Warners Bay coach Marty Reiman gives his side every chance of upsetting Newcastle City at home on Saturday and squeezing into the Black Diamond AFL finals.
The Bulldogs trail stuttering Nelson Bay by four points entering the final round but have a superior points percentage. If the Marlins lose away to Killarney Vale, Warners Bay can keep their season alive with victory over the Blues at Feighan Park.
The Bulldogs kicked four goals to one in the final quarter to get within seven points of City the last time they played, in round 11, and Reiman sees no reason his side cannot win.
“Our last game against Newcastle City ended up being really close,” he said. “As a bare minimum we’ve got to treat it as an elimination final, because in essence that’s what it is. It’s all or nothing.
“The boys have trained really well this week, and they’re certainly ready to go.”
The Bulldogs have lost Swans academy player Tom McDonnell overseas but have their other ruckman, Ben Crawley, back on deck. They are also without Nick Metcalfe.
“We’ve still got a pretty good side,” Reiman said. “We’re not full strength, but we’ve still got some quality in there to have a crack at getting the job done.”
City player-coach Mitchell Knight will miss the game through suspension, and the Blues will rest Liam Dwyer, Nick Gill, Matt Enright, Dillon Calman and Conor Haswell with niggling injuries.
Reiman said his side would not move away from the style which has helped them to three wins in their past five games after losing their first 11.
“Against quality opposition it’s just accountable football as well as taking your chances,” he said.
“You can’t afford to turn the ball over against Newcastle City because they’ll just zing it from one end to the other in about two seconds, so you’ve got to make sure if you’re attacking you maintain possession.”
The coach said his squad had exceeded his expectations after a high player turnover in the off-season. Five of their losses have been by fewer than two goals.
“Either way tomorrow I’m going to be happy. Obviously I want to make the finals. All the same, if all these little stars don’t align for us, then we’ve given it a fair crack.
“It’s pretty much a new squad this year, and just to see how far they’ve got, particularly in the last 10 weeks of the season, has been particularly pleasing. They’ve come along quicker than I thought they were going to.
“I thought they’d be patchy towards the end of the year and then make a good fist of it next year, but that hasn’t been the case. They’ve been really good this second half of the season and unlucky to lose a couple of close ones.”
In a quirk of the draw and points table, the first week of the finals will be a repeat of Saturday’s games if the Bulldogs beat City.
Minor premiers Terrigal-Avoca travel to Hillsborough to play second-placed Cardiff. The two sides will meet again in the major semi-final next week.
City will play Nelson Bay in the elimination semi-final if the Marlins finish fourth.