Where is it being played?: Lindeno South Rec Reserve
What time is the seniors game scheduled to start?: 2:00pm
Bruthen is on the cusp of extending its reign at the top of Omeo District football to three straight years. The Bulldogs prevailed by 19 points in 2017, bested Swifts Creek by 26 a year later to complete the double and against Omeo Benambra tomorrow is aiming to become the first side in more than 35 years to win back-to-back-to-back flags.
Bruthen paved its way to a third successive decider with a complete performance against the Ranges and based on form, is more than a match for its grand final opponents.
Since losing to Omeo Benambra in round 11, the Bulldogs have been on a tear, winning by an average of 96 points and defeating fellow top four sides, Swan Reach and Buchan. Bruthen coach, Todd Cook, knows the well-drilled Ranges will be up for the fight.
“They have some quality players. Riley Steenholdt, Cody Graske and Ross Ansaldi can be very damaging if they get their hands on it,” he said.
Cook played a crucial part in the Bulldogs’ consecutive flags and this year stepped into the coaching role, which he has thoroughly enjoyed thanks to an excellent supporting cast.
“Taking on the coaching role this year, I have definitely learned a lot about people and communication.”
Needing one more win to pull off a historic three-peat, Cook is ignoring the outside noise and focusing on what he can control.
“I have never been involved in three consecutive flags so I don’t have anything to compare it to,” he said.
“There was definitely pressure to win the 2017 because the club hadn’t won a flag in so long. In 2018 there was pressure because we were the best team and it was ours to lose.
“With all the focus on Omeo Benambra this year it has felt like we can just go about our business, fly under the radar and keep improving our game.
“To win three flags would be an amazing effort, not just from the playing group, but also from the entire club and community.”
Cook expects Omeo Benambra to come out firing, but believes his side will get the job done if they stick to what has worked all season.
“We just have to play our style of footy,” he said.
“I don’t follow a strict script. We have three team goals we focus on each week and just go from there. We will keep it pretty simple on the day. All the work has been done, now we just have to go out and play.
“Both teams haven’t been at full strength this year so it should be a great contest.”
Joint league best and fairest winners, Jamie Barton and Harley Kenner, will be crucial for Bruthen, while the experience of Craig Taylor, Rhys Kennedy and Grattan Mullett will also be key.
Cook has some selection headaches ahead of the biggest game of the year.
“It will just come down to players’ current form and matchups,” he said.
“We needed our full list to get us into this position. There will be some disappointed boys after selection.
Omeo Benambra has been the powerhouse team all season, but can it cap off a superb year by lifting the premiership cup and end Bruthen’s stranglehold on the silverware?
The Ranges finished the home and away season with a 14-1 record, had an average winning margin of around 120 points and dwarfed grand final opponent Bruthen’s percentage by 167.14. Omeo Benambra also won six games over 100 points and two by more than 200.
Before the finals series the Ranges were clear premiership favourites, however stumbled in its second semi final encounter with back-to-back reigning premier, Bruthen, who ran out 24-point winners.
Both sides have shared the chocolates on two occasions this season – Bruthen in round one by 28 points and again in the semi final.
The Ranges secured their wins by 23 and 28 points back in rounds six and 11. Omeo Benambra coach, Grant Mooney, is confident his side can break its 12-year premiership drought, its last premiership being in 2007 where it defeated Swan Reach by 70 points.
“We’ve played good footy throughout the season but we started poorly against Bruthen two weeks ago and Buchan last Saturday. I think our last three quarters in that game showed what we can do and where we are at,” he said.
“We’re pretty confident and going to go into the game unchanged.”
The last time Omeo Benambra played in a grand final was in 2014 where it lost to Swan Reach by 107 points and Mooney says there are a few players in the side that will be looking to redeem themselves.
“I know a couple of the boys played in the 2014 grand final, but now we’ve got a lot of young blokes who didn’t play in it,” he said.
The Ranges’ first quarters in the 2019 finals series have been woeful, conceding 12.4 in their two matches against Bruthen and Buchan.
Last Saturday Buchan found itself leading by 32 points at quarter time before Omeo Benambra pegged them back for a 33-point win.
Mooney says his side can’t afford to get off to a slow start.
“When we were getting hammered in the first quarter we made a couple of changes on the bench and were able to get our hands on the footy through the midfield after quarter time,” he said.
“That’s the key, to win the midfield battle. I can’t put my finger on why we didn’t win the midfield battle early in those two games but to the boys’ credit they never panicked.
“We stuck to our game plan and we probably always knew that if we were in the game we could overrun Buchan, but unfortunately we couldn’t do that against Bruthen.
“To our boys’ credit, to work back into the game and build a bit of momentum, that’s the positive thing for me.
“We’ve got to be switched on from the first bounce and it comes down to our midfield getting their hands on the footy early and giving our forwards some opportunities.
“Our forwards were starved of opportunities early against Buchan and Bruthen.
“Our mids, especially, have to be accountable and if we don’t start well we are going to be in for a battle all day.”
Bruthen’s grand final experience over the past two seasons gives the reigning premier a wealth of confidence and Mooney is wary.
“Their experience is going to be key for them and they’ve still got a lot of players that have played in their past two flags,” he said.
“We’ve got to be positive and get off to a good start. I don’t think we played well against them in the semi final and we
haven’t talked about it too much, we’ve just moved on and we are going to roll our sleeves up and get our hands dirty.”
Omeo Benambra’s forward line boasts some of the competition’s most dangerous forwards with players such as Jai Hayward (69 goals) and Damien Pedder (58 goals) booting 127 goals between them, which Mooney, believes could cause the Bulldogs” defenders some headaches.
“I think our forward six is where we can get on top of them,” he said.
“We can score very quickly and we’ve shown that throughout the season.
“I also think our midfielders getting their hands on the ball early and getting it to players like Pedder, Jai and Brandon Betts (27 goals) and those guys will be key.
“I think it will be more of a contested game early but as the game goes on it will free up a bit. It will be hot at the start and contested footy is going to be important.”
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