LAMBTON Jaffas coach James Pascoe is confident his finals-focused strategy over the past three weeks has his side ready to tackle Edgeworth in the Northern NSW NPL play-offs.
And given their record against the Eagles, the Jaffas hold no fears.
Lambton slipped from second to fourth with a draw and two losses to close out the season and set up two-leg grand final qualifiers against the four-time premiers, who they beat in extra-time in last year’s decider.
A 90-minute free kick from Lake Macquarie captain Sam Walker gave Jaffas a 2-1 loss on Saturday to eventually leave them fourth, but the bigger blow came when in-form Ridge Mapu went down with a knee injury.
Mapu scored in last year’s 2-0 grand final win but will miss this year’s play-offs with what appears another anterior cruciate ligament injury requiring a reconstruction.
“He’s booked in for an MRI but it doesn’t look good at all,” Pascoe said. “It’s a suspected ACL but it could end up being just medial, which will be the best outcome. He’s had two reconstructions on that leg already.
“His pace is a real outlet down that right side, whether we start him up high or in at fullback, but it’s something we’ll have to tweak our game around a bit.”
Bren Hammel is their other injury concern but he hopes to return to training from a knee injury this week.
Mapu and Hammel aside, Pascoe believed the Jaffas were in good shape to challenge Edgeworth after a long list of injuries and absences hurt their premiership push.
“I’ve used the past three weeks to try to get minutes into certain players,” he said.
“I took a bit of a calculated gamble there that it was likely Edgeworth weren’t going to trip up given the run home they had.
“I managed to get 90 minutes into Joel Griffiths over the last couple of weeks. Jobe [Wheelhouse] got 70 minutes on the weekend, Luke Remington got more than 85 minutes for the first time in two months. We were able to freshen up Marcus Duncan and Ben Hay.
“I’ve used the last three weeks to get the squad ready for the finals. It probably contributed to the results but it was a risk I was prepared to take. Once you get in the four, it doesn’t really matter where you come. It’s a matter of doing the business over two legs and we’re in a healthy position to have a good 14, 15-man squad to do that.”
He said Edgeworth’s discipline and consistency set them apart from the competition but Jaffas were not concerned with meeting them in the semi-finals, starting on Saturday at Edden Oval.
“I think given our record against Edgeworth the past two seasons, we’re not in a position where we are too worried about having to play them,” he said. “We respect them absolutely for their consistency but our record is good. I don’t think there’s any doubt we’ve got better players than them, it’s just a matter of how many of those players are fit enough to compete at the level you need, and that’s been our issue for most of the year.
“They’re things you have to deal with and are not excuses. It’s just the way it’s turned out for us, but a two-legged tie against Edgeworth, it doesn’t hold any fears for us.”
“We’re in not too bad a position and we just need to improve each week and hopefully be in a position where we peak on the most important day of the year. That’s the aim.”