THE RIGHT to take on Greensborough for the 2015 Division 1 premiership is the prize on the line when Macleod and Eltham meet in this week’s preliminary final.
Sunday’s clash at Preston City Oval will the be the third outing between the sides in the past month, with Macleod a 25-point winner in the qualifying final a fortnight ago, while Eltham claimed a 49-point victory a week prior.
While there won’t be too many surprises for either side given the regularity of recent clashes, both sides will be fielding stronger sides than in recent weeks with key players set to return.
Having not featured in the finals series to this stage, Macleod should be bolstered by the inclusion of key trio Nick Lynch, Liam Brandt and Josh Henkel.
Meantime, Jack Langford played in Essendon’s VFL win last week but could find his way back into the Roos’s line-up with a number of senior Essendon players dropping back to the VFL outfit this Saturday.
Competition leading goal kicker James Kroussoratis is likely to make his return for Eltham. Sidelined since injuring his knee in Round 16, Kroussoratis booted nine goals in his only outing against the Roos this season.
Macleod missed the chance to progress straight through to the grand final, downed by Greensborough by 46 points in the second semi last Saturday. The Roos were never truly in the hunt, conceding 12 of the opening 14 goals before fighting the game out.
Ruckman Chris Long was his side’s best for the second successive week, while Lucas Hobbs, Steve Kelly and Jack Bianchin all continued their impressive form at Preston, despite the heavy defeat.
Eltham overcame a disappointing loss in the opening week of the finals to record a hard-fought win over Northcote Park in Sunday’s first semi final.
It was the club’s first Division 1 final win in 38-years, stemming back to its qualifying final win over South Morang in 1977.
The Panthers were exceptional after half-time, defending superbly in the third quarter before using the stiff breeze to full effect in the last quarter to win by 18 points.
Harrison Burns and Matthew Evans were superb in the final term, while Chris McCabe and Eamon Gilbert each had an impact in their return to the line-up.
The defensive work of Sean Brazzale was again a positive and he is likely to again be assigned a run-with role on Justin White after doing the job a fortnight ago.
Warm and sunny conditions are forecast for Sunday, meaning the game is likely to play out very differently than the qualifying final – a game that was played in wet and heavy conditions.
Ironically, both sides may well relish the improved conditions on the bigger Preston ground – with both sides known for their slick ball movement and gut-busting run through the midfield.
With the likes of Hobbs, Paynter and Brandt set to go head to head against Taglieri, Woods and Glasgow – the midfield battle may well go a long way to deciding who progresses through to the premiership decider.