Pressure’s a funny thing when finals roll around, especially when it comes to Saturday’s Blowes Clothing Cup major semi-final blockbuster between Orange Emus and Bathurst Bulldogs, because it’s tough to determine which side’s shoulders it rests on.
While Emus won the minor premiership and will host the clash, they’ve been touted as one of the top four’s more inconsistent sides in the last month or so, compared to their early-season form anyway.
In turn, Bulldogs have been red-hot and despite the fact they’ve not beaten Emus at Endeavour Oval yet in 2018, that form has led many to suggest the Bathurst side heads into Saturday as front-runners.
“For the last month or so it’s felt like we haven’t been considered favourites for any game but we’ve still won the minor premiership,” Emus skipper Nigel Staniforth laughed.
“Some of that might come from the expectations our previous success has brought, but even though we haven’t been perfect by any means you have to be doing something right to win 12 out of 15 games.
“There’s no doubting Bulldogs are a good side, they won 11 of their games and beat us down there, so we’ll definitely have to be at our best to get over the top of them.
“It probably depends on how you’re looking at it, which side of the ledger you’re on I guess.
“Either way we’re excited, really excited. The week off’s been good, it doesn’t take much to get everyone going.
“This time of year is what you train and play for all season, to get here. Now we’ve got ourselves a chance to not just make it to another grand final but to host another one, we’re really looking forward to it.”
Staniforth knows the excitement in Bulldogs’ camp will be approaching fever-pitch too though, particularly considering how youthful the side is.
Although big-game experience is oft-touted as a vital advantage in the post-season and Staniforth acknowledged he looked at his side’s familiarity with the big stage could play a role, he didn’t go as far as saying it could be a deciding factor.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who have played in big games, whether that’s in first grade or the lower grades, and Bulldogs are a bit younger than us so I think they probably are a bit less experienced in this situation,” Staniforth said.
“I think that experience does put us in pretty good stead, we’ve been at this stage and won before so I don’t think we’ll get overawed at all, but sometimes not having that experience let’s you just go out and play, and almost underthink things in a way.
“Rugby’s a pretty simple game though, it’s just about going out there and playing and making sure our effort and intensity is there.
“It’s cliche and I’ve said it a few times this year, but it is about that intensity for us because we’ve been a bit inconsistent in those terms at times.
“Some of that I think is guys maybe waiting for this time of year to come around, but we need to be switched on and firing in every aspect of the game – the set-piece, defensively, with the ball, everywhere.”
The two sides have played three times so far this season, with the home side prevailing in each.
In round two Emus blew Bulldogs out in the second half to win 33-12 before the Bathurst side reversed that result in round seven, winning 39-35 in a 74-point shootout at Ashwood Park.
The last of their meetings was in round 12 at the beginning of July. Emus led 26-3 at one point in that game, which was played in torrid conditions at Endeavour Oval, before Bulldogs stormed back in the second half.
The Bathurst side has a kick to win it on the bell, but it was waved away and the greens ultimately prevailed 26-25.
An Emus win would mark their fifth straight grand final appearance and the fourth in a row at Endeavour Oval, while Bulldogs are amid a bid to end an eight-year title drought after last hoisting the Blowes Clothing Cup in 2010.
Emus have named a full-strength side outside halfback TJ Cunynghame, who is still sidelined with a knee injury, while Bulldogs have all hands on deck.
The clash kicks off at 3.15pm, following the colts major semi-final at 11.20am, the women’s minor semi-final at 12.40pm and the second grade major semi-final at 1.40pm.
Entry to Endeavour Oval is $5.
- ORANGE EMUS: 1 Matt Findlay, 2 Tom Goolagong, 3 Nas Havealeta, 4 Sam McLean, 5 Nick Hughes-Clapp, 6 Jack Marchinton, 7 Jayden Norris, 8 Scott McLean, 9 Matt Clark, 10 Kyran Bubb, 11 Tom Green, 12 Lachie Harris, 13 Levi Russell, 14 Harry Cummins, 15 Nigel Staniforth ©; Bench: 16 Michael Graham, 17 Sam Greatbatch, 18 Harry Hamilton, 19 Simon Badgery, 20 Rob Thorburn, 21 Matt Campbell, 22 Aidan Baker, 23 AJ Sykes