Cheltenham and Cranbourne will battle it out for Southern Football’s greatest prize at RSEA Park on Saturday afternoon in a mouth-watering Division 1 Grand Final match up.
Only a pandemic has stopped the Rosellas returning to the SFNL’s grandest stage, with Des Ryan’s men hell bent on avenging the heartbreak of 2019 to secure the club’s first senior premiership since 1995.
The Rosellas, much like 2019, will enter the match as firm favourites but as we saw with the Frankston Dolphins a few weeks ago the most dominant side of the season doesn’t always take home the cup.
Regardless it’s hard to ignore their form line, following 17 victories in a row with their last defeat occurring way back in April in the second round of the season.
Their three victories over Cranbourne in particular will fuel the playing group with considerable confidence, with the team in perfect shape for a tilt at the flag.
Having enjoyed the week off, the Rosellas will be hungry to repeat their Semi-Final heroics but will be wary of an Eagles outfit who will be licking their wounds from that loss.
Cranbourne have been superb since their admission into the SFNL and a Grand Final appearance straight off the bat is a remarkable feat.
While they’ve had to take the long road to the big dance, they’ve shown good form throughout their finals campaign and have proved to be the worthiest challenger to the minor premiers.
The Eagles led from start to finish against the Saints to pocket a two-kick preliminary final win, but could’ve faced a different story had St Kilda City not wasted so many opportunities in front of goal.
While it didn’t prove costly, if Steve O’Brien’s men give up 25+ scoring shots to the opposition this weekend it’ll be game over.
But as any footy team there’s always something to improve on and the coaching staff will be looking at plenty of positives which came from the victory.
What will be especially pleasing was the spread of goalkickers up front, with ten players hitting the scoreboard with no one jagging more than two majors.
It was a stark contrast to their Semi-Final where bar Marc Holt, the forward line was blanketed by Cheltenham’s dogged defence.
The Rosella’s back six has proved hard to conquer all season, averaging just 57 points against per game to be the stingiest in the competition.
They will however have their hands full with the Eagles spearhead Holt showing how dangerous he is inside the arc with 76 goals for the season.
Ryan and the rest of the Rosellas coaching staff will be determined to mitigate Holt’s influence after he kicked six goals in the Semi-Final to get the Eagles off the canvas.
While Holt will be key to the Eagles flag chances, he’ll need some help up front with capable allies in Kirk Dickson (41 goals) and Tyson Barry (37 goals) also set to play a big role.
In the middle of the ground, the Rosellas pairing of Dylan Weickhardt and Jack Worrell have led from the front and will battle it out against Cranbourne’s leading ball winners Jake Carosella and Zak Roscoe.
The Rosellas ability to clock up big totals without relying on a few key targets each week has been impressive and makes it them that much harder to stop.
While Josh Fox was the standout earlier in the year with 49 majors, the star Rosella hasn’t pulled on the club jumper since July showing just how deep and adaptable this list is.
In Fox’s absence, Austin Johnson has proved to be a reliable contributor with 32 goals for the Rosellas and Alecsander McComb and Luke Garnaut have also hit the scoreboard most weeks with 19 goals each.
Where the Rosellas coaching staff have some clear identifiable key match ups to lock down, the Eagles have no such luxury with the Rosellas littered with talent and an even spread across the field.
Even if you curb the influence of a few, others are likely to fill the void.
Bringing previous Grand Final experience with them, the Rosellas will be optimistic that their previous stint on the big stage will hold them in good stead come the first bounce.
The Eagles are no strangers to the pressure cooker environment of Grand Finals either and will be backing to break their hoodoo against the Rosellas when it matters most.
One thing’s for certain, just like their Semi-Final clash, this promises to be a cracking match up and the margin shouldn’t stray too far for either team throughout the day.
When tipping a winner, as impressive as Cranbourne have been this season it’s hard to look past Cheltenham’s recent track record and only stage fright looks likely to prevent them lifting the premiership cup up on the dais.