Originally written by SIMON BAMPFIELD
PORTLAND starts its assault on the 2003 Western Border Football League premiership tomorrow when it travels to Heywood to take on Imperials in the qualifying final.
The Tigers finished the season in second position and Imperials third which makes for a tight clash.
Portland is confident of taking out the game and booking a place in the second semi-final against South Gambier.
“The feeling is good, I think the guys have been waiting for this over probably the last month, so they are looking forward to it,” coach Brodie Atkinson said.
Not that the Demons are anywhere near on the minds of the Portland players, their eyes firmly fixed on this week’s prize.
“We’re not looking any further than this game, preparing ourselves as we have done all season.”
Atkinson and the Tigers aren’t taking too much for granted either and realise the result isn’t going to be near the 61-point win it had over the Bulldogs in round 13.
“We’re not going to read too much into the last time we played them, we know that you don’t rest on past performances.”
The confidence is there though that the Tigers will be heading back to Hanlon Park the victors.
“When you finish second on the ladder and the second half of the season is positive you have to be confident.”
Atkinson added that part of the positive signs for the Tigers has been the back line which has played exceptionally well late in the season.
The defenders have had a massive impact on matches from round 12-18, as has the entire side.
“When we’ve won and won well we have been pretty even over the ground, of course there is one or two standouts, but in general everyone has contributed.”
There are a still few questions to be answered about the Portland team, and when the answers become clearer, that is when Western Border supporters will be able to see if Portland is the real deal or not.
Will Brodie Atkinson play in the midfield? And if he does who will be able to stop him?
It hasn’t been done so far this season and it looks like the best result the opposition could hope for is to contain him (and hope that in the meantime he doesn’t kick three or four goals), and if that happens it frees up Winis Imbi and Andrew Ryan.
Strangely none of that trio aren’t Portland’s most important player, that label probably belonging to ruckman Clint Lancaster.
The first-year Tiger doesn’t get much of a rest in the ruck and a back-up is hard to find, so it is crucial that he continues his terrific form throughout the finals.
These are just some of the great match-ups that might evolve tomorrow: Matt Steel v Brodie Atkinson, Winis Imbi and Brad Cooper, Clint Lancaster and Rod Uebergang, Matt Dunn v Sam McGee, Andrew Ryan and Grant Ewing, Vaughan Hockley v Jason Muldoon, Leigh Cleary v Mark Smart, Mick Jennings v Brent Forsyth, Jaron Quinlivan v Shane Ewing, Trenton Johnston v Brad Thomas.
There will be a lot of rotations around the ground, but if just a couple of these mini battles develops spectators are in for a treat.
When all is said and done this match looks very close. Portland’s midfield is without a doubt the best in the league when Atkinson, Imbi and Ryan are in there.
On the other hand Imperials has the best forward set-up when all in the forward line, with Muldoon, Smart, Shane and Grant Ewing and Brad Thomas all having the capability of kicking a match winning score.
On the injury front Ollie McKenzie (shoulder) and Daniel Kinghorn (hyper-extended elbow) will be out from last week’s loss to Hamilton, with Brodie Atkinson, Vaughan Hockley and James Imbi all expected back into the team.