The AFL South Coast have broken new ground this year, with a change of competition format and the introduction of a women’s league.
But as the dramatic climax nears, there’s a familiar feel to it.
Crosstown rivals Wollongong Lions and Bulldogs will face off in a desperate preliminary final scrap, this time to be played at Bomaderry’s Artie Smith Oval.
The two clubs are used to sharing footy road trips.
They’ve met in a final at Ulladulla in recent times, as well as the thrilling grand final at Nowra Showground, when the Lions held off a late Bulldogs surge to win by a point.
For the Bulldogs, a piece of history is on offer, with all three grades a chance to qualify for the decider.
Coach Lee Murray will play in the reserves game against Kiama, before preparing the first graders for battle against the Lions, while in between the women’s team take on Bomaderry.
“The Lions rivalry isn’t something we’re ramming home,” he said.
“Most of the guys in the team are new this year, so while they’re aware of the history against the Lions – and with Kiama – we’re just going down there with a job to do.
“We’ve had a rebuilding phase which started last year and there’s an opportunity for us on Saturday.
“It’s a big day for the club, we’re pretty proud to have three teams in, the success of the women’s competition has really added something.”
Little more than 24 hours after 12-point loss to Kiama, the Lions celebrated midfielder Lachlan Maples winning the Tunbridge Medal for league best-and-fairest at the AFL South Coast presentation night.
Lions coach Ray Burgess said Maples was ready to stand up under pressure in the preliminary final.
“He’s a pretty humble bloke,” he said. “But he knows the expectation is there on Saturday, we’ve got plenty of experience out there.”
The Lions had 11 scoring shots to eight at half-time against the Power, but trailed by seven points.
And for the second year in a row, Kiama were the first team through to the grand final and await Saturday’s winner.
“We had our chances early and we didn’t take them,” Burgess said.
“In a big game against a good team like Kiama, you have to convert chances into points, but we’ve moved on pretty quickly from it.”
Murray said he expects to rotate several defenders playing on Lions big men James Adamson and Jake Hogarth, with Aaron Jory expected to play a key role in shutting down the premiers’ attack.
AFL SOUTH COAST
Preliminary finals at Artie Smith Oval, Bomaderry
Division one (2.30pm): WOLLONGONG LIONS v WOLLONGONG BULLDOGS
Women’s (1pm): BOMADERRY v WOLLONGONG BULLDOGS
Division two (11.05am): WOLLONGONG BULLDOGS v KIAMA
Division three (9.15am): ULLADULLA v FIGTREE
BEST AND FAIREST
Tunbridge Medal: Lachlan Maples (Lions)
Collier Medal: Sophie Phillips (Bomaderry)
Leading goal kickers: (men) Troy Cole (Kiama) 59; (women) Ashlee Smith (Northern Districts) 23.
AFL SOUTH COAST
Team of the year
B: Cameron Daly (Figtree), Benjamin Hoctor (Kiama), David Goodley (Lions)
HB: Ben Rawson (Kiama), Josh Walton (Kiama), Josh Tier (Lions).
C: Mitchell Bates (Shellharbour), Lachlan Maples (Lions), Ben Williams (Kiama)
HF: Lachlan Kirk (Kiama), Jordan Matthews (Bomaderry), Jake Hogarth (Lions)
F: Jack Burgess (Lions), Troy Cole (Kiama), Keegan Jenkins (Bulldogs).
Foll: Rohan Watson (Lions), Nick Stacey (Figtree), Nick Baggio (Kiama).
Inter: Jack Mahony (Kiama), Sam Schiller (Bulldogs), Tom Strong (Northern Districts), Jack Boxsell (Bomaderry).
Coach: Will Ryan (Figtree). Umpire: Matt Clarke.