a clear run and jump at the ball especially when the Rooster big man relies heavy on his body work and strength.
Ben Butler, Myles McNamara, Damien Coyne and Shannon Winders are the nucleus of an attack-minded midfield who regularly get forward and make an impact on the scoreboard, in close they are clean with their possession, tough at the contest and can turn a game their way within minutes
Wingman Remy Starkey loves the wide open spaces of Bennett Oval and can be quite dangerous when linking up with his rebounding defence. Starkey is an under-rated player and if not given the respect he deserves he could well be the difference, especially late in the game when the players fitness levels are being tested.
The forward line offer a number of options to goal, Aaron Smith and probably ruckman Ben English will provide the tall options while opportunist forwards Nathan Grzona, Angus Judd and Matt Holmes only need half a chance in front of goal to have an impact. Star recruit Billy-Joe Russell possesses all the tricks and has a bit of x-factor about him and along with the highly talented Elliott McNamara are the stars of the show. McNamara, still only 17, can make something from nothing and make the difficult look easy, a prodigious leap, strong hands above his head and slick ball skills make him a nightmare to match up on and is a definite match winner.
The Roosters will carry the underdog tag simply because of the Dragons' outstanding finals record over the past decade but are a genuine chance of ending the Dragons stranglehold on Whyalla football so lets take a look at what they have to offer:
The Roosters' forward line is the best in the competition and have registered 20 plus goals on 8 seperate occasions. Scott Collison has booted 60 goals for the year and poses a massive threat, he is strong in the marking contest, deceptively quick off the mark and definitely knows where the goals are
Mitchell Schwerdt, Matt Woolford, Lachie Tansell and arguably the best player in the town Marco Tansell are out there marking targets inside 50 that will need to be tightly checked, Tansell will pinch hits through the midfield such is his ability and value to his side. The mercurial Brendon Colson adds the magic to the front six and on his day can be unstoppable and will more than likely relieve his brothers in the midfield throughout the game. Man mountain Nick DeJonge will use his massive frame to out muscle his opposite number and should give his band of talented midfielders first use of the footy.
Like West, the Roosters have a number of options to run through the midfield, Whyalla News Medallist Nick Sims, Kyle Colson, and Clifford Pickhaver-Tupe are hard runners that like to push forward and kick goals, add the lightning quick Tim Oesterich and Kobe Buckley to that group and their speed away from stoppages could worry the Dragons. Sam Ellis and Dwayne Colson are both having tremendous season across half back and have a good balance of defence and attack, Colson is the Rolls Royce of the Roosters defence and if he's allowed time and space to use the ball, look out.
The remaining members of the back six Daniel Marshall, Hamish Quirk, Todd Coulthard, Mark Dugan and Brayden Woolford aren't your household names but are effective in what they do and are all quite capable of shutting down the best of forward lines.
This has all the making for one of the great Whyalla finals of modern times, the Roosters looked flat in the first half of the preliminary final and can't afford to start in that fashion on Saturday or it will be good night Eileen. The Dragons' record is outstanding but for the first time in a while it's not just a matter of West by how many, it's hard to split the two sides and pick a winner. Whoever wins, the margin will be inside 10 points and just on pure finals experience I will say West but with no confidence.
- JASON HANNAN