It’s too early to know if Port Kembla will be there on the last Sunday in September, but coach Noel Spencer is preparing his improving squad for a grand final-like battle long before then.
Locked in a battle for the top-five, Port have proven themselves in recent weeks as a finals force again in the Illawarra Premier League.
The Zebras have together three straight victories, but face one of their most important matches so far this season when they travel away to face Wollongong United on Saturday.
United are just three points, and one spot on the ladder, behind Spencer’s men heading into their round 13 showdown and look to be one of Port’s main rivals for a post-season berth.
“It’s a huge game for us,” Spencer said.
“We’ve got ourselves in a good position with some results over the past few weeks and have started to achieve the goals and tick the boxes we want to.
“But this is like a grand final in June. The next couple of games are huge for us actually.”
Port can put a healthy buffer on United with a win on the weekend.
But their healthy position on the ladder is a far cry from where they were after the first month of the season.
The storied club lost three of their first four IPL matches under new coach Spencer before finding their feet midway through the opening round of fixtures.
“We knew at the start we would be a work in progress but at the end of the day we have given five kids their debut already this season,” Spencer said.
“You can only play the cards you are dealt and we have some good young kids there that have got some great experience.
“We are not getting carried away but to be honest, we did set our goals to make the top five this season.
“We are in that top five now and it’s crucial we stay there. We’ve ticked that box at the halfway stage, now we have to tick the next box.”
Port will meet a United outfit that’s still coming to terms with the loss of coach Oliver Vrtkovski.
The 2017 Fraternity Cup winning mentor’s four-year tenure came to an end last week.
He was replaced by youth grade coach Zivko Jovanovski, who will retain the role for the remainder of the season.
“It is a tough time to play them,” Spencer said, referring to the coaching change.
“They are coming off a couple of not so great results. It’s an old cliche but after a coaching change we will have to work as hard as ever to get a result.
“We’ve addressed a few areas and need to be on our game there.
“We that said, we have found a few areas that we can expose them too. We just need to have the same commitment we have had in recent weeks.”
In other matches, Bulli host Woonona Sharks at Balls Paddock while Albion Park White Eagles play Picton Rangers at Terry Reserve.
On Sunday afternoon, Corrimal Rangers face Wollongong Olympic and South Coast United meet Tarrawanna.