HAMILTON coach Scott Coleman can’t recall an easy day at Nelson Bay regardless of where the Gropers have been positioned on the ladder.
And with the Bay sitting top of the table, Coleman has prepared the Hawks for a finals-type intensity from the home side.
“It’s always a tough day up there,” Coleman said. “They will be up for it and come out at 100 miles an hour. It will be like a final. We know we are up for a full 80 minutes. They carry two or three fresh reserves and are a 30 per cent better team at home. I‘m not sure whether it’s the closeness of the crowd or the fact they are playing in front of their wives and girlfriends, but they always lift. They will be out to ambush us for sure.”
The Gropers beat Hamilton 24-22 in their first encounter at Passmore Oval. David Clarke was at the helm of the Hawks then but Coleman is well aware of the danger the Gropers pose.
“They have always had a tough forward pack, but with Junior Polai and a couple of other islanders going across, they have a bit more strike power and depth in the backs,” he said.
“Their backline is arguably the best in the competition. Chad Northcott is obviously the danger man. He has been playing at 10 in recent weeks, I presume to get his hands on the ball more. We will definitely be running some traffic at him, making him work in defence, and hopefully blunten his attack.”
Though wary of Northcott, Coleman said overall the Gropers were playing a far more expansive game than in past seasons.
“They play a very New Zealand style,” he said.
“They spread their forwards across the park. They don’t just run the traditional around-the-corner lines, they play with a bit of width.”
Hamilton, who have beaten Wanderers (38-22), Merewether (29-17) and Maitland (11-10) since Coleman returned to the helm, are without backs Kirisome Laulala, Angus Brown and Sireli Bainivalu.
“It will be a test of our depth, but the boys are fresh after the bye and mentally should be up for it,” Coleman said.
A win would move the Hawks (40 points), who have a game in hand, above the Gropers (42 points) and on track for a fourth straight minor premiership.
“If we win this, it puts the ball in our court,” Coleman said.
“Once you are in the lead, you are not relying on anyone else to lose.”
Nelson Bay, whose last loss was 27-12 defeat to Merewether at Townson Oval, have brought back Polai at outside centre, with Michael Hotene moving to the wing, in the only change to the side that shut out University 48-0.
Elsewhere Saturday, Merewether welcome back goal-kicking fly-half Sam Bright for the visit by Singleton to Townson Oval.
Wanderers will be without captain Luke Simmons for the battle with University at Bernie Curran Oval.
At Walters Park, Brendan Holliday returns at fly-half and player coach Gareth Palamo packs down at No.8 for the grudge match against Southern Beaches.