Wodonga Raiders’ coach Daryn Cresswell has compared Tuesday night’s training session with any this season ahead of Sunday’s blockbuster preliminary final clash against Wangaratta.
Unusually, the first side into the penultimate game will start underdogs, but Cresswell has called on his young chargers to rebound after the gut-wrenching grand final qualifier loss to Albury, where the favourites goaled with 57 seconds left.
“Well, there’s one of two ways you can go isn’t there?,” he said.
“You can feel sorry for yourself or get back on the bike and have another go.
“We’ve been resilient all year in the way we’ve played, our form’s been excellent, we won 15 of 18 games (in the home and away season).
“We won our first final and we pushed probably the best team in country footy to two points on a ground that didn’t suit us.
“There’s just a couple of little things we didn’t do right towards the end of the game that cost us that opportunity.
“Our training on Tuesday night was extraordinary, it was probably the best we’ve trained and the boys are keen to make amends.”
Neither team has a good record at the venue – Albury Sportsground – in recent years, but that’s not surprising, given the Tigers’ dominance over the past decade.
Under Cresswell’s four-year reign, Raiders have played there five times, including last year’s elimination final loss to Lavington.
Raiders average just 56 points, with a highest score of 13.3 (81) in round six, 2016.
Meantime, the Pies average 63.5 points in two games during coach Dean Stone’s leadership.
“I think it’s wider, so I think it will give us an opportunity to use the grass a bit more,” Cresswell said.
“But at the end of the day, it’s a footy ground with two goals at either end.
“If you take out our round two game (a 44-point loss away to Albury), our form’s been first class and our attitude has been great.
“You can see a steely look in the players’ eyes, they want to get to a grand final, we’ve got four quarters to do it.”
Given the heartache of the loss to Albury, where regular defender Brady Morton kicked a goal from a 40m set shot after a free kick, the youthful Raiders will need a strong start.
History has been littered with teams just missing a grand final start, only to start slowly the next week and cost themselves a chance.
Wangaratta Rovers’ Barry Hall missed a shot after the siren against Yarrawonga in 2012 and in the preliminary final, Albury had a match-winning 31-point lead at quarter time.
Raiders hold a two-one advantage this season.
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