Race for top two heats up

Cameron NewboldAlbany Advertiser

Royals coach James McRae has downplayed the importance of finishing in the top two despite his side sitting four points clear on the top of the ladder heading into a blockbuster final three weeks of the Great Southern Football League season.

The Lions are one game ahead of North Albany and Mt Barker but the race for the top two is set to intensify as the top three sides all play each other in the remaining three weeks of the regular season.

In a sign of how close this season has been, the Lions, Kangas and Bulls can all still finish as minor premiers.

Even with a finals double chance and the right to host the second semifinal and possibly the preliminary final at their home ground on the line, McRae has talked down the pressure on the next three matches.

The Lions, who have won four of their past five matches, face the Bulls at home this Saturday before away games against Denmark-Walpole and North Albany to round out the season.

“The most important thing for us, as I’ve said for the last few weeks, is to be playing our best footy come finals,” McRae said.

“We have showed glimpses of that in the last couple of weeks but need to play consistent footy over four quarters. We are not fixated on finishing in the top two; North Albany showed last year you can go through the preliminary final to win the grand final.”

The Lions come into the clash with the Bulls having beaten them twice already this season, by 35 points in round 3 and by 22 points in round 8, and will regain spearhead Sam Baddeley-Holmes along with youngster Tom Baldwin and Arana O’Byrne.

Bulls coach Shane Thompson said his side were gunning to beat the Lions for the first time this season.

“(Royals) are the only side we haven’t beaten so we want to play well,” he said. “North are in a better position with their percentage, so the winner of this will really be in the box seat. Depending on other results, you can win two games and still finish third.”

However, the Bulls’ charge to the finals will be without star forward John Lee, who has torn his anterior cruciate ligament in his knee, while Ben Ireland (leg), Tyron Miller (hamstring) and Matt Smith (Achilles) are all in a race against time to be right for finals.

The Bulls will regain Daniel Dalby, Tyson Sujdovic, Nathan Skinner, Russell Wynne and possibly Brendan Wynne for this Saturday’s clash at Centennial Stadium.

Defending premiers North Albany are in red-hot form, having won their past six games, and will face the Bulls and Lions after this Sunday’s encounter with Albany.

Railways will prepare for the elimination first semifinal, knowing they will finish fourth on the ladder.

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