GNFL preliminary final: Rovers and Railways renew finals rivalry as Blues look to avoid straight-sets exit

Headshot of Jake Santa Maria
Jake Santa MariaGeraldton Guardian
Jack Cocking of Railways takes a contested mark.
Camera IconJack Cocking of Railways takes a contested mark. Credit: Justine Rowe Around the Traps

And then there were three. The Great Northern Football League season has only two games to go as the Railways host the Rovers in this week’s preliminary final.

The pressure is on Railways after a disappointing semifinal has them facing the possibility of a straight-sets exit, which would be a cruel end to their outstanding season.

Brigades’ Kristerfer Ryder kicked six goals in a magnificent display that the Blues could not match as they struggled to get their offence moving.

Rovers, on the other hand, fought hard to get their win over the Rams which was bookended by some of the best footy you’ll see this season.

Their opening four goals in eight minutes had the Rams shell-shocked before Shannon Cox led the way in a six-goal burst to start the final term that was fatal to the Rams’ chances.

It no doubt gives them a wave of momentum heading into the final, but between those sublime periods the Demons did play some ordinary footy at times.

They gave away numerous off-the-ball free kicks and 50m penalties which on more than one occasion led to easy Rams’ goals.

The Demons often play high on emotion and when they’re up they are a daunting force, but when they’re down they can get caught in unnecessary arm wrestles.

There is also plenty of recent history between the two sides as the Rovers got the better of the Blues in the thrilling 2020 decider and defeated them by just three points a year earlier in their semifinal clash.

But the Blues did get their revenge last year in a 47-point thumping in the first semifinal and have won their two regular season clashes by convincing margins.

They should still go in as favourites in this weekend’s clash despite their poor performance against the Brigades but they will have to get their offence moving.

They certainly have the weapons in Jack Cocking, Jesse Adamini and Alex Newton but with the exception of their Mullewa annihilation, scores have certainly dried up.

In the first 10 rounds they averaged 98 points a game. In their last seven games that has fallen to 63 and while their defence has more or less stayed about the same, that 30-point swing has seen them drop results in the back half of the year.

But Railways coach Matthew Powell is confident his side can turn it around.

“We always knew we had to be on top of our game against Brigades. There were some moments throughout where we had enough of the ball but just couldn’t execute it good enough moving forward. We just didn’t click together for long enough on Saturday,” he said.

“It was far from our best performance for the year but that’s the good thing about finishing on top: you get to reload and change a few things and have another crack.”

Railways will be without Aaron Dowe following concussion, with Benny Saunders currently the front runner to come in.

On the other hand, Rovers have now scored more than 100 points in their past three games, something which Railways have done only once since round 10.

With rain predicted for Saturday, Rovers coach Ian Comben thinks it could be a key factor on the weekend.

“I’m fairly confident the weather will play a factor on the weekend,” he said.

“We have to watch their run and stop their ball movement and be quick around the stoppage where we’ve been a bit slow to react at times.

“We haven’t beaten them yet this season but you only have to beat them once at this time of year.”

One big boost for Rovers in the back end of the season has been the return of Joseph Ugle from WAFL duties.

“The fitness he brings from his WAFL training means he can always get himself to the contest,” Comben said.

Along with Gabriel Parfitt, who is odds on for the Demons’ best and fairest, they form a dynamic midfield partnership and will be the key to winning the ball out the middle.

As to what Comben said in their semifinal against the Rams to spark the stunning six-goal burst in the final quarter, he was tight-lipped.

“I can’t give away trade secrets,” he joked.

Bounce down is scheduled for 2.10pm at the Recreation Ground.

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