ILLAWARRA RUGBY UNION
FINISHING first in the regular season might come with a few perks but reigning champions Avondale will probably aim for second next year.
The Wombats claimed the minor premiership for a second straight season only to lose the major semi-final for the second time in as many years.
Last year, they bounced back to thrash Shoalhaven in the final and went on to claim the club's maiden title with a 41-20 win over Tech Waratahs in the grand final.
The Wombats hope to follow a similar path to success when they meet University in today's final at Ocean Park.
"We're a bad team after a bye. We don't play too well," Avondale's Daryl Sanft said.
"I don't know why that is - maybe we get too relaxed from the week off.
"We're definitely happy that we're playing this week. Another bye for us wouldn't have been good."
Avondale led for all but the final three minutes of last week's 20-18 major semifinal loss to Camden only to relent after a long period of sustained pressure and allow the Rams to snatch a match-winning try.
They are looking forward to taking out their frustration on the Mallee Bulls.
"Camden played well. That's footy - you can't always win," Sanft said.
"I guess we understood if we'd lost that we had another week but now we understand this could be our last game. If we don't win this week we're out."
The Wombats are favoured to advance to their fifth grand final in the six years.
Uni have been hardened by triumphant playoff battles with Vikings and Shamrocks.
"It's always a good game against Uni if the weather permits. It's always fast, free-running rugby," Sanft, an ex-Bull, said.
"They're not going to hand it to us. They want to be in the grand final like we do so they'll fight for it all the way. We're definitely feeling the hunger, especially after losing last week. All the boys are ready to go this week."
The Bulls won 29-26 in their initial regular season meeting with Avondale before the Wombats made amends with a 65-12 win in their return clash.
"We'll be up for this game. Things change when you get to the finals because now it's do or die," Uni coach Shaun McCreedy said.
"We're not the same team that played them five weeks ago. We had a lot of injuries in the forward pack.
"We've got most of those boys back now so we feel we'll be able to compete with them up front this time around," McCreedy said.
"The confidence in the group is good after winning the first two semifinals but Avondale provides a different set of challenges to the ones we faced against Vikings and Shamrocks."
"We have to be smart with where we throw the ball around," McCreedy said.
"The last thing we want to be doing is making crucial mistakes in our own half, because they're a team that will butcher you on the counter-attack."
"We spoke to the boys during the week about making sure their heads are right. A team like Avondale can run over you if they get a sniff that your head isn't in the game.
Camden take on Vikings in second grade, Avondale take on Vikings in third grade while Engadine play Vikings in Colts.