FOOTBALL - ILLAWARRA PREMIER LEAGUE
For more than 25 years they’ve patiently waited and, on Saturday, they’ll finally get their reward.
After countless agonising runners-up finishes, for the first time since 1988, Bulli will, barring disaster, secure an elusive League Championship title.
With a three-point lead and massive goal difference buffer of 14 over rivals Dapto Dandaloo, the 2012 and 2013 runners-up are primed to finally hoist Illawarra football’s most coveted piece of silverware.
It will bring to an end a more-than-two-decade title drought in which the Northern Suburbs club has only picked up trophies in the Cup competitions.
Yet, despite the lack of major silverware, the support around Balls Paddock has never wavered and for coach Ben Smith and his men, a triumph on Saturday against Albion Park White Eagles will be the long-awaited tonic.
‘‘Obviously, the players are very important, but those board of directors, the life members and committee, if they hadn’t done what they have for such a long period, the club wouldn’t be what it is today,’’ the gaffer said.
‘‘If you look around the district, it is definitely one of the most stable, well-run and consistent clubs in its performance on and off the field.
‘‘It is a credit to those guys and hopefully [today] is a big reward for them and they really soak it up and enjoy it.’’
The gates at Balls Paddock will be thrown open for the afternoon with free entry hoped to help pull in a bumper crowd.
‘‘Hopefully a few guys and girls who haven’t been around in a while or not as much come down and have a look and hopefully enjoy the success,’’ Smith said.
‘‘A lot of people who aren’t involved now have been for many years and we would love to see them – players and committee.’’
For all the off-field celebrations, the club still has a job to do on the pitch.
With the finals just around the corner and the potential of a week off looming, Smith isn’t planning on putting a dampener on the drought-breaking triumph with an insipid display.
‘‘We have a few boys in card trouble but they will still be playing because obviously our plan is to play well and win,’’ he said.
‘‘If they didn’t play tomorrow, they wouldn’t play for three weeks so we are taking the game very seriously.
‘‘Albion Park are a good team and we are going to have put a good team out there to compete with them.
‘‘If you are looking to the finals, continuity is important if you are having a break.’’
Bulli will be without workhorse Guy Knight, but will celebrate the day with their youth grade, who wrapped up the third of four available titles a few weeks ago.
In other matches on Saturday, Tarrawanna host Cringila Lions and Port Kembla face Wollongong United. Dapto Dandaloo travel to PCYC to meet Wollongong Olympic in a match pending pitch inspection on Sunday.
The relegation battle will go down to the wire, with Fernhill needing three points and for Bellambi to lose to survive.
The Foxes match with South Coast United was postponed and is subject to a pitch inspection on Sunday, and Bellambi are up against Woonona.