MFL grand final preview - Tongala

By Tyler Maher

When it comes to defeating Nathalia in post-season fixtures, only one blueprint exists across the Murray Football League heavyweight's recent run of premierships.

Since the beginning of the Purples' successful 2005 campaign the side has lost just one final - against Numurkah in a 2017 double-chance semi-final - and bounced back from that defeat to reign supreme nonetheless.

But the fact remains that Nathalia can be beaten in September.

So like Ben Gates and his co-conspirators in National Treasure, Jordan Souter and his band of merry Blues would have dug out the ancient tome upon which that match report was printed (the Shepparton News on September 11, 2017) and pored over it attempting to unlock its secrets.

What it would have told Souter was clear - that Numurkah side first and foremost beat the Purples at the coal face, winning the hard contested football before spreading like a wildfire after half-time to make the most of their possessions.

The heroes were the likes of Mitch Price in the ruck, Brad Vassal as a goal-kicking midfielder, Ben Gunning and Shane Miller as clearance kings and Mitch Jones as the man burning rubber down the wing.

Today's production at Finley Recreation Reserve will have to be similar if Tongala is to knock over the Purples and deny them an historic MFL five-peat, but the Blues have just the men for the job.

The starring roles will attempt to be filled by Kyle Fitzgerald, Nick Woods, Souter himself, Cam Ilett, Coby McCarthy and Bailey Cox - with a finals-crazed Makenzie Ryan thrown in for good measure.

Fitzgerald and Woods will have their hands full in the ruck against Jason Limbrick and Brodie Ross, but Souter's ability to act as a wrecking ball in the middle and a cool head in front of goals will be crucial to his side's chances of victory.

Ilett is the best player in the competition when he is in top gear and will find plenty of support when the going gets tough from McCarthy, Cox and the like.

But Ryan could be the ace in the hole for the Blues.

When his side has needed him this post-season, the leading forward has stepped up with a contested grab and goal.

If he can get a hold of either Harley Cobbledick or Al Corry - his likely opponents - at the perfect juncture of today's clash, it could prove the difference if it is a tight affair.

For Souter though, the blockbuster film his troops have been producing since the calendar flipped over to the most important month of the year might as well be a university project shot in 480p definition if they lose sight of the main prize on offer in today's decider.

“We are pretty stoked with the performance,” Souter said of last week's last-gasp win against Numurkah when speaking with the Riverine Herald.

“But we can’t get ahead of ourselves. We will lap it up for what it’s worth today and enjoy the moment, but tomorrow it’s business as usual. We’ve got a grand final to front up for against the powerhouse club of our competition, there is no bigger challenge.

“They are an incredible football side.

“Over time they have built a magnificent dynasty as a team, and I honestly cannot see anyone ending it any time soon unless they play near-perfect football.

“They all know each other, they know how everyone moves, what their strengths are and how they can work best to deliver success to their club.

“They’re just that good. We know it’s going to be incredibly tough.

“There is no doubt if we are going to win this game of football, absolutely everything is going to have to go right for us this week. We will have to play our best football, we will need to give it our all.

“(But) it’s a brilliant feeling (to be here).

“The whole town is invested, not only in us, but in the entire club. We are hoping to deliver something that is not only for us, but is for the entire town of Tongala.”

If the Blues can manage that, their faithful supporters might just roll out the red carpet from Finley all the way back to Tongala Recreation Reserve.