By Benito Carbone and Daniel Renfrey
The Southern Tigers are off to their third-straight Statewide Super Premier League Grand Final and will be aiming for redemption, after last season’s loss in the big dance to the lesser-fancied West Adelaide Bearcats.
Southern have been the dominant side throughout the regular season, at one stage carrying a 15-0 record.
After finishing as Minor Premiers with just two losses, all that was required to secure a spot for this week was a solid 10-point win against the Norwood Flames.
The Grand Final matchup with an on-fire Forestville Eagles side looks to be a test only the No.1 seeded Tigers could be ready for, after the Eagles took down the Rockets, Bearcats and Flames in consecutive weeks.
But having played just one match in nearly a month, are there concerns over Southern’s match practice?
Not for coach Dean Nyberg, who opted against a trial match on the weekend to take full advantage of the rest period.
“It’s probably what we needed at this point of the season as far as getting our bodies right and everyone getting to full fitness.
“Those things can go both ways where you can end up with a lack of match practice, but for our guys it was really beneficial to freshen up and get us right for the final.”
The Tigers have arguably been the dominant team over the last few years, and showed they know what it takes to win it all in their 2016 Grand Final against the Sturt Sabres.
However, after last season, they also know how it feels to fall at the final hurdle against an in-form side, and this may add extra fuel to the fire come Saturday Night.
The Tigers actually lost to the Eagles in Round 17 by just three points, a result the Southern Coach says came as more of a blessing than a hindrance.
“The loss was a great learning moment for us and was critical for us to be able to beat West and to beat Norwood in the last couple of games,” said Nyberg, who was nonplussed at the prospect of facing the league’s in-form side in the Premier League’s final stanza.
“Their season arc has been similar but apart from that [they aren’t similar].
“They’ll want to play slow and deliver it, they don’t want to get into a running match, but we do, we want to play quick and we want to try and exploit those advantages athletically.
“They’ll play through DJ a lot and his numbers are quite impressive. But we have a more well-rounded group so hopefully we can get it done with a team effort.”
Daniel Johnson is certainly shaping up as key to the encounter. Averaging 31 points this finals series, how will Southern nullify the 36ers star?
“For us we have a bit more length that we can put on him [in Greg Mays and CJ Turnage]. We have a few more athletes and a bit more size than other sides in general.”
“He’s a very good player, but hopefully for us we can mitigate his effectiveness with our size and length.”
There is no doubt standout performer Calvin Turnage will be a key to the Southern’s performance against the Eagles this week.
The Tigers star has recorded 23pt & 30pt performances against Forestville this season and also dropped 18pts and 14reb against the Flames in their Qualifying Final.