New Lambton FC v Cooks Hill United
Arthur Edden Oval, Saturday 2.30pm
Cooks Hill United coach Doug West does not believe New Lambton will produce a second bad performance in a row when the teams meet in the preliminary final on Saturday.
Premiers New Lambton host 2019 premiers Cooks Hill at Arthur Edden Oval with the winner to advance to the grand final against Singleton.
The Strikers put the Eagles to the sword in their major semi-final last weekend, thrashing New Lambton 4-0 at the Lake Macquarie Regional Football Facility to qualify for their first grand final since 1992.
That result left New Lambton licking their wounds, having been regarded by most to have been the best team in the competition this season with their eventual gap at the top of the table perhaps not as wide as it could have been.
The Eagles’ goal difference of +27 was almost double Singleton’s, the only clubs with a double-digit positive goal difference.
Cooks Hill had to do it the hard way just to qualify for the finals having endured a slow start to the campaign.
Another wobble towards the end of the regular season saw them finish fifth. But Cooks Hill have shown they have the mettle for elimination finals football, having ended the seasons of Kahibah FC and fierce rivals Belmont Swansea United in the last two weeks.
While they have won the last three premierships before 2020, Cooks Hill have only featured in two of the last three grand finals and only won one championship.
If they are to reach another grand final they will need to get past New Lambton, with West wary of the wounded Eagles.
“Going into it I can’t see New Lambton having two bad performances in a row,” West said.
“They’ll definitely be up for it. It will be a massive challenge for us.
“I watched them play Singleton [on Sunday] and I thought Singleton probably caught them on a bad day.”
New Lambton defeated Cooks Hill twice during the regular season, a fact not lost on West who said his side had learned plenty from those losses.
But West’s biggest concern was battling a growing injury toll ahead of the competition’s penultimate match.
“For us it’s probably a case of can we get a competitive team on the park. It’s a challenge for us to put a fit squad together at the moment,” West said.
“They’ve scored more goals than anyone in the competition for a reason. They’ve got great ball movement and player movement. They’ve definitely been the best team in the competition this season.
“It’s just a case of when you play them to shut down their most dangerous players hard and quickly. If we can do that we’ll