Avondale to bank on experience in Illawarra Rugby Union grand final

Set for battle: Bowral's Tim Small (left) and Avondale's Andre Itula with the Illawarra Rugby trophy. Picture: Adam McLean.
Set for battle: Bowral's Tim Small (left) and Avondale's Andre Itula with the Illawarra Rugby trophy. Picture: Adam McLean.

Avondale coach Murray McDonald is confident his side’s grand final experience will be the difference when the Wombats take on Bowral in Saturday’s Illawarra Rugby Union grand final. 

Avondale have played in seven of the past ten deciders, winning three including last year’s 27-12 victory over Vikings. 

With nine players returning from last year’s victorious side, McDonald said his men are well-prepared for everything that comes with playing on grand final day at WIN Stadium. 

“The boys are very excited for the game, they’re all buzzing,” McDonald said. “There’s a good feeling around training. It’s a grand final, that’s what you play for, to play in grand finals. To get another one would be great, but we’ve got a good Bowral side to get past. 

“That experience is very important. The boys know all the processes, the field, playing on WIN Stadium, how the day flows. It’s all exactly like last year, we went through the same motions at training.”

While Avondale have sat among the top echelon of Illawarra Rugby for the past decade, the Blacks have struggled through a number of lean years. Saturday marks the club’s first first grade grand final since 2002.

Bowral, however, will take confidence from their 35-10 victory over Vikings in last year’s second grade grand final, with three players from that side to take to the field on Saturday, including Illawarra Rugby player of the year Lachlan Huntington. 

The Blacks may lack Illawarra grand final experience, but Fairbanks is not concerned. 

“We might not have the experience in this competition,” Fairbanks said. “But there’s lot of guys there that have played a lot of footy and have won grand finals. 

“Guys in the forward pack have done it and Lachy played second grade last year and led that team. There’s quite a bit of experience there and a good mix of youth and experience.” 

The match marks the fourth time these two sides have faced off this season, with the teams splitting their regular season battles before the Wombats blitzed Bowral at Eridge Park in the major semi-final a fortnight ago. 

Avondale prevailed 43-11 after a commanding first half performance and McDonald knows his team will be hard to beat if they start as well as they did that day. 

“If we can start like we did last time and our defence is set much better than when we got beat, it will be a good start,” McDonald said. “We need to get our forwards going forward to make some room for our backs.”

Fairbanks has pulled no punches in describing his team’s semi-final performance and he has no doubts Bowral will deliver a much-improved showing. 

“I’m 100 per cent convinced we’ll be much improved,” Fairbanks said. “It’s something we probably needed and it’s not going to happen again. We learnt lessons from that, we know as a group we didn’t show up. 

“It was hard to take, it coming in such an important game and the guys hurt a lot after it. It was a blessing in disguise.”