FORMER Waikato Chief Mark Burman has warned emotion will carry Lake Macquarie only so far as they walk the finals tightrope for a second week, this time against Southern Beaches at Townson Oval today.
After a forgettable 2011 in which they did not a win a game, the Roos have emerged as the fairytale team of the Newcastle Hunter Rugby Union competition.
After beating Wanderers 34-24 in the final round to sneak into fifth – securing the club’s first post-season since promotion to Premier Rugby in 2002 – they knocked out Maitland 23-16 in the elimination semi-final. They celebrated like it was the grand final.
In stark contrast, Southern Beaches had a demoralising loss to Merewether 25-17 in the qualifying semi-final to make it 0-3 in finals games, dating back to last season.
Burman, who is in his first season at the Roos, won a National Provincial Championship in New Zealand with Waikato in 2006 and has played in finals games around the world.
“The biggest thing I have learnt is that rugby is week to week,” Burman said. “You can have a horror game one week and turn it around the next.
“Southern Beaches are a good side. They beat us the first time and we were lucky to get up by a couple of points last time we played them. It’s guaranteed to be a great contest.”
Burman has been struggling with a knee problem but is certain to play.
Game-breaker Junior To’o, who has a shoulder complaint, has been recalled at No.8 after starring as a substitute against the Blacks.
“When we played Beaches last time they were pretty dominant up front,” Burman said.
“To get over them we are going to have to be dominant in the forwards. Junior is a huge weapon for us.
“He gives us forward momentum. It is hard for the opposition to defend when you get in behind the line. They have to take that extra step.”
Bulldozing prop John Taufaao returns for the Roos but his cousin Mika Taufaao is out due to work. Alex Lim will feed the scrum.
“Mika offers that little bit of an X-factor but Alex has been playing great,” Burman said.
“In terms of ball efficiency, he is pretty quick to the breakdown and makes pretty good decisions.”
Southern Beaches have made one change to the outfit humbled by the Greens.
Hayden Gavin comes in at breakaway for Noel Kinnane, who suffered a head knock.
They led Merewether 5-3 at half-time but were blown away in the second half. They trailed 25-5 before crossing for two late consolation tries.
Coach Tim Chidgey believed the occasion got to his players but was confident they would bounce back.
“There is enough experience in the team,” he said.
“Mick and Andrew Delore, blokes like Mark O’Brien and Bleddyn Gant, even guys like Charl [van Niekerk).
“The younger guys have to listen to the more mature players and get the job done.”
● Wallaroo Margaret Watson is confident the return of NSW Country props Nerrin Star and Dana Lautaimi will give University the edge when they take on Wanderers in the Hunter women’s grand final at Uni No.1 today at 4.30pm.
The pair were on holidays and missed the Students 3-3 draw in the major semi-final.
As minor premiers University progressed straight to the grand final.
Wanderers beat Merewether 17-12 in the preliminary final. In four clashes, Uni and Wanderers won two each and Watson expects the decider to go down to the wire.
AGONY AND ECSTASY: It’s NHRU finals time.