Blues back in big game hunt

March 09, 2018

Central Park-St Brendan's coach Andrew Cowen will be sticking with the same line-up this weekend.

Numurkah stands on the cusp of its first Haisman Shield grand final since 2000.

But standing in the way of Liam Gledhill and his Blues is the team that handed Numurkah an agonising four-run defeat in that 1999-2000 decider — Central Park-St Brendan’s.

After years of Tiger dominance, the Blues have turned the tables somewhat this season with two victories against this weekend’s rivals.

But captain Liam Gledhill knows that means nothing when the players take to Numurkah Showgrounds tomorrow.

‘‘It is exciting, it’s been a while since the club has been this deep in finals,’’ Gledhill said.

‘‘The boys are looking forward to getting out there this weekend.

‘‘The thing with Central Park is that they’ve got some big game players and they’re also blooding some good young kids.

‘‘We’re under no illusions — we understand that Central Park can be very dominant and we’ll have to be at our very best.’’

It is hard to pinpoint Numurkah’s form at home as any better than when it hits the road — with the side having lost just one match this campaign — but the importance of a home crowd is not lost on Gledhill.

‘‘We had some past players come down last weekend and it’s great for the club,’’ he said.

‘‘It would be even bigger and better if we got over the line this weekend, but the players are totally focused on that first hour on Saturday.’’

The Blues’ bowling attack has been its main weapon this season, and again proved potent last weekend when Tim Arnel (3-16), Matt Cline (2-20), Gledhill (2-30) and Michael Eckard (2-31) all took multiple victims to help dismantle Tatura for 147.

The minor premier has also had a solid batting line-up to draw upon, and after Dylan Grandell (74), Shaun Downie (52), Arnel (45 not out) and Gledhill (33) all fired last week they will again look to set the tone against the Tigers.

‘‘The wicket will be good and flat, so it will come down to who bowls better with the new rock,’’ Gledhill said.

Meanwhile, Central Park-St Brendan’s must dig deep with the bat in order to book a ticket to yet another Haisman Shield grand final.

The Tigers have been perennial performers in the premier Cricket Shepparton competition — only last year breaking a run of 13 appearances in the decider with a semi-final loss — and are keen to once again return to the peak.

But in recent weeks coach Andrew Cowen’s charges have been hit-and-miss at the crease.

In completed contests since Christmas, the Tigers have only reached 140 once — although it was a mammoth 7-256 to chase down Old Students’ 250 — and produced scores of 51 (against the Blues), 137 and 83.

It is a trend Cowen knows must be fixed if his side is to come out on top against an in-form Numurkah bowling unit.

‘‘We’ve got a pretty clear idea of how we want to go about doing it,’’ Cowen said.

‘‘We’re certainly doing all the right things at training, but obviously executing it on game day is another thing.’’

Rising stars such as Ethan Baxter (14 Haisman Shield wickets at 22.8) and Aidan Lloyd (13 at 17.8) are fresh from yet another under-16 premiership, and Cowen feels the youth among his group is helping energise the Tigers.

‘‘They’ve done a whole heap of winning in junior cricket, obviously it’s a different story in the Haisman Shield, but they’re still no strangers to finals,’’ Cowen said.

The Tigers will head into this weekend with an unchanged line-up.

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