The clash between Gunnedah and New England at Bellevue Oval on Saturday shapes as a battle for the minor premiership, with the Dogs sitting top of the ladder following the Nomads’ shock loss to Inverell last round.
If the Dogs win they will secure a home major semi-final, and they haven’t been beaten at Wolseley Oval this season.
The away trip to Armidale, though, has been the only blight on the Dogs’ season. The reigning premiers beat the Dogs by 59 points in round one, with Gunnedah subsequently unbeaten and on an 11-match winning streak.
Gunnedah coach Greg Piggott is not paying much attention to New England’s upset loss to the Saints, or that his side beat the Nomads at home in round eight.
He is of the firm belief that his side can ill afford complacency against a side that’s won the last five premierships.
“They’re still the side to beat. No one has matched them the past five years,” he said.
“We’re preparing as we have in the past – it’s our biggest game of the year.”
Piggott is happy with the progress Gunnedah have made in his two years at the helm of the side.
He praised the club and players for creating the opportunity to play a home final for the first time since the club’s reintroduction into the AFL North West competition in 2002.
“It’s a credit to the players and all the people in the administration who have stuck by in hard times,” he said.
“We’re tracking well so far, but this weekend is our biggest test in a long time.”
The Dogs welcome back a few regular faces for the match, with forwards Matt Pengilly and Scott Hardy expected to return, as well as ruckmen Al Hillard and Jeremy Howgate, who were all missing from the last-start win over the Kangaroos.
Midfielder Ben Maher is another inclusion this week. He and fellow midfielders Jake Spackman and Mark Barrow have been among the side’s most consistent players throughout the season.
The Dogs will be without wingman Michael Leven, who was best on ground last match. But the versatility of Piggott’s squad could see either Brent Hartley, Ollie Neader or vice captain Brad Jenkinson shift to the wing in his absence.