The Riverina League’s first Saturday grand final is shaping up as a hot one at Narrandera Sportsground.
And we’re not just talking about the temperature as the season’s showpiece event returns to the much-loved venue.
But, like all good conversations, that’s where we’ll start.
Because the Bureau of Meteorology is predicting a top of 35C at the spiritual home of the Riverina League tomorrow.
Narrandera is also included in the bureau’s severe weather warning for damaging winds, averaging 50 to 60 km/h with peak gusts in excess of 90 km/h likely in the afternoon. Just as Daniel Muir or Marc Geppert are lining up to kick the matchwinner.
AFL Riverina isn’t taking the forecast lightly, ensuring industrial fans in the home and away dressing rooms and in the umpires change rooms.
Misting fans will also be at both interchange benches, along with large garbage bins full of ice and water.
Under the AFL’s national heat policy, quarter-time breaks can be extended.
(Technically, the length of quarters can be reduced but that is unlikely in the case of the grand final).
AFL Riverina is also encouraging players and clubs to take responsibility for their welfare by ensuring appropriate pre-game fluid intake and rehydration during the day.
Netballers have the good fortune of playing indoors in the air-conditioned stadium at Narrandera, which has hosted basketball carnivals in the middle of February without issue.
Of course, Narrandera has also hosted elite footballers in summer, with West Coast and Greater Western Sydney playing a day game at the sportsground in February.
And seasoned locals say in 1972 the temperature hit 38 degrees on grand final day.
So let’s hope the biggest talking point on Saturday night is the cool heads that prevailed on the ground, with either the Crows stretching their hot streak out to seven straight wins to claim a drought-breaking premiership.
Or the Demons’ ability to fire when the heat is on delivering them a third flag in four seasons.
In short, Collingullie-Glenfield Park started like a barn on fire, with 10 straight wins, including a comfortable victory in Leeton early in the year.
But the team to halt their flying start was Leeton-Whitton, in round 12.
The Crows lost a week later when they kicked 7.23 against MCUE, but haven’t been beaten since.
“It’s massive. We’ve obviously got to take our opportunities,” Leeton-Whitton coach Jade Hodge said.
“It’s been no secret we’ve struggled with that throughout the year but the day’s going to come isn’t it that we’ll kick straight. I’ll back my guys to the hilt. I’m pretty sure that with the good space and wonderful surface of Narrandera, we’ll be able to kick straight on Saturday.”
With less than fond memories of a grand final at Robertson, it’s no surprise Leeton-Whitton love Narrandera.
They’ve trained once a week there for the last three weeks and have already had two finals wins there.
“It does (feel like home). We actually enjoy playing there… we’ve played good footy there this year,” Hodge said.
“With our game plan and the way we play it seems to suit us. But then again (Collingullie-GP) are a quick, running side that love the big open spaces as well so if we don’t apply that pressure, it’ll suit them as well.”
Hodge doesn’t believe the heat will advantage one team over the other but he does feel for some of the supports of Leeton’s adopted sons.
“The 30 coming up from Tassie might struggle!” Hodge quipped.
Gullie warmed up nicely at Robertson Oval last week with an impressive 60-point win against Griffith.
That, and the big-game experience of players like two recent Ron Hutchins medallists, Chris Jackson and Matt Beckmans, and grand final specialist Brad Aiken, gives Demons coach Luke Gestier plenty of confidence.
“Brad told me today he’s going into his 15th first grade grand final. I’m going into my first!” Gestier said.
“Then you’ve got Kal Sykes going into his 11th and Gep (Marc Geppert) going into his 12th so there’s a lot of experience in the group.”
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