THEY’RE the two big dogs who’ve been growling at each other through the fence over the opening half of the Illawarra League season.
On Saturday, the gate will finally be thrown open when unbeaten Collegians host reigning premiers Dapto in a long awaited top of the table clash.
The deferred round five clash will be a fitting stand alone fixture on the league’s wet weather weekend, with teams one and two on the ladder set to meet again seven days later.
Both sides have claims to premiership favouritism with the Dogs unbeaten this season and the Canaries on a five-game tear having avenged their only loss of the season against Thirroul last week.
It sets the scene for an epic showdown at Collegians Sports Centre and Canaries five-eighth Troy Pieper admits the match is one his side has been eyeing off.
“It’s been in the back of our minds a little bit but we’ve had a lot of tough games recently,” Pieper said.
“Coming into the second round of the season we definitely targeted Wests and Thirroul as games that we had to win and win comprehensively. We really had Thirroul set in our sights last week and now we’re on to Collies.
“These two games are really important stepping stone in our season and it’ll build into the semi-finals where we’re probably expecting to see each other again.
“We’re expecting a tough physical game and it’ll probably show where both teams are really at.
“Everyone’s hunting us this year because we’re the premiers but they’re probably the top team at the moment having not dropped a game so we really want to knock them off.”
Both sides have scored a combined 481 points in their past five games but Pieper said the Canaries will be looking to build a win, and title defence, on their effort without the football.
“Defence is really our backbone, even last year as well, and Hendo [coach Michael Henderson] really does drive it,” Pieper said.
“We’ve had a lot of joy in keeping teams to low scores and that just allows us to build momentum at the other end. It’s really where we get our confidence and then the calibre of players we’ve got can score from anywhere at the moment.”
The pair of clashes will no doubt see the victor dubbed the team to beat in 2017 but Pieper said claiming back-to-back premierships has not been a topic of discussion in the Canaries camp.
“We haven't really spoken about it but we know [defending a title’s] extremely hard to do,” Pieper said.
“We’re just taking it one game at a time especially after the interrupted start of the year we had.
“We are building towards that now and I’m sure we’ll talk about it a bit more when it comes to finals time.”