A LONG road trip a week out from the finals and niggling injuries to key players may see the Albury Wodonga Steamers make several changes before kick-off in today’s last home and away game.
The blue and golds travel to Griffith, with the winner earning the right to play Wagga Waratahs in the major semi-final and a second chance in the finals.
The Blacks are on a six-game winning streak, being undefeated since falling to the Steamers at Murrayfield.
Griffith will add openside flanker Andries De Meyer to their pack and will rely on the speed of a backline that includes 26-cap Fijian international Dan Rawaqa and former Super Rugby centre Marika Vunibaka — one of the fastest players to pull on a Crusaders’ jumper.
But captain Nathan Bright hinted the Steamers might rest some key players.
“There are a few players carrying injuries and the trip to Griffith is the toughest in the competition,” he said.
“From the moment you get out of bed it is an uphill battle.
“It’s the best part of three-plus hours in the car and then you face not only the starting 15 but a parochial home crowd.
“We watched them thump CSU last week and they certainly sent us a message.
“It’s quite possible we will go in at less than full-strength.”
Among the injury concerns are Ash Lefevre still nursing a corked thigh, while centre Andy Kinnell is not expected to play.
Bright said Albury Wodonga would be treating the clash as just another game.
“We booked our spot in the finals last week so from our point of view the pressure is off,” he said.
“The plan is to leave it as late as possible to assess Ash and a number of other players with niggles.
“But we are a week out from the finals and we don’t really want to risk players who may or may not be quite right.”
Bright said Griffith’s rugby was not invincible.
“They have a great backline, but their forwards need to be going forward, giving them the room to move,” he said.
“If we play our structured game, control possession, starve them of the ball — we have proven that we can beat them.”
The remaining games in the Walsh and Blair Cup are formalities, with neither Wagga Ag College or Tumut able to force their way into the top four.