STRATHFIELDSAYE Storm will feel the heat from Sandhurst as both teams clash in the Bendigo Bank Bendigo Football Netball League’s senior footy preliminary final on Saturday at the QEO.
A hot favourite to claim back-to-back premierships, Storm’s run hit a severe jolt as Eaglehawk won last Saturday night’s second semi-final.
Storm must now beat a red-hot Sandhurst to earn another crack at Eaglehawk in the battle for the Bendigo Advertiser premiership cup.
The Dragons have faced elimination since the finals series kicked off a fortnight ago.
Sandhurst won a hard-fought elimination final against Gisborne by 23 points.
Last Sunday, Sandhurst ended Kyneton’s season as the Dragons thrashed the Tigers by 104 points in the first semi.
A night earlier and Storm was overrun in the final quarter as Eaglehawk won the second semi-final by 40 points.
This season’s meetings between Strathfieldsaye and Sandhurst stand at one-all.
Storm won the round four clash at Tannery Lane by 19 points.
In round 13, the Dragons kicked away to win by 46 points on the QEO.
Sandhurst coach Andy Collins and Storm’s coach Troy Coates will both play key on-field roles through the midfield or in attack.
At selection, Storm regained brilliant captain Kallen Geary and called up Hunter Lawrence, but Ben Lester and Wade Donnan are out.
The Dragons may regain Daniel Connors and Zac East from hamstring and knee injuries respectively.
Restricted to just eight matches, Connors has kicked 31 goals.
The ex-Richmond player gives the Dragons a strong-marking target inside forward 50m.
Collins leads the Sandhurst attack on 50 goals, while Nick Stagg’s four goals in a best afield performance against Kyneton makes him a threat to Storm’s defence.
Sandhurst also has Lachlan Ross, Lee Coghlan, Brodie Montague and Pascale Craig capable of chipping in with a goal or two, or more.
The Dragons have a strong on-ball division led by gun ruckman and dual Michelsen medallist Tim Martin.
The teamwork between Martin, Zeb Broadbent, Coghlan, Blair Holmes, Collins and Adam Parry at centre ball-ups and around the packs will be crucial.
In defence, Sandhurst has the likes of Matt Thornton, Codie Price, Jake Pallpratt and Josh Hann who not only stop attacks, but are brilliant on the rebound.
Storm’s non-stop run to set up attacks and also defend is a highlight of its play.
The on-ball duels will be a key to this contest.
Storm will look for Harry Crone to compete strongly in the ruck and for Jake Moorhead, Coates, Trent Donnan, Josh Formosa and Sam Heavyside to go to work at ground level.
The Geary brothers, Kallen and Shannon give Storm plenty of drive from half-back.
Storm will sorely miss star full-forward Lachlan Sharp because of a broken leg, but have Bryce Curnow and Hugh Robertson to lead the way in attack.
A hardworking defence includes the marking power of Jayden Donaldson and Shaun Dwyer and Lachlan Bonney and Tom Dowd at ground level.
The seniors clash between Strathfieldsaye and Sandhurst will now start at 3.10pm.
Sandhurst and Eaglehawk will fight for a place in the reserves grand final from 1pm.
A big day for the Dragons includes the under-18s preliminary final against Strathfieldsaye from 10.50am.
The footy action kicks off at 9am when Sandhurst takes on South Bendigo in the under-16 seniors grand final in the IGA and Cavalier Homes-backed Bendigo Junior Football League.