Lions and Magpies face off in virtual final to decide fourth spot

Cameron NewboldAlbany Advertiser
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Royals' Cameron Smith kicks ahead of Denmark-Walpole's Jaden Guidi earlier this season.
Camera IconRoyals' Cameron Smith kicks ahead of Denmark-Walpole's Jaden Guidi earlier this season. Credit: Laurie Benson

Royals coach James McRae has backed his under-fire team to deliver in the biggest game of their disappointing season and avoid missing finals for the first time in 20 years when they face Denmark-Walpole in Saturday’s virtual final.

The fourth-placed Lions are four points ahead of the Magpies, who have a far superior percentage heading into the round 15 fixture, meaning whoever wins at Centennial Stadium will play finals.

Both sides have been inconsistent this season with their form but the Lions are staring down an unwanted piece of history, having not missed the finals since 1998.

The Lions copped a 123-point belting from North Albany last week and McRae could only guarantee vital big man Andrew Ruck was a certain inclusion among a group of possible players to return.

But McRae was confident the Lions would bounce back given their season was on the line and said it was all or nothing from here.

“It’s an elimination final,” McRae said.

“We’ll have to be at our best to win but we believe we can play well enough to win.

“We’ve got our backs against the wall, and one loss in the next four (weeks) and you’re out.

“You can’t let that (missing finals for first time since 1998) worry you.

“There is no point making finals and just bowing out and being a number.

“If we don’t deserve to be there then we don’t deserve to be there, simple as that.”

Ruck will definitely return from a bad cork in his leg but McRae was unsure whether Cleve Humphries, Rory Callaghan, Dave Parker, Taylor Powell or Trent Nesbitt would also return.

The Magpies will be out to overturn recent history after being in contention to make the top four going into the last round in both 2016 and 2013 but failing.

In 2016, the Magpies lost in round 15 and Railways won, handing the latter fourth place, while in 2013 the Magpies sat fourth but were leapfrogged by Mt Barker, losing again in the last round.

Hayden Collard, Brody Hickey, Jackson Shaw and Gryphon Roy will all return for the Magpies, and rugged defender Luke Hutcheson is 50-50 as the Magpies try to reach the finals for the first time since 2015.

“This is the start of finals for us, we got to win them all now,” Magpies coach Matt Candy said.

“It’s all on the line but we’ve got a lot of confidence and the boys are up for the task.

“I think you’ll see a lot different (Ryan) Gaerth this week and hopefully a lot different everyone after last week.”

All round 15 games will be on Saturday, with the Bulls hosting North Albany and the Tigers at home against Albany.

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