Wollongong United coach Jeff Allport senses his troops have gone up a gear in the post-season as they set their sights on a minor semi-final clash against Albion Park White Eagles this weekend.
While United failed to reach the heights that many expected they would during the regular season, Allport believes his men are poised to make an impact in the final series.
They have already sent last season’s grand final winners Port Kembla packing with an emphatic 4-1 win last weekend.
On Sunday, they’ll contest another elimination showdown against the White Eagles at Tarrawanna Oval.
"It does feel like the pressure is off [compared to the start of the season]. It is a different competition when the finals begin and it's really all about that game in front of you,” Allport said.
"We have a lot of players in the squad who have been in this sort of situation before.
"You can tell they love this time of year and this is an opportunity for them to show that."
Park coach Paul Carter labelled United ‘the most dangerous’ team in the competition from a talent perspective after his side’s 3-1 loss to Wollongong Olympic last weekend.
The experienced gaffer went on to acknowledge United’s big game experience, but was adamant his White Eagles also deserved their place among the competition’s elite.
"They've obviously got players who have been in a few big matches, but we did finish the season in third. We certainly aren't mugs either," he said.
“They beat Port Kembla by three goals [late in the season], but then had a 1-1 draw with us.
“It’s a similar story this time around, but those results mean nothing now.
"I will tell the boys to go out and enjoy themselves. It's live or die now and we won’t be playing with any fear.
“We’re looking forward to it.”
Park and United were unable to be split in two previous meetings this season, drawing 1-1 on both occasions.
Their second encounter came just a fortnight ago and allowed the White Eagles to nail down third spot on the ladder.
"They have got the players that can damage you and can get on top of you pretty quick but we overpowered them in the second half of that game," Carter said.
Allport says his squad learned some valuable lessons from the tense regular season clashes.
"They have the ability to stay in games and have done it consistently throughout the season," he said.
"With someone like Hikaru [Kawasakiya] up front, you know they can score and create chances so we will have to manage him closely.
"We've had two 1-1 draws with them throughout the season, so this should be a cracker again.
"Hopefully on the back of last week we can take a lot of confidence into the game."
Meanwhile, League Champions Bulli and Wollongong Olympic will face off for a spot in the grand final at Elizabeth Park.