Originally written by MICHAEL HOWARD
HAMILTON coach Bill Picken expects the heat of Western Border’s 2004 grand final to be present again today when North Gambier visits Melville Oval.
Today’s meeting is the first time the two combatants have clashed since their spiteful grand final encounter, which deteriorated into a series of final quarter brawls in the wake of Hamilton dominating the contest’s second and third quarters.
“I think there will be some spite,” Picken said. “The grand final wasn’t played in the best circumstances by any means and I’m saying that from a spectator’s point of view.”
However, Picken, who took over from premiership coach Simon Taylor at the end of the Magpies’ successful 2004 season, said his troops will take to the field with eyes for the ball only.
“They will be sent out to attack the ball and to play within the rules,” he said.
“That is what we have told our players to do every week, it is the way that games need to be played these days.”
Hamilton has made only one change from the team that last week powered past Imperials, with Bram Goodwin unvailable with work commitments and replaced in the selected side by Steven Taylor.
Taylor, who crossed from Cavendish in the off-season, was sidelined by injury for the season’s first three weeks but will make his debut today, much to the delight of Picken.
“He is very promising. He is quite good above his head for a small player and looks the real deal.”
The SA Tigers have been stung at the selection table, with Jamie O’Neil and Andrew Close both notable absentees, having been replaced in the line-up by Mark Vinko and Craig Turner.
“North’s side hasn’t changed a lot since the grand final, having seen them against South on Anzac Day they have the same core,” Picken said.
“They were beaten last week by West, so they are on the rebound.
“We have got our confidence up and are playing in good form and I expect us to put on a good show.
“We are travelling really well. I couldn’t ask for much more.”
Aitken, who early in the season repeatedly took the blame for the Bulldogs’ faults, has turned the microscope on his players ahead of today’s clash at McDonald Park.
While Aitken admitted there were positives signs in last week’s loss to Hamilton, the bottom line is a 1-4 record that the Dogs must quickly amend.
“Our efforts and attack on the footy against Hamilton was an improvement from the West Gambier game.
“However, our use of the footy under pressure and decision making was found wanting and we have tried to address that at training.
“It is now up to the playing group to arrest the problems themselves.
They have to take responsibility, say enough is enough and get on with it.
“The players responsibility of their performances has been found wanting a bit and as individuals they need to get cracking now.”
For today’s clash against unbeaten East, the Bulldogs have made two changes with Brad Falkenberg and Brad White promoted.
The former will make his debut in red, white and blue since crossing from Hamilton in the off-season.
“The kid was probably not going to get a look in at Hamilton,” Aitken said.
“With our poor form and different things, the opportunity has presented itself.
“He has got talent. He has good form in the twos and he just has to keep trying hard.
“There is no doubt he can play senior football, he just needs to take his opportunities.
“He arrived relatively late due to the cricket season, but has not missed a training session since.”
White, on the other hand, has in the past been a notable senior performer, but like Falkenberg took a while to click into gear in 2005.
It is expected he will play a key defensive role today, with injury and unavailability gutting the Bulldogs’ defence.
“Brad White has had a similar preparation to Falkenberg,” Aitken said.
“He has gained his form and fitness playing in the twos. There is no doubt he is a good young footballer, he just needs to take his opportunities and run with it.”
The Brads replace Jason McIntosh (injured) and Ryan Meredith (omitted) in the squad of 22.
McIntosh may only miss two rounds due to strained ligaments in his ankle, with next week’s interleague break timely.
East Gambier has been strengthened for today’s clash, with Ryan Larcombe named to return.
The injury is expected to sideline Atkinson for up to five weeks, with more to be known after the coach gets results back from specialists.
Reynolds, 21, has been attracted to the Roos from Encounter Bay in the Great Southern Football League and comes with significant expectations.
“I haven’t seen him yet, but my spies tell me he should do the job,” West coach Grant Russell said.
“Up until last week, every key forward kicked a big bag on us, even though we have been winning, and I figured we are one short back there.”
Subsequently, Reynolds has been lured to Malseed Park and will debut for West today against Heywood.