Santalab chasing ultimate prize in A-League decider

Wollongong’s Brendon Santalab is focused on beating the Brisbane Roar in Sunday’s A-League grand final. Picture: BRENDAN ESPOSITO

Wollongong’s Brendon Santalab is focused on beating the Brisbane Roar in Sunday’s A-League grand final. Picture: BRENDAN ESPOSITO

A-LEAGUE 

He played a role in the season's biggest talking point, but Wollongong-born Wanderers striker Brendon Santalab wants to snatch the spotlight for all the right reasons on Sunday.

The well-travelled attacker is in line to claim a starting spot for Western Sydney in the A-League grand final against the Brisbane Roar.

It comes two months after he was involved in an unsavoury altercation with Sydney FC midfielder Ali Abbas.

Cleared of any wrongdoing, Santalab is now set to step out on the competition's biggest stage.

And the former South Coast United attacker isn't shirking the occasion.

"It is probably the biggest in my career," Santalab said.

"I have played in some big games in my career but never as big as this.

"To play in an A-League grand final in my first season back from China after 4 years is huge for me."

Santalab split time in China with Chongqing Lifan and Chengdu Blades before finally deciding to return to the A-League with the Wanderers at the start of their second season.

And while the euphoria of the club's debut campaign still lingered, even the 31-year-old's wildest expectations couldn't prepare him for what the season would hold.

"To actually be in the position now is a little bit surreal," Santalab said.

"It is the expectation we set at the Wanderers and now we are there I think we can go one step further and take it out."

The Wanderers have juggled their run in the decider with a visit to the round of 16 in the Asian Champions League for the first time in their young history.

With their heavy schedule, Santalab has shared the attacking duties with fellow front men Tomi Juric and Labinot Haliti, in what he believes has been a match-winning move.

"Our rotation policy has probably got us into this position we are in," Santalab said.

"Tomi, Labi and myself have all done a great job this year whenever we have played.

"In the end we probably haven't scored as many goals as we would have liked to. But we are in the grand final, so there is not too much we can complain about.

"I think collectively we are ready for this game and we are definitely well prepared."

Santalab got the starting role for last weekend's 2-0 semi-final win over the Mariners and is hopeful of retaining it for the season's biggest game.

"Any player would love to start in the grand final. But if it is Tomi, Labi and myself, we will all be ready if we are called upon," he said. "But I would love to be out there on Sunday starting."

Sunday's match with the Roar gives the Wanderers the chance to atone for last season's grand final defeat.

They are yet to defeat the two-time champions this season and Santalab expects it will be no easy task at Suncorp Stadium.

"They are a great side, there is no doubt about that," Santalab said.

"They won the minor premiership by I don't know how many points. So it just shows they have been consistent throughout the year.

"It will be a tough game."

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