By JORDAN ROUTLEY
Sturt will be looking to seal a premiership hat-trick when they meet Woodville-West Torrens in the 2023 Novita SANFL Wheelchair League grand final at the Lights Community and Sports Centre on Friday night.
The Double Blues and Eagles will face off in the premiership decider at 7:30pm, while Central District will battle Norwood for third place at 6:10pm.
Both matches will be streamed live and free on sanflnow.com.au and the SANFL Now mobile app.
All indicators point towards a close contest, with the last two games between the grand finalists decided by 11 and four points.
Sturt have won the competition’s first two premierships, including last year’s grand final against the Eagles by 23 points.
Slipping to second this year with a 6-1-2 win-loss-draw record, both of Sturt’s losses have come against the Eagles, which captain Steven Avery is confident his team can overcome.
“We beat them (Eagles) in the second game this year, so we know we have the ability to win,” Avery said.
Avery and his team are approaching this game as they would any other and ensuring they soak up the big occasion.
“There is always pressure on us to succeed. There is no more pressure for this game than any other,” he said.
“The planning is no different, other than making sure the team really enjoys the moment.”
Avery says his team’s ability to remain calm and support each other is a strength that will hold them in good stead.
“I believe our ability to get behind each other, even after making mistakes, is our true strength,” Avery said.
”We pick each other up and support each other no matter what.”
The Eagles have topped the ladder this season with a 7-2 record and are on a five-game winning streak going into the decider.
Captain Chris Simpson points to a revamped playing list and better game plans as reasons for his team’s improvement in 2023.
“We had six new players join the team this season which has given us better depth across the court,” Simpson said.
“We’ve worked a lot on our structures and how we play the game. We review footage and create plans specific to the opponent we are facing.”
Despite the pain of last year’s grand final defeat to the Blues, Simpson is keen to leave the past behind.
“There’s been a focus not to use last year as motivation,” he said.
”We have a very different playing list and I want the team to focus on what we can control.
“We’ve built up a really good rivalry with Sturt over the past couple of years. We played in the grand final against them last year and there have been a lot of close results.”
Simpson has the opportunity to become the first captain to lead the Eagles to a wheelchair premiership.
It is an honour that is not lost on him.
“Personally I would be very proud, having been involved with the Eagles since day one,” Simpson said.
“The club has really embraced wheelchair football and committed to the program, so I would love to bring the club its first wheelchair premiership.”
As for the wider competition, both Simpson and Avery are in agreement on the rapid growth the Novita SANFL Wheelchair League has seen this year.
“The league is definitely a lot more competitive this year. There has been a noticeable improvement in skill level and intensity from every team,” Simpson said.
Avery concurs, noting the evenness of the league this season.
“The competition this year has been a lot closer,” Avery said.
”The grand final was not decided until the end of round eight, whereas in previous years the top two were known earlier in the season.
“Considering this is only the third year, I think the growth in skill level from all teams has been fantastic.”