JERVOIS will host Meningie for the highly-anticipated River Murray Football League preliminary final on Saturday, with both sides fighting for the right to take on Mypolonga in the 2017 grand final.
Saturday’s match up is an unlikely one; most punters would have expected premiership favourites Meningie to have advanced to the grand final, while Jervois have been the surprise packet of the finals.
The Bluds started the season with four straight losses.
Jervois showed improvement during the season to record six wins and finish in fifth position, just one win away from missing out of finals.
In the first final, the Bluds knocked out Ramblers with their pressure acts and ability to deny their opposition any run.
On Sunday, they got the jump on the highly-favoured Mannum side early in the match and never looked back.
The Bluds lost to Tailem Bend in round 18 but have since risen to be on a three-match winning streak with a real opportunity to play in a grand final.
If they win this weekend, the Bluds will have recorded three wins; exactly half the amount of wins they achieved in the regular season so they have peaked at the right time.
It has been a different story for the Bears who have sat on top of the premiership table for most of the River Murray season.
The only real challenger for the crown seemed to be Mannum who went on a hot-run early in the year before injury derailed their season and made the Roos vulnerable in the back half of the minor round.
The Bears finished the year with the best minor round record and were only beaten twice; a loss to Mannum who are already out of the finals and a loss to Mypolonga in the middle of the year.
The Bears quickly got their revenge on Mypo with a big late season win which sent a message across the league that Meningie was still the team to beat.
However, after the Bears enjoyed a first round finals bye as the minor premiers, Mypo upset Meninige in a thriller and the Tigers marched through to the big dance, leaving Meninige to exercise their second chance this week against Jervois.
Season form has Meningie as hot favourites in this match, but the heart and resolve of the Bluds unit should not be overlooked.
However, Jervois runs into a classy unit in Meningie, who will be hungry to make amends for last week.
The league’s best and fairest, Standard Medal winner Brodie Martin, leads a long list of star players in the Bears’ line up.
Martin has AFL experience, he won an SANFL league flag with Sturt last season and he stands up in big games.
Playing coach Brian Fenton, who is a two-time Standard Medal winner, is the Bears’ prime mover in the middle.
Fenton, together with the experienced and decorated Karl Lodhe, and with the like Myles Warmington and Harrision Slee, form a solid midfield that has been the undoing of most sides.
They will come up against Jervois’ Peter Zarantonello, Dylan Barry, Matthew Kemp and Owen Love, who has been in hot form.
Love has been the player of the finals series so far and is a real match winner.
He finds plenty of the football, is quick, agile and has the best kick in the competition, whether is it a short pass to open the game up or his trademark long-range goals.
The ruck battle between Meningie’s Peter Nelson and Jervois’ Tony Gibson will be entertaining while the Bluds have the luxury of also putting playing-coach Ryan Willits into the ruck.
Up forward, Justin Hardy is the Bluds’ main avenue to goal while Willits is a tall target with sure hands.
Thomas Dunne played his best game in black and red on Sunday, kicking six goals and he’ll be hoping to take that form into this weekend.
If he does, look out because the Jervois forward line is looking potent.
Bears’ defender James Lawson has taken some big scalps this year and will be likely to go to Hardy while fellow defender Sam Sanders provides plenty of run, as does Martin when playing off a back flank.
Meningie’s big target up forward is Jed Durdin – he leads the Bears’ goal kicking with 48 and is helped by Fenton (40 goals) and Nelson (33) goals when they are resting forward.
Young Bluds’ defender Bradley Gabell has stood up this year and could play a big role in this game while Ryan Mckaye is having a good finals series and takes intercept marks, allowing the Bluds to rebound from defense.
Bluds’ captain Jack Kluske also plays a big role in defence; this time 10 years ago he was a part of the Bluds’ 2007 premiership so he’s been around for awhile and together with brother Tom Kluske, they are important parts of the Jervois side.
The Meningie side has a lot of depth as the likes of Thomas Thelps, Tyson Schmid, Rhys Smart and Scott Biddle are all very good footballers.
Likewise, the Bluds list runs deep with Tyler Robinson, the experienced Casey Robins, Josh and Mitchell Noye and Scott Chandler all keen to make their mark on the finals stage.
Jervois seem to have a real believe about themselves and an underdog, fighting spirit that gives them a chance in every contest.
However, The Bears have been the best team in 2017 – their 14 wins, two losses record proves it.
Jervois are a real chance, however Meninige are are class unit and will be primed to bounce back strongly and give themselves another shot at Mypo.
The Standard’s tip: Meningie, 11-20 points.