Newcastle City coach Mitchell Knight is confident the Blues have the firepower to challenge runaway Black Diamond AFL leaders Terrigal-Avoca.
The two sides meet at No.1 Sportsground on Saturday, 10 months after City smashed the Panthers 14.13 (97) to 5.6 (36) at the samevenue in last year’s grand final.
But while Terrigal have stormed to 10 straight wins this season to lead the BDAFL ladder on 40 points, City have limped to a 6-4 win-loss record and were almost run down by winless Warners Bay last weekend.
City say the league’s controversial recruitment restrictions have hurt them on the field this year, but Knight is hopeful that his side can match it with Terrigal if they are at full strength and play to their potential.
“They haven’t even looked like losing a game this year,” Knight said.
“They’ve pretty much got exactly the same side as last year, but they’ve got a few big inclusions.
“Mark Skuse is a Sydney representative player.
“Alastair Richardson, another Sydney representative player,has come back as well.
“Their team is a lot stronger than it was lastyear, that’s for sure.
“I have no doubt, if we had our best squad playing our best footy, we can definitely match them and cause an upset.”
The Panthers have beaten City twice comfortably this year, by 36 and 48 points, both times on the Central Coast, but Knights could see chinks in theirarmour.
“They’ve still got a fair few younger guys on their list, and they can play inconsistent footy, but they’vealso played pretty well this year,” he said.
“If you’re going through a season undefeated, it can do funny things to your mentality going towards finals.”
City will need to be better than they were last week, when they scraped home 9.10 (64) to8.9 (57) against the Bulldogsat Feighan Oval after leading by 30 points at three-quarter time.
“We didn’t really get out of second gear last week,” Knight said.
“Our intensity wasn’t really up to where it needs to be.
“But pleased to get the points there. We can still push for second place and have a second chance in the semi-finals.”
Key ruckmanAaron Seen returns this week, and Knight hopes to get key players Nick Gill and Hugh Kelleher back before the play-offs.
In other games, Warners Bay will look to finally break through for a win against second-last Killarney Vale at Feighan Oval, and second-placed Cardiff host inconsistent Nelson Bay at Hillsborough Oval.
The Bombers have been struggling with injuries this yearand have lostrepresentative midfielderAlex Bailey (overseas) for the rest of the season.
The Hawks’ only losses have been against Terrigal, but their two wins over the Marlins have been by a combined margin of only 14 points.
Last year’s BDAFL player of the year,Jayden Rymer, kicked five goals for Nelson Bay last week in a big win over Killarney Vale.