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By Patrick Henning for RugbyWA
Nedlands v Associates
Lark Hill, Port Kennedy
Saturday, 15 September 2012 – Kick-off: 4pm
Last time they met – Associates 25 def Nedlands 23
The Pindan Premier Grade major semi-final sees the minor premiers, Nedlands, take on Associates at Lark Hill on Saturday.
The importance of the game is clear, with a week off and ticket to ‘the big dance’ in store for the winner.
The loser will lick their wounds and back up the following week against the winner of the minor semi-final.
The two teams last met in Round 12 at the Foreshore in what proved to be one of the matches of the season.
Nedlands raced to a 23-3 lead at the major interval, only to be stunned by a sublime second half performance from Associates, running out eventual 25-23 victors.
However, Neddies coach Tony Ball says results during the season count for little over the next three weeks.
“The round games are completely different to finals footy so all that just goes away and we’ll start from scratch this week,” Ball said.
“We’re very confident, we’ve been in the finals for the last 30 years now so I guess it’s up to Soaks to come and catch us.”
Ball was confident his big game players Ryan McLeod at inside centre and former Emirates Western Force lock/back-rower Luke Doherty would stand up and could prove to be the difference on the day.
“They’ve played in the ITM Cup last year so with both players playing at that high level we’ll be looking to get some leadership out of them,” he said.
“We’re at full strength now besides guys we’ve lost for the season and we’re really happy with the team we’ve got going forward.”
The men from Allen Park have terrorrised opposition sides since their win over Nedlands in Round 12, averaging a winning margin over 36 points.
Coach Andy Cole preferred not to speculate on Soaks red-hot finish to the season.
“What you do during the season really doesn’t count for much. If you make finals then you’re doing well, but it starts again,” Cole said.
“Teams play differently, players play differently. You might have a bit of form but it’s a whole different ball game.”
Cole indicated that taking opportunities against the minor premiers was the key to winning this week’s match.
“Opportunities come along and you’ve got to take them,” he said. “You might get half a dozen and you have to take every one of them.
“We didn’t do that in our first round against Nedlands. We created opportunities in the first half but we didn’t take them, in finals I just don’t think you can do that.”
A youthful Soaks team is expecting a physical game against an evergreen Nedlands.
“I think it will be a tough physical game; most games against Nedlands are so I don’t expect this to be any different.” Cole said.
Cole emphasised that only a team-orientated frame of mind would overcome Nedlands in a major semi-final.
“They (Soaks) know what’s expected of them,” he said. “It’s not how they perform as an individual its how they perform as a team.
“That’s what got us to the finals. It’s not any individual, it’s how the boys have pulled together as a 22.”
Cottesloe v UWA
The Foreshore, Nedlands
Sunday, 16 September 2012 – Kick-off: 4pm
Last time they met – UWA 22 def Cottesloe 13
The Pindan Premier Grade minor semi-final sees Cottesloe and UWA do battle at The Foreshore on Sunday afternoon.
In an effort reminiscent of their 2011 campaign, Cottesloe has stormed home winning seven of their past eight games.
Fittingly, the one loss came at the hands of a scrappy encounter with UWA in Round 15.
On that occasion an error-riddled Cottesloe allowed a fast-finishing University to get the better of them in the second half to claim a 22-13 win.
Gulls Coach Ian Fowler is wary that his side’s last loss was at the hands of the Students.
“We didn’t play well that day and that’s a credit to them, they didn’t allow us to,” Fowler said.
“We’ve changed the personnel and we’re a bit more settled this week, hopefully we can continue playing good rugby.”
In the cut-throat nature of finals rugby, the Gulls can ill-afford the poor discipline that has cost them in previous games.
“We’ve given silly penalties for off sides or hands in the ruck when the referee is talking to us,” he said.
“We’ve really had an emphasis that we need to be more disciplined and not piggy-back teams up the field on the back of our mistakes.
Playmaker Sam Heinemann comes back in to the line-up after missing last week’s game with a hamstring strain while Emirates Western Force rake Ben Whittaker returns from Sydney and will start off the bench.
Fowler rates young loose forward Nick Haining as the wildcard in his team capable of breaking open Sunday’s match for his side.
“You never know what Nick’s going to do; he’s a freak in that way. He’s hard to tackle and has got great speed for a big man,” he said.
The neutral venue is a ‘home away from home’ for the Students, who dismantled Nedlands in their last trip to The Foreshore.
Last week’s shock loss to cellar dwellers Kalamunda has been played down by coach Steve McFarland.
“We got ourselves into a bit of trouble against a side whose position on the table probably doesn’t reflect their ability,” McFarlane said.
“We came back well in the second half but it was disappointing, fortunately in the end it was good enough to get us into the top four.
Despite only making the top four by a solitary point, the Uni boss believes his side is on track to defend their title.
“Last year we finished second with virtually the same number of wins, so the season we’ve had in terms of win/loss ratio is probably not too far off,” he said.
A subdued McFarlane refused to buy in to the argument that Uni holds the wood over Cottesloe, but was quick to quell the Gulls’ favoritism.
“Our games against Cottesloe in the last couple of years have certainly been competitive affairs,” he said.
Other than the absence of inside back Luke Burton, the Students go into the game with a clean bill of health.
MacFarlane expects the experience of captain Cian O’Connor and influential No. 8 Jeremy Smith to have a heavy impact on the game.