By Peter Rowe
Minor premiers Fremantle Roosters have no intention of slowing down against a finals-chasing Rockingham Sharks when the two sides meet in Round 15 of the NRLWA Fuel to Go and Play Premiership on Saturday.
The Roosters will have home advantage when the finals begin on August 26, but the Sharks must first inflict only the second defeat of the season on their opponents and hope fourth-placed Joondalup slip up at North Beach to grab the last finals spot.
It’s an exciting end to the regular season both teams are eagerly looking forward to.
“There’s been no easy games this season and this will be no different,” Roosters captain Duane Butler said.
“Rockingham have a big and mobile pack and they can strike from the edges. We know we can’t afford to take it lightly.”
The Roosters will be without centre Joe Po’uhila and player-coach Delane Edwards is expected to stay in that role with forward Julian Wilson-Wyllie facing a late fitness test after picking up a calf injury last weekend.
“I Think Jules will be OK, but we will leave it late to make a decision,” Butler added.
“Kerrod Hignett is another missing but Wiremu Paki should be back in the centres, so we are still looking pretty strong.”
Butler has been taking ice baths three times a week to ensure he maintains match fitness, something he hopes his side can take into the finals.
“We want to hit our straps going into finals. No ifs or buts or mistakes, everyone has to be accountable.”
Sharks coach Tom Murphy was pleased with his side’s strong performance in beating Joondalup last week, but knows this is another tough challenge.
“I was happy with our performance last week, but there were times when we eased off and put the cue back in the rack, so we have work to do there,” Murphy said.
“We can play really well and then we can play poorly, we have to make sure we are all switched on this weekend because this will be a tough game.
“We’re still in the race and that’s what matters.”
Joondalup, currently in fourth place, know they have to beat North Beach to grab that last finals spot.
Lose and Rockingham win, and their season is over.
It’s a scenario North Beach coach Phil Douche is well aware of.
“We’ve cemented second spot but we want to build momentum going into the finals so we’ll be strong,” Douche said.
“I’m not resting anyone, Trotts (Trent Trotter) and Shane (Gillham) are back and we look strong in the forwards.
“Unfortunately Jeremy (Wallace) and Kade (McDonald) are not quite ready but we have a good half combination there now, so we’re confident.”
Douche said he was pleased to see improved ball management over the past three weeks and believes that will stand them in good stead in the finals.
“There’s a much better understanding of sets and how and what to play when it comes to completing sets now,” Douche said.
“When we get the ball we look confident we can make the right decisions, but Joondalup are a big side so we will need to keep the ball moving to stop them getting a roll on.”
Joondalup player coach Taurean Sheehan has drilled his players all week abut the importance of defence, against a North Beach side that plays a “grinding style of footy.”
“We’ve looked at what we need to do and what changes need to be made if we are to compete to get us into finals,” Sheehan said.
The Giants lose four players from last weekend due to work but welcome back Dom Fidow-Kele, River Coleman and Jeronia Raea.
NRLWA FUEL TO GO AND PLAY PREMIERSHIP – ROUND 15
Fremantle Roosters v Rockingham Sharks – Treeby Oval, 3.30pm
North Beach Sea Eagles v Joondalup Giants – Charles Riley Oval, 3.30pm