Gordon coach Billy Melrose suggests Norths are “easily the favourites” for Sunday’s prelim final

By Jon Geddes

THE mind games have started in the countdown to Sunday’s preliminary final showdown between arch-rivals Gordon and Northern Suburbs, with Highlanders coach Brian Melrose describing his team’s opponents as “easily the favourites”.

In a double-header at Rat Park this weekend, Gordon take on Norths while Sydney University tackle Eastwood in the early game, with the two winners advancing to the grand final at Leichhardt Oval on Saturday week.

“Norths and Uni are easily the favourites on the weekend because they have had the perfect preparation,” Melrose said, referring to the fact that both those sides had last week off.

The Highlanders have staged an amazing resurgence to be one win away from a grand final appearance when it appeared they could have ended up as also rans midway through the season.

The fact that neighbours Gordon and Norths are already fierce rivals adds even more spice to what is shaping up as a fiery sudden death clash on Sunday.            

“We are in a bit of a different situation from Norths,” Melrose said. “We’ve been playing sudden death footy for a long, long time – pretty much for 10 weeks.”

He said for a team to be successful the physical and the emotional aspects both needed to be right.

“From an emotional point of view, for many weeks Norths have not been wondering whether they are going to be in the finals,” Melrose said. 

“They have had a good week off, completely planned, whereas we are sort of on the rantan every week. 

“It’s a good thing in some ways, but of course it is like everything, you are coming from dramatic victories.”

Melrose said the task for Gordon is getting up emotionally every week, whereas Norths clearly have a good amount of time to set themselves.

“Norths have had the best preparation because they have had one game in 23 days,” he said.

“To be fair, you could say their big challenge is trying to work out on which days to train and not to train.”

Melrose said each week the job gets a bit tougher as his side has progressed through the finals series.

“They (Norths) are the minor premiers for a reason in a tight comp,” he said. “What you have is a team that consistently plays good footy.

“They have good ball movement, don’t they? Give them half a sniff and they are a chance to burn you.

“They have a backline where you can barely pick which one is more of a threat.

“I’m not too sure what our backline will look like.”

Norths coach Zak Beer was quite relaxed about the comments from his rival.

“I’m glad that Billy’s (Melrose) taken the time out of his day to count the number of days since our last game,” Beer said. “But for myself and the team we’re laser-focussed on the job at hand on Sunday and preparing for this game like we have done so all season.” 

WATCHING WITH INTEREST

BEER was a more than an interested spectator at Coogee Oval last Sunday when Gordon came from behind to beat Randwick 24-23 in their semi-final.

“They are a strong set piece side and play a heavy territory game and have some dangermen in the backs,” Beer observed.

He said at this time of year the scrum and lineout are the cornerstone to any big game and that has been a focus.

When the teams last met in round 14 at North Sydney Oval, Gordon again staged a late rally to win 25-22.

“There are definitely lessons to learn, we were far from our best,” Beer said. “We were in front with eight minutes to go and let a couple of opportunities slip.

“We are also a different team now, we had a fair few guys out that game and a couple of guys who were new into first grade who have now been in the saddle for a while.

“And I feel we have evolved as a group a fair way since that game.”

A big threat again on Sunday will be Gordon hooker Mahe Vailanu, who scored what turned out to be the crucial try with eight minutes to go in that previous local derby.

“He is definitely a strike guy for them and someone who they look to a fair bit,” Beer said. 

“They obviously play a lot of maul specials and peels off the lineout that involve him.”

As for his casualty list, Beer expects hooker James Margan to be back for Sunday while five-eighth Angus Sinclair and lock Dave Henaway may be pushing it to be right for this week.