MOMENTUM THE GRAND FINAL KEY FOR IN-FORM HORNBY
Linwood Keas may carry the psychological edge into Sunday’s grand final at Rugby League Park, but Hornby Panthers could hardly have done more in the past fortnight to indicate they are capable of reversing the results of the 2016-17 deciders.
Landing third after a patchy, injury-hampered regular season, Hornby despatched Halswell Hornets 50-6 in a devastating elimination semi-final performance before outlasting Northern Bulldogs 16-6 in a gruelling preliminary final.
The battle-hardened Panthers are confident the momentum they’ve built up in recent weeks has provided the ideal lead-in to a daunting third straight grand final assignment against the undefeated Keas.
In 2017 Hornby upset table-topping Linwood 22-14 in the major semi-final, but the Keas – after carving out a hard-fought preliminary final win over Papanui – ran down the Panthers to prevail in the grand final 34-20.
The Keas have played just once in the past five weeks, a blistering 48-10 semi-final win over the Bulldogs, which could give the Panthers an advantage in terms of match fitness and rhythm.
“That’s what we’re hoping,” Hornby coach Jed Lawrie said.
“We talked a lot about finishing third and getting back to what we’re good at and following through.
“Hopefully it puts us in good stead, everyone pulls up fine and we’ll look to go again on Sunday.”
The Panthers are sweating on the fitness of five-eighth Sean Spooner and forward Nopera Karipa, who were both late withdrawals last week, but the win over the Bulldogs was a glowing confirmation of the club’s depth.
Veteran utility Jonny Limmer believes the gutsy preliminary final effort has given the squad a huge confidence boost.
“It’s definitely going to be good for us having had a real tough hit-out,” Limmer said.
“Our defence was outstanding, if we can polish our attack at bit during the week it will be all guns blazing this Sunday.”
Hornby is out to end a five-year premiership drought – and Limmer revealed the Panthers’ motivation runs far deeper than winning the Pat Smith Trophy for themselves.
“It would be massive for the club and massive psychologically after what’s happened the last two years against Linwood,” the former Canterbury Bulls captain said.
“If we can dig deep and meet them head on, it will mean a lot for the club and the supporters.”
Club stalwart Limmer has answered an injury SOS from the Panthers for the second straight season and finds himself in a grand final for the second year in a row.
But the 38-year-old, who has been a revelation off the bench at dummy-half, refused to rule out another season – even if Hornby carry off the title on Sunday.
“I’ll never say the ‘R’ word,” he laughed.
“But in footy you’ve just got to take it one week at a time and see how the body’s feeling and see if the passion is still there – that’s the main thing.”