Toss of the coin
Sawtell v Port Macquarie
Saturday 2:30pm Coffs Coast International Sport Stadium
By CHRIS McKINLEY
TWO weeks ago, a Sawtell and Port Macquarie meeting was considered a preview to this year's grand final.
If a week is a long time in football, then a fortnight can prove to be an eternity.
Sawtell slipped up in last week's second Semi Final while Port Macquarie were less than impressive in their victory over Nambucca Valley.
Now both sides find themselves in the cut-throat Preliminary Final tomorrow in a game that has such opposite reactions for the teams competing, depending on what side of the scoreboard they finish on.
For the loser it is the anguish of a season coming to an end when they were so close to getting to the grand final.
The victor though, feels the joy of making it to the big dance and knowing they're only 100 minutes of football from premiership glory.
To be honest, this match is a toss of the coin job.
It is true that Sawtell have won all their games with Port so far this season and that probably makes them favourites.
All the matches have been tight affairs as proven by the average winning margin being only 17 points which would give the Magpies confidence that they can swing the result their way this time around.
What would have the statisticians voting the way of a Sawtell victory would be that despite the matches this season being close, the Saints have averaged an extra nine scoring shots a game.
Put simply, that means that if Sawtell can kick straight, they'll win the game.
Over the last five weeks, the Saints have created enough scoring opportunities but their conversion is just above 50 per cent with a total of 78 goals and 76 behinds.
The responsibility to straighten up the Saints tomorrow falls to a pair who have injury clouds hanging over their heads.
Robbie Zeegers left the field with a hamstring injury last week while Luke Matthews fell victim to cramp after playing little football in the last three months.
The danger man that Port will have to watch is Dave Rava.
Playing in a forward pocket, Rava has the ability to kick four or five goals from ground level if given an opponent who struggles to match him in strength or match his ability to read the play.
For the Magpies to win tomorrow, Craig Roberts must play.
Roberts has been suffering from a calf complaint for a month and his ability to kick his usual four or five goals a match was sorely missed last week.
If Roberts does play, it allows Dean Geddes to play further up the field and direct traffic using his vast Victorian experience.
The middle though is where most matches on big grounds are won and the battle tomorrow could be a beauty.
In the Red, White and Black corner you have Jai Hardy and Alex Pearson desperately wanting to atone for their below par displays last week.
With support from Damien James, Mark Innes, Mark Couzens and the pocket rockets Michael Bibby and Harley Schmidt, the Saints aren't lacking for midfield arsenal.
There's no shortage of hard runners in the Black and White corner though.
Chris Martens and Daniel Butterfield ran hard all day last week as they have done throughout the season.
The grunt for the Magpies is provided by Tim Donohue, Scott Payne, Shannon Skreja and Andrew Bagnall.
As said before, this is a toss of the coin job.
When in doubt go with the statistics.
TIP: Sawtell by 11 points.
May 21 - Stuart Park - Sawtell 10.15 (75) d Port 8.11 (59).
July 16 - Richardson Park - Sawtell 10.19 (79) d Port 11.7 (73).
August 6 - Richardson Park - Sawtell 15.11 (101) d Port 11.5 (71).
Reserves Preliminary Final: Woolgoolga v Coffs Harbour Swans, 1.15 Coffs Coast Sports Stadium.
Under 18 Preliminary Final: Grafton v Port Macquarie, 11:30am Coffs Coast Sports Stadium.