The Woodsmen head north tonight to take on the defending premiers Zillmere for a spot straight into the Grand Final and a well earnt week off next week.
While the Woodies will miss a number of key players through injury and unavailability, the pleasing thing about 2017 is that the new found depth of the squad means a very strong 22 will take the field despite the outs.
Reigning B&F winner Sam Curtis, ruckman Andrew Thomsonand Brett McEvoy are all unavailable due to other commitments, while injury has claimed some of the older stalwarts in dual Premiership skipper Toohey (hamstring), Green (calf) and Prior (shoulder) while youngster Elliott Heath has failed to get up from a hamstring suffered 6 weeks ago making his reserves debut.
However, the quality of the squad across the entire 22 can't be faulted with plenty of experience and form putting the boys in good stead for a serious crack at direct entry into the GF.
The Woodies will again be lead by a strong back 6, the cornerstone of any Woodsmen team for many years. Paul Eaton with his closing speed, long kicking and athleticism provides a versatile option, while Andrew Bell is in career best form recently at full-back with several key scalps via his surprising speed and immovable strength. In the other pocket, Travis Young has been a consistent performer for weeks on end since joining the side mid season, with his decision making and vision to release teammates with quality handballs a feature. The halfback line is a picture of quality and experience, with Sam Long on one flank offering the versatility of playing tall or small, a bit of poise and 'decades' of experience! On the other flank is the poise and pressure of Tim McEvoy who not only provides toughness and skill, but also a strong voice and will direct traffic with aplomb. In the key post is Scotty Matthews, who hasn't missed a beat filling the enormous boots of Tim Green at Centre Half Back for large parts of the season.
The midfield engine room starts in the centre with Matt Hockley while the in form Lochie McDonald will patrol one wing with his long penetrating kicking and speed expected to hurt Zillmere. While on the other wing, the wily old veteran Kiran Verma returns to his preferred position after a week off with injury. Rounding out the midfield engine will be the experienced McCewen in the ruck and Lachlan Woods and Chris Davis at ground level looking to dominate stoppages in the absence of Curtis. Davis has been in strong form recently on the flanks and will be looking to continue that form in the middle, while Woods will be getting his first look at the strong Zillmere midfield and will be looking to stamp his authority.
Across half forward the Woodsmen have class and versatility in Garland on the flank, who provides a tall marking option who can also win the ball at ground level and will no doubt spend time in the midfield. On the other flank is Greg Matthews, who has hit good form recently as a small forward and midfield rotation. 'Moe' is known as a bit of a 'finals specialist' so will be looking to live up to his reputation again this week. At CHF, Gerard Moore really straightens the side up and will be looking to dominate in the air and use his workrate to good effect. Fresh off a 7 goal haul 'Big G' is ready to go and will surprise opponents with his efforts below his knees when the ball spills.
Deep forward the Woodies will be hard to match up on, with the wily veteran and league leading goalkicker in one pocket offering a leading target who can crumb off the talls and push up the ground when needed, while the electric Jake Fuentes in the other pocket adds a new dimension to the Woodies when he plays deep with his tackling pressure and ability to get front and centre a real feature. Fresh off a B.O.G performace, Fuentes will be peaking nicely at the right time. Last but not least is Jay Baker who has matured beautifully like a fine wine this season in his return from a serious knee injury. The former high flyer has been slowly building in the back half of the year before kicking 21 goals in the final 4 H&A rounds and the big V8 is now purring beautifully, with 7 last week and 5 in his last outing vs Zillmere.
Always strong in the starting lineup, the Woodies this week will also get plenty of game breaking ability from the bench. Blake Barkley was potentially the best defender in the side earlier in the year before a hamstring cost him 5 weeks. However, having this sort of quality to rotate through defence and potentially half forward as well shows the depth of the squad. Shayne Baldwin also offers versatility, this year having played roles on the wing, at half back, half forward and occasional stints on the ball as well. Work rate and aerial ability no doubt his key strengths. Rounding out the 22 will be latecomer Ben Ness who arrived at the club late in the year and was told he would be unlikely to get a start, but instead he's played quality game after quality game to force is his way into the side and will no doubt spend plenty of time in the on-ball rotation, while 2016 Rising Woody Nick Masters will look to perform a role potentially on a wing, as well as back up ruck duties with his elite disposal and composure giving him the ability to really hurt the opposition.
The Woodsmen would appreciate all the support we can garner from the Magpie Faithful as they look to secure a spot in the 2017 Grand Final. Friday 18/8 - 730pm, Zillmere Eagles - Zillmere Road, Zillmere:
B: Eaton - Bell - Young
HB: Long - S.Matthews - T.McEvoy
C: Verma - Hockley - McDonald
HF: Garland - Moore - G. Matthews
F: Mihalopoulos - Baker - Fuentes
Foll: McCewen - Woods - Davis
Int: Barkley - Baldwin - Ness - Masters