IVAN Walkling started the season in charge of Hamilton’s sevens program.
But the veteran halfback now looms as a key figure in the Hawks’ push for a history-making fourth straight premiership.
Walkling, a three-time premiership winner, has been given the nod ahead of regular scrum half Noah Church for the major semi-final against Merewether at No.2 Sportsground on Saturday.
“It’s one of the hardest decisions I have ever made,” Hamilton coach Scott Coleman said. “Noah has had a good season, that’s for sure. Ivan just gives us that bit more direction and enthusiasm. He is a good talker and the ultimate competitor.
“We were going to make the call for the final round. Ivan said ‘no, given Noah another chance, he has been there all year. We spoke to the two of them and told Noah what we wanted more from him. It was a close call.”
The Hawks are fresh from having the first week of the finals off.
“There has been more enthusiasm and a spring in the step this week,” Coleman said. “We know every team is gunning for us. Merewether are very fit and play up tempo. We have to match their enthusiasm and intensity.”
Merewether are unchanged from the side which pipped Maitland 31-29. The Greens beat Hamilton 20-19 in round two before a 29-19 defeat in round 10.
“You have to be at your best and you have to be able to apply pressure and withstand it as well,” Merewether co-coach Mick Gill said.
“It is all about attitude. Coming out with the right attitude and speed, and hopefully get on the front foot early.
“Momentum comes and goes and you have to be willing to withstand it when momentum is not on your side and wait for it to swing back.”