There is definitely a lot of satisfaction in making the finals for the first time since 2014 – and the fact that this would have been the case even if the QRL had stuck to the previous top six system and not extended the finals to eight teams this season.
The achievement reflects the progress in attitude and experience of the playing group in the two seasons I have been here as coach.
Last year we had a very inexperienced team when it comes to Intrust Super Cup experience but we have built with a core group progressing with regular game time and building on that with good recruitment of players like John Palavi and Christian Hazard this season and certainly Cheyne Whitelaw last year. It’s a real pity Cheyne won’t be there on Sunday to reap the benefits of his contribution.
Yet one thing can’t be understated – we want to keep improving and we want to show we are worthy finalists against a team used to success in Redcliffe, who are the defending premiers and in good form having won nine of their past 10 games.
That’s our challenge at Piggabeen on Sunday morning. To prove we belong in the finals.
To achieve that we have to do what we do best for 80 minutes, not for only 60 or 70 which has been our undoing in quite a few games this season. And That has proved costly against the best teams in the competition.
If we want a benchmark of how we can, and have to play, it was the 36-8 win against Norths Devils in round nine. Their coach Rowan Smith said it was the best performance of the season against his side that ended up finishing fifth on the ladder. We stuck at our processes and were content with grinding away and waiting for our opportunities, for the whole game.
That has to be our mindset against a team like the Dolphins who are very physical, have good aggressive line-speed in defence, a good kicking game and are prepared to earn their scoring opportunities off those basics.
And the Dolphins could have two Broncos players coming back to boost them as well, which will make them tougher. Centre Izaia Perese has been chosen as No. 16 for the Broncos in their game against Canterbury tomorrow in Sydney at 5.30pm and if he doesn’t play at all or plays 10 minutes or less, he is qualified to fly back and take his place on Sunday morning.
Joe Ofahengaue was listed at No. 21 by the Broncos after missing last week with a calf injury but has since been cut from their squad but I wouldn’t be surprised if he also slips back – and everyone knows how good he is.
Either way, we know what we have to do to win. Play with patience, meet their physical tempo early in the game and stick to what we know we have to do – right through the game.
A key to that is obviously Ash Taylor in the halves. He’ll be right to play and we all know what class he’s got. He’s the player key to executing our plan and he has become more confident and more adept with our style of play every time he has taken the field.
Four wins in a row has definitely boosted our confidence after that patch of five losses, although three of them were by four points or less. We’d probably started to second guess ourselves a bit but we have regained confidence and picked up momentum in the past month and have done it without the enormous contribution that Cheyne provided through his on-field efforts and physicality and vocal leadership, and that’s a credit to our forwards and John Palavi who has been tremendous as sole skipper. And Leilani Latu hasn’t been there the past three weeks either.
We’ve got a lot of good, tough ISC players across the park now who are capable of taking us well into the finals. And a bonus for us is also having the experience and good footy IQ that Will Matthews provides. He has played over 100 NRL games and is a great communicator and leader and he’s going to be a big asset for us on Sunday.
We can look back on how we played when we beat the Blackhawks, who finished fourth, early in the year and beat Easts 16-4 the week after the Norths (and 38-18 in round 21) when we grinded it out for all or just about all of the game.
But we go to a whole new level on Sunday and we can’t afford to have little lapses where we get away from our plan or lose patience and get too anxious to score points after periods of going three or four sets for sets with our opposition. That’s when we have come up with errors or given up possession and given our opponents a chance to grab opportunities.
Sunday is an exciting day for the club and the players, with the Colts playing a semi-final as well. As a coach, these are the situations that we work so hard for and I’m really proud of the effort and the attitude of our close-knit playing group and support staff that have given us all this opportunity.
I hope we can get plenty of supporters there to make some noise and get behind the boys. They deserve it.