It was a pity we went into the bye weekend with a disappointing performance in Port Moresby and the loss of co-captain Cheyne Whitelaw with another bad knee injury. Yet we ended what we had identified as an important five-game mid-season period by hitting our target of three wins.
It’s terrible news for Cheyne, who tore his ACL in the same round last year (round 14) and worked so hard to get himself back – and was in tremendous form – and we all feel for him. His enthusiasm, consistency and aggression are really valuable and it is a going to be a test for the other forwards to take up the void, especially in the next three weeks which could be really telling for our season.
We’d identified that the past five rounds were crucial for our finals hopes. There was a bit of excitement around our five straight wins which took us to fourth position leading into our game against the undefeated Sunshine Coast. They touched us up and we had quite a few players out for the trip to PNG (Talor Walters, Kirk Murphy, Max King, Will Matthews, Lee Turner, Xavier Coates, Tevita Falou, Kody Parsons, Luke Jurd and Stuart Mason) the following weekend and had to reshuffle the side pretty heavily.
But that’s no excuse. We just didn’t play well enough after rushing to a 14-0 early lead. We made a few costly errors in the rest of the first half and the errors became more frequent in the second half which gave the Hunters too much possession, which they were finally able to use to get them over the line.
Cheyne did his knee before half-time which didn’t help and we experimented with Treymain Spry moving from centre to five-eighth. While Treymain was good defensively, he didn’t quite grasp the adjustment in attack.
When we looked at that five-week period, we thought three wins was acceptable and anything better than that was a bonus. We ended up with three wins and while we’ve slipped to sixth position we’re equal fourth on competition points with nine wins. Twelve wins should certainly get a team into the finals (top eight) and eleven might even.
Our goal at the start of the season was to play finals football, so we probably need three wins from the last nine games to achieve that.
Not that we’d be happy with that, considering where we are now.
The next three games – against teams above us on the ladder – will go a long way to determining whether we are genuine top four contenders or more likely to end up in the bottom half of the top eight.
We start with the Blackhawks in Townsville (fourth) this Saturday, followed by another away game against Wynnum Manly (third) and then the local derby against Burleigh Bears (second) at Piggabeen.
It’s not the results that will define where we’re at; you expect you’re going to drop a game here and then against the highest ranked teams. We just need to perform better and get back to getting our processes to the level that we achieved in the games against Norths Devils and Easts Tigers during that run of five wins.
We finish with six games against teams currently below us on the ladder in the Capras, Cutters, Jets, Tigers, Magpies and Pride and we need to get some momentum during that period.
We were lucky to have a pretty good run with injuries in the first half of the season but last weekend we were tested more than we have all year, and now we’ve lost Cheyne. So our depth, which we know is the best its been for quite a few years, is going to be tested.
I still think we’re in a good position to be around the middle of the top eight, which is a reasonable goal now, but we have to show what character we’ve got if we’re going to make that happen.