RELATED: Semi-final teams
MORWELL and Sale, the benchmark teams of Gippsland League football, will meet in the second semi-final on Saturday.
The winner of the match at Traralgon will book the first place in the grand final.
The Tigers and Magpies have dominated this competition in recent years. They are the only two teams which have sat on top of the ladder since round nine, 2012.
Morwell has won 33 of its past 40 matches, while Sale has claimed victory on 49 of past 53. Two of the Magpies’ four defeats in that period have come against the Tigers.
This year, the Magpies held on at home to defeat the Tigers by four points, while in the return fixture, Morwell was in control for most of the day. With key players such as Jason Gram, Tom Hams and Luke Collins missing, the Magpies had room for improvement from that round 18 clash at Morwell.
Last weekend’s qualifying final victory over Wonthaggi had the Magpies return to playing a consistent brand of hard and skilful footy across four quarters, something that was missing against the Tigers seven days earlier.
The inclusion of four Gippsland Powers invigorated the Magpies, with Josh Dunkley in particular outstanding.
Along with Nash Holmes, Brad Olsson and Ben Dessent, this injection of youth should help the Magpies, who have been affected by injuries in recent months.
A week after withdrawing from the match against Morwell with a hamstring injury, Gram returned to cause havoc early for the Power, booting four goals in the first half to set the Magpies on their way to victory.
Comfortably in front by 24 points at three-quarter-time, Sale, to its credit, made sure of victory in the fourth term, increasing the margin to 43 by the final siren.
The Tigers would have enjoyed the week’s break, providing the chance for players to rest ahead of a tough finals campaign. They will be hoping key defender Julian Blackford, who could match-up on Sale captain-coach Matt Ferguson or John Gooch, can return from injury.
Maffra teams will be taking part in the day’s other three football matches.
The Eagles reserves, who won the minor premiership, will take on Wonthaggi. Power earned their place in the match after a thrilling one-point win over Traralgon.
In the under 18s, the Eagles will battle Traralgon, which has only lost one match this season. The Eagles defeated Sale by one point in the qualifying final.
Maffra and Moe will meet in the under 16s. The Eagles were too strong for Bairnsdale in the qualifying final, while the Lions had the week off thanks to winning the minor premiership.
MAFFRA will need to defeat a Wonthaggi side coming off a disappointing performance to keep its premiership hopes alive.
The sides will contest the first semi-final at Morwell on Sunday with the winner to meet the loser of the previous day’s second semi-final in the preliminary final.
The Power will enter Sunday’s match with some confidence, having defeated Maffra in both home and away encounters this year for the first since 2003.
In round 17 at Wonthaggi, the Eagles were held to just one goal by three-quarter-time with their final score of 3.6 (24) equalling their lowest against Wonthaggi from 2001.
Wonthaggi was not at its powerful best against Sale in the qualifying final.
The Power was beaten to the ball by the Magpies, who used the ball better.
The Power will be keeping a close eye on the fitness of key forward Troy Harley and onballer Aaron Ware, who pulled up sore from Saturday’s match.
Seemingly out of form heading towards the finals, the Eagles may have found their spark at the right time of the year, outlasting Bairnsdale in last weekend’s elimination final.
The inclusion of Gippsland Power player Alex Carr has been a bonus for the Eagles, with captain Ben Coleman unlikely to return to action this season.
Carr played a major role the Eagles taking control of the midfield.
The Eagles showed the benefit of being the most accurate team in the league last week when, despite having one less scoring shot than Bairnsdale, were able to control the game to run out 19-point winners.
Led by century goal kicker Darren Sheen, the Eagles have an impressive 61.2 per cent season accuracy rate, compared to the next best of around 54 per cent. Wonthaggi rates eighth in terms of accuracy (49.4 per cent) during the home-and-away season and will have to be on target on Sunday if it’s to avoid elimination.
Since Wonthaggi returned to this league in 2010, the Power and Eagles have been evenly matched, splitting their 10 encounters five-all.
Sale will be represented in the remaining three matches.
The Magpies will play Traralgon in the reserves. The Magpies put in a solid performance to defeat Morwell in the elimination final, while the Maroons lost the qualifying final to Wonthaggi by a point.
After its narrow loss to Maffra, Sale’s under 18 side will meet Warragul, which overcame Bairnsdale in the elimination final. The Magpies have won both matches against the Gulls this year.
In the under 16s, the Magpies will face Bairnsdale, a side they have defeated twice this season. The Magpies needed big finish to defeat Traralgon in the elimination final.
Second semi-final, Saturday at Traralgon:
Seniors: Morwell v Sale, 2.20pm; reserves: Maffra v Wonthaggi Power, 12.30pm; under 18s: Traralgon v Maffra, 10.45am; under 16s: Moe v Maffra, 9am.
A grade: Morwell v Sale, 2.15pm; B grade: Traralgon v Moe, 1pm; C grade: Traralgon v Morwell, noon; under 17s: Moe v Traralgon, 11am; under 15s: Traralgon v Moe, 10am; under 13s: Maffra v Wonthaggi Power, 9am.
First semi-final, Sunday at Morwell:
Seniors: Wonthaggi Power v Maffra, 2.20pm; reserves: Traralgon v Sale, 12.30pm; under 18s: Sale v Warragul, 10.45am; under 16s: Bairnsdale v Sale, 9am.
A grade: Traralgon v Moe, 2.15pm; B grade: Morwell v Bairnsdale, 1pm; C grade: Moe v Sale, noon; under 17s: Maffra v Sale, 11am; under 15s: Maffra v Bairnsdale, 10am; under 13s: Moe v Traralgon, 9am.