THE Muswellbrook Heelers are determined to reverse the fortunes of 2017 when they run onto No 2 Sportsground on Saturday morning.
Twelve months ago, the Newcastle-Hunter Rugby Union divisional outfit suffered a heart-breaking 17-6 loss to Easts 1 in the decider.
Now, they’re fired up to erase that memory against the highly-fancied The Waratahs, at the same venue, in the 2018 grand final.
“We’re definitely using last year’s defeat as motivation,” Muswellbrook coach Michael Hall said.
“And, hopefully, we’ve learned something from it, too.
“I don’t buy into the underdog tag anyway.
“We train and perform a certain way.
“So, if we play to our strengths, we’ll be okay.
“At the end of the day, it’s pretty simple – you have to make your tackles; and win your ball.
“Plus, this match could be the guys’ final hit-out together.
“There are a lot of incentives to win.”
Hall admitted stability and consistency had been crucial for the Heelers in their run home.
After eliminating the Singleton Lions and Southern Lakes Hammerheads, Muswellbrook did likewise to Easts 1, 37-14, at the weekend.
“While we’ve struggled to field the same team throughout the season, I’ve only made one or two changes [to the line-up] in the past month,” he said.
“The boys are getting used to each other – and trusting one another.
“They’re also doing the one-percenters, which is important.
“In other words, they are finally putting it all together.
“It was really pleasing to keep Easts scoreless in the second half.
“We’ve been concentrating on our defence in the lead-up to the finals – and the hard work’s paying off.
“We’re making sure our structure is there as well.
“And, I firmly believe we are getting better and better each week.”
Even though Hall’s been delighted with the forwards and halves combinations, he made special mention of his talented backline.
“We boast some good backs – experience mixed with the exuberance of youth,” he said.
“They’re capable of scoring points anywhere on the field.
“Our two centres – Beau Haywood and Morgan Collins – were fantastic; they want to run the ball, too.
“Then you have someone like Ethan Cridland on the wing.
“He’s scored 14 tries in 2018.
“Considering he’s driving home every weekend [to play], it’s a big effort.
“However, there’s an opportunity for him to shine against The Waratahs.”
Saturday’s opponents have the wood on the Heelers, prevailing 29-17 in round four and 36-19 in July, although Hall isn’t too concerned.
“We’re not worried about our rivals,” he said.
“We have to trust the systems we’ve got in place – and improve on it; maybe pressure them into mistakes.
“It will be tough, but I’m quietly confident.”
Saturday’s encounter kicks off at 9.30am.