Web_m683713By James Brosnan

BACK in March, Korumburra-Bena was a firm favourite to make the Alberton grand final – which they eventually have.  They will face the might of back to back premiers Kilcunda-Bass – who weren’t.  After a player exodus of quality names following last year’s win, the Panthers were expected to fall away to the bottom echelon of finals participants – which they haven’t.

Kilcunda-Bass lost their premiership coach, captain, league leading goal kicker and the best on ground player in last year’s grand final. They have replaced them with a premiership coach, a new captain, the new league leading goal kicker and a raft of players capable of claiming Saturday’s individual reward.  With all due respect to Dalyston who have been brave, this is the game the fans want to see.  It’s not the two best sides across the whole year – but certainly the best two sides at the right time of year.  Like most grand finals, match-ups are the key and this game will be no different, but the similarities through the midfield and backlines of the sides can’t be ignored. Both sides have dominant ruckman. Korumburra-Bena’s Mark Bradley won his second league best and fairest award on Sunday, with Kilcunda-Bass and this year’s interleague ruckman Ben Law also prominent in the voting.  They are led by explosive big-bodied midfields.

Kilcunda-Bass have the likes of Ryan Fitzgerald, Chris Endres and the Attenborough brothers. The Bulldogs are equal to the task with the Urie brothers and Roy Mullens. Out wide Panther Danny Wells’ pace is matched only by a trio of Bulldogs Ben Fitzpatrick, Justin Smith and Paul Pattison who will thrive on the wide expanses of the Wonthaggi ground.  Their defences are led by experienced players such as Jay Neagle, Shannon Bray and Scott Braithwaite for the Bulldogs, while the reigning premiers have Adam Miller, Matt Hutchinson and Leigh Harrison at their disposal. Finding a difference is like splitting hairs, until you look at the respective forward lines.  The Bulldogs have the more traditional line-up of the two, led by big forwards Michael Cooke and Chris Redl who take strong marks with smalls swarming at their feet.  The Panthers have a smaller, faster forward half led by Kael Bergles who has kicked over 100 goals this season and the dangerous Jason Wells who needs only five touches to break a game apart – he rarely misses.  Panther Tim Smith was thrown forward in the semi-final for great effect. It caught Dalyston off guard but the Bulldogs won’t make the same mistake.

The 2013 premiership hinges on the respective forward lines and their ability to stand up when it matters most.  Kilcunda-Bass and Korumburra-Bena come into Saturday’s game in their best form of the season.  For Korumburra-Bena the early season hysteria from an eight and zero start was forgotten as they went through the lull that quickly hushed the premiership aspirations.  After their great start to the season, the Bulldogs then lost four of their next six matches, starting with a 45 point loss to Kilcunda-Bass in Round 10 and finishing in Round 16 with another loss to the Panthers, this time by 22 points.   Since then, they have quietly stormed back into premiership contention winning six of their next seven games. So powerful their two previous finals performances, the fifth placed Bulldogs started warm favourites against Dalyston in Saturday’s preliminary final.

They have won their finals by 25 points over Phillip Island, 50 points over Fish Creek and beat Dalyston by 48 points.  Like last year, the Panthers premiership defence started at a crawl, losing two of their first five matches.   From then they have been ruthless, winning their next 14 matches including the semi-final by an average margin of 83.7 points.  Kilcunda-Bass, who have been there and done it, would benefit from the week off, whereas it could be argued that Korumburra-Bena has relished the constant football and continually building their confidence.   Those form lines however mean nothing when the ball is bounced and will be of little consolation if things go wrong on Saturday. For 21 players wearing red, white and blue, their names could go down in club history as the first senior premiership winners.
On Saturday evening at Bass, nine players could be remembered at triple premiership heroes, four are hoping to be dual premiership players while eight players are shooting for their first taste of September glory.  For 42 players, many of whom share off field friendships but bitter and testing on field rivalries, it sets a scene which could explode and is one not to be missed.