THEY have form, they have experience, but will the Souths Aces players also have a Bathurst Men’s Hockey Association first grade premiership this Saturday?
Aces will go into the decider against St Pat’s Red as hot favourites, having lost just one match thus far under the new format which saw the first and second grade competitions combined.
It was a move to offer those intending to play first grade – Souths Aces, Pat’s Red and Pat’s Blue more competition. To make things easier on the other sides, they were restricted to using just two Premier League Hockey players each week.
While first and second grade split for the finals series, the restriction on Premier League players remains.
Aces will utilise Chris Hanrahan and Jordan Barnard while Red has Darcy Davis. Taylor Newton, who was goalkeeper in Premier League for the Saints, will also line up as a field player.
But Souths has others in its ranks who have played higher level hockey and Chris Stafford – who is one of them – knows it will help.
“There are a few of us that have played a bit of Premier League, Troy Kenny has played a little bit over the years, myself, James Lindsay,” he said.
“But then we’ve got Brad Buttsworth and there are a couple of blokes who have come over from Orange this year who have played vets for New South Wales the past few years. So we’re probably the oldest side in the competition by quite a considerable margin.
“They’ve got a couple of experienced blokes too, Wayne Wright if he plays, Darcy Davis, Brett Archer, but then they’ve got some very good young players like Fletcher Norris. It’s always a bit of fun playing against them.”
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As minor premiers, Aces earned a direct path to the grand final while Red had to get past club-mates Blue.
Though Red is the only side in the competition to have beaten Aces this season, that afternoon Souths played two short. This Saturday numbers won’t be an issue.
“We had our first training session of the year on [Tuesday] night, you don’t want to get too keen to early,” Stafford joked.
“It probably hurts us being a bit older blokes having not run around for two weeks, or it will be close enough to three when we get back on the park, so it will be interesting.
“They beat us a couple of weeks ago when we only had nine players there, but other than that, we haven’t lost a game.”
Red player-coach Wright, who may not take to the field due to a niggling elbow injury, knows his men will be hard pressed to try and replicate that recent win over Aces.
If Red is to upset Souths it will be on the back of a strong passing game – quick transfers in particular – and how the young guns like Fletcher Norris, Rohan Hamer, Andre Rossitt perform.
“They have all been passing the ball around well and let’s face it, anything can happen in a grand final. I’ve had Darcy and Taylor come off and say these boys are passing the ball around as well as they do in Premier League, if not better,” Wright said.
Whether speed can overcome experience remains to be seen, but no matter the result on Saturday, Wright could not be prouder of how his side has performed thus far.
“They’ve had a really good year – win, lose or draw the club will be really proud of them,” Wright said.
“I’m just rapt with the season we’ve had, Darcy and Sid [Taylor Newtown] have been really good with the kids and it’s been really good to have Andrew Brown back as well.
“There’s no pressure on us, all the pressure is on them. We came in second, Souths came in first.”
Saturday’s first grade grand final is set to commence at 4.30pm at the Cooke Hockey Complex.