LOSING the last two games before finals isn’t exactly the best preparation for finals for most teams.
But Murray Bushrangers coach Leon Higgins says the round 16 and 17 losses steeled his young side, enabling them to overcome the Dandenong Stingrays and Oakleigh Chargers and storm into the TAC Cup grand final.
“The last two games we’ve played have probably been the best we’ve played all year,” he said.
“We had a really difficult end to the season, we played Oakleigh and Dandenong in the last two games, two highly rated teams.
“Though we didn’t win either of those games, we think it really set us up for a good finals series.
“There have been some slight changes in personnel for us in finals, we’re now at full strength with the exception of Jy Simpkin, who’s barely played this year.
“It gives the boys a bit of confidence knowing that we’ve got the best team out on the park.”
Higgins said training on Wednesday night had an almost carnival atmosphere, with nearly every one of the 54 listed players turning up.
But things swiftly turned serious as the side turned its attention to Sunday's game.
“I spoke with the boys on Wednesday night about how important the game is for the whole squad,” Higgins said.
“To get to the grand final, we’ve had strong involvement from most of those players, if not all.
“It’s a win for them, a win for the whole squad, not just the 23 players that will play on Sunday.”
On field, with a Sandringham midfield featuring the likes of Tim Taranto, Oliver Florent and Corey Lyons, Higgins said it would be up to his on-field generals to match it with Sandringham's best.
“Sandringham have got a big core group of on-ballers,” he said.
“They're really similar to Oakleigh in some respects, that have some strong forwards that they rely on and a ruckman is capable of dominating games in that area of the ground as well.
“But again, we think we can match them in most areas and stretch them in the forward line.
“I think our midfield depth is as good as anyone's in the competition.
“You look at guys like Fletcher Carroll, who was one of our best last week, James Cousins who has played some VFL football this year.
“Along with Charlie Spargo who can go in there and have an impact, Mason Marr, Ben Paton as well.
“We've got great depth through the middle.”
Higgins’ first year in the top job has been a runaway success, but the former Wodonga premiership player was quick to pay tribute to his predecessor, former coach Darren Ogier.
“Darren did a terrific job building this group,” he said.
“I'm really fortunate to be in this position.
“I'm in the right place at the right time with a talented group of players.”
The ball will be bounced at Etihad Stadium at 11:05am on Sunday morning.
It’s a win for them, a win for the whole squad, not just the 23 players that will play on Sunday.