Hear from Mounties coach Steve Antonelli in the preview for Sunday's preliminary final between the Mounties and Wests Tigers. 

Mounties (1st) v Wests Tigers (3rd)
Leichhardt Oval, Sunday 18 September
3:15pm
Broadcast LIVE on Fox Sports 501

They’ve been neck and neck in their two meetings this year, but the Wests Tigers will be out for their maiden win of the season over injury-ridden Mounties when they meet in the first Preliminary Final.

The first encounter, back in Round 12, saw Mounties play out a 27-20 victory at Aubrey Keech Reserve, with Intrust Super Premiership NSW Player Of The Year Sam Williams having a hand in all five of his team’s tries to keep his side on top of the ladder. It was a different story in Round 21, when the Tigers set up a 28-6 half-time score – only for one of the comebacks of the year to result in a 32-28 Mounties victory at Campbelltown Stadium. It was not the first time the men from Mount Pritchard have clicked into gear to steal victory in the second half and the Tigers will know a complete defensive performance is needed to avoid a repeat at Leichhardt Oval.

Only one of the teams in this match-up still have an NRL team in the finals and despite enjoying last weekend off, Mounties will be feeling the pressure with a number of injury concerns. A devastating ankle injury to Josh Hodgson against the Sharks is likely to have some effect on Mounties’ playing roster, despite the English hooker being named to play again this week, while there are also some question marks over the return of Blake Austin – which will decide whether Mounties are with or without skipper Sam Williams. A mid-week broken ankle to prop Clay Priest, who was initially named for the Raiders, will also force one of Mounties’ stars into the NRL, with Paul Vaughan the most likely to get the call-up. Finally, Mounties themselves will have to play on without the competition’s leading try scorer Kato Ottio, who was carried from the field a fortnight ago.

It has been a case of Murphy’s Law in Mounties camp recently, but if any team is capable of overcoming adversity to make the Grand Final it is the Minor Premiers. Coach Steve Antonelli will be all too aware that his side fell at the same stage last year – Mounties, also the Minor Premiers in 2015, suffered a major upset at the hands of eventual premiers Newcastle – but with just four players remaining from that team, it is unlikely to be a mental barrier to the side’s chances on Sunday. Antonelli has been successful in pushing for continuous improvement all year and this will not change this week; if he can get an 80-minute performance from his men they should still be favourites to close out the Preliminary Final.

For the Tigers, the same 17 from last week’s victory over Wyong have been named, which is of vital importance at this time of year. The Semi Final win was a lot closer than the score line indicates, however, with the sides achieving similar tackle counts, run metres, possession and completions, so improvement will be necessary to take down the competition favourites. Big efforts from the likes of Jack Littlejohn, Josh Addo-Carr and Jordan Grant set up the victory and they will want to be on song again at Leichhardt.

Injury concerns for Mounties can’t be discounted but the Minor Premiers sit where they are for a reason; they haven’t won 20 of their 23 games without more than a few challenges along the way. Expect them to show their class in what should be thriller on Fox Sports 501, while the Tigers will also have plenty of belief that they can take them down at one of their home grounds.

Where it will be won:

Both sides boast class across the park, but if there is one area that will go a long way to determining the result it is the second-rowers of Mounties and the Tigers respectively. For Mounties, injuries are unlikely to affect their second row unless Shaun Fensom beats out Paul Vaughan and Jeff Lima for the vacant NRL bench spot, while Scott Sorensen and Jarrad Kennedy will be as consistent as they have been all season. The Tigers’ second-row includes Jackson Williams, Joel Edwards and the experienced Curtis Sironen, who will want to improve on their combined 264 metres against the Roos. These link players will be vital to both sides breaking their opposition apart on the edges, while for Mounties Sam Williams will help in this regard if he plays.

Key match-up:

Two NRL-standard edge forwards face off in the shape of Sironen and Kennedy – a match-up that will ensure an encounter worthy of a Grand Final Qualifier at Leichhardt Oval. The pair have combined for 114 first grade appearances and at 25 and 27 years of age respectively, are senior figures in their own teams. Both bring significant attacking and defensive qualities and are sure to perform under the added pressure of the Preliminary Final.

Assuming Sam Williams pulls on the boots, his game against Littlejohn will be another key one in determining who goes through to the decider. Littlejohn’s 12 points helped set up victory against the Roos while Williams also had a terrific performance in his last Intrust Super Premiership NSW meeting against the Warriors.

Ins:

  • Mounties: Alofi Mataele, Sam Williams, Paul Vaughan, Patrick Mataele,
  • Wests Tigers: Manaia Rudolph

Outs:

  • Mounties: Kato Ottio
  • Wests Tigers: (none)

Kick-off is at 3.15pm on Sunday at Leichhardt Oval. The match is live on Fox Sports Channel 501 and a live radio call is available on Steele Sports.

Teamlists

Mounties                                                   Wests Tigers

1. Zac Santo

1. Watson Heleta

2. Alofi Mataele

2. Charlie Taylor

3. Brenko Lee

3. Tyler Cassel

4. Brent Naden

4. Michael Chee Kam

5. Eddie Aiono

5. Josh Addo-Carr

6. Maurice Kennedy

6. Jack Littlejohn (capt.)

7. Sam Williams

7. Justin Hunt

8. Paul Vaughan

8. Jordan Grant

9. Adam Clydsdale

9. Jeremy Marshall-King

10. Jeff Lima

10. Wesley Lolo

11. Jarrad Kennedy 

11. Jackson Williams

12. Scott Sorenson

12. Curtis Sironen

13. Shaun Fensom

13. Joel Edwards

14. Will Mataka

14. Manaia Cherrington

15. Rhys Kennedy

15. Matthew Eisenhuth

16. Pat Mataele

16. Dallas Graham

17. Sam Duggan

17. Jayden Wheelhouse

18. Jarrod Brackenhofer

19. Manaia Rudolph

20. Sonny Bristow

 

21. Royce Hunt

 

Mounties also have teams in both lower grades. The previews for their matches are below. 

Ron Massey Cup Preliminary Finals

Wentworthville Magpies (3rd) v Mounties (1st)
Leichhardt Oval, Sunday 18 September
1pm

Previous meetings: Wentworthville 38 def Mounties 14 (Round 1); Mounties 22 def Wentworthville 14 (Round 14)

Wentworthville did very well to defeat Western Suburbs in their Qualifying Final two weeks ago, but in the end only a Dylan Izzard field goal separated the two sides to give Wentworthville a shortcut to Week 3. They will be thankful for the week off, but this week come up against the might of Mounties – a side that were themselves upset in Week 1, but asserted their dominance last week with a 48-0 thrashing of the Bulls.

The Magpies have progressed this far in the competition on the back of their defence and are second only to their Sunday combatants in this regard. Holding Western Suburbs to just two tries a fortnight ago was no mean feat, but they will need to be at their best to contain the Minor Premiers, who scored eight four-pointers last week.

Mounties will have to deal with the loss of Maika Sivo, who has not been named for this week’s clash. The winger took just 20 minutes to notch up a hat-trick in the defeat of Hills and has been a big part of Mounties’ charge to the Minor Premiership this season. Aside from Sivo, however, Mounties have named the same 17 that shut out the Bulls. In the second of three consecutive Mounties Preliminary Finals – the club from Mount Pritchard will see games in the Sydney Shield, Ron Massey Cup and Intrust Super Premiership NSW at Leichhardt Oval – the Minor Premiers will be confident of a win over the Magpies if they can compete at their best.

Sydney Shield Preliminary Finals

Mounties (1st) v Peninsula Seagulls (2nd)
Leichhardt Oval, Sunday 18 September
11am

Previous meetings: Mounties 34 def Peninsula 26 (Round 13)

In what has the potential to be one of the matches of the year, the first and second-placed sides after 24 rounds face off in the first of four big Preliminary Finals at Leichhardt Oval. Both teams will need to be at their best, with the winner likely to be a slight favourite in the Sydney Shield Grand Final the following week.

The Minor Premiers, as expected, had a reasonably smooth run into the Grand Final Qualifier; following just one defeat and one forfeit defeat in the regular season, Mounties came back from a significant half-time deficit to overcome Belrose in the Qualifying Final. After looking like being blown off the park by the Eagles, five unanswered second-half tries showed what Mounties are capable of when they click into gear. Maika Sivo, who has scored 35 tries in 2016, bagged another in the victory as Jake Horton and halves Maile Li and Brad Speechley helped secure the victory.

It was less of a straightforward path for the Seagulls, who has enjoyed 10 consecutive wins before a forfeit in Round 24. After being upset by St Marys in the opening week of the finals, Peninsula never trailed to Wentworthville a week later to progress to Week 3. The Magpies came seventh, however, and the Seagulls may have been hoping for a more convincing win than their 42-32 victory at St Marys.

Mounties should remain the favourites for this one and are of course red-hot favourites for the competition having won the last 20 games they’ve played. With the Seagulls challenging them earlier in the year, however, they will have confidence that they can secure a place in the decider.

This article first appeared on NSWRL.com.au | Written by Simon Masterton