WINNING against Lithgow Panthers in Lithgow is one of the toughest assignments in the men’s Premier League Hockey competition, but that is just how Souths coach Ray Winwood-Smith likes it.
Having stood in the dugout at last year’s grand final in Lithgow and watched his men go down 5-3 to Panthers was not the afternoon Winwood-Smith had hoped for, yet the rivalry between the two sides is one he enjoys.
The coach would prefer to see his players tested than witness them not being extended while earning competition points.
“There’s a really good rivalry between us, we probably get along with Panthers better than we do any other team, but we are also super competitive when we get on the field,” Winwood-Smith said.
“We were fortunate to play Panthers twice in trial matches before the season started. They’ve probably got a better understanding of us and us of them than any other team in the comp.
“That will make it more interesting again as we understand our strengths and weaknesses across both teams.
“It is one of the games you really do look forward to playing because of the challenges that it presents. You want to be tested, it tests your fitness, it tests your game plan and your players.
“If you walk away from a game like that knowing you’ve played the best game you can, that’s what you want. It makes it more satisfying when you get the right result in those sort of games.”
Souths’ record so far this season stands at two wins from as many outings, while Panthers beat Orange Wanderers and Bathurst City but suffered a close 2-1 loss to St Pat’s.
Bathurst City has since withdrawn from the competition, with teams drawn to play it now being awarded a forfeit victory.
Winwood-Smith said that places even more pressure on teams to earn competition points.
“Considering all the changes in the comp, it has become more of an important game than ever I suppose,” he said.
“We have 10 games all up and eight games remaining, which is ridiculous. We didn’t agree with the outcome at all with the draw, there were other options.
“It closes up the comp and every game now is super important. If you drop a game that you should’ve won or could’ve won, it can hurt you at the back end.”
As for the defeat in last year’s grand final, which extended Souths’ premiership drought to 10 seasons, Winwood-Smith said it will not be a motivator this Sunday.
In fact he feels that thoughts of that defeat could be a distraction.
“The grand final was the grand final and we’ve put that away now. It’s important for us to look at it that way and come in with the right ideas and play to our structures and all the other things we need to do based on the new players and team we’ve got this year,” he said.
“We need to push home that side of it rather than what could’ve or should’ve happened last year.
“We need to work on our completion and that’s what we’ve been concentrating on. Our structure is good, our defence is great. There’s not problem with that side of it, we just need our forwards to gel.”
Saturday’s game will be played at 3.50pm in Lithgow.