CHATHAM will be chasing a ninth consecutive premiership in tomorrow’s Manning men’s division one hockey grand final against Port Thunder at Taree Recreation Centre.
However, this could be the club’s biggest challenge since the Wolves started the reign in 2010 as it has not been smooth sailing in the back half of the season.
Defence could be the key as Chatham probably has the best in the competition.
Chatham’s defence starts in net with Australian Schoolboy representative Eamon Smith. He has been a brickwall this season and will be a major hurdle for Thunder.
Inspirational skipper Adam Birkefeld and Hal Phillips demand the highest of standards. Phillips and the imposing Bryce Hough are solid, reliable and a much of Chatham's offence starts from turnovers in their own zone to breakouts. They are well supported by livewire Trent Hammond with his freakish ability and stick handling.
Keegan Jobson is a tough a defender and not much gets through on the left edge.
The two Matts are all class in the middle for Chatham. It didn't take Matt Dean long to find a home after joining the Wolves this year. Dean adds to Chatham’s scoring depth as he'll push forward to add to opposition’s woes. Matt Doherty is a proven performer, especially in big matches.
Linking in the midfield Sam Ferguson is a fierce competitor and a goal scorer. Ferguson, like many in Chatham's roster, has the ability to play in all three lines. He is also an under-rated defender.
Up front the Wolves, they have three goal hungry strikers. Luke Hough is a power forward and a goal scoring machine. Jayden Ryan uses his speed to pressure defenders and works hard defensively.
Australian Schoolboys representative Wade Harry provide the X-factor. He is strong on the ball, aggressive and athletic. Harry is a nightmare for opposition defenders and is the ultimate competitor who usually delivers on the big stage.
The Wolves have match winners all over the park but are notoriously slow starters. While they should have too much power for Thunder, the result is a long way from a foregone conclusion.
The grand final will start at 4.45 and will be played on the Allan Taylor Field.
Chatham will also be involved in the division two match against Sharks at 1.15.
Tigers and Gloucester will meet in the division three clash from 3pm. Tigers won the major semi-final against Sharks a fortnight ago while Gloucester have qualified from the minor semi-final.
Thunder chasing history
PORT Thunder will chase Manning hockey history in tomorrow’s division one men’s grand final against defending premiers Chatham by winning a premiership in their first grade final appearance.
Thunder were underachievers in the former Mid North Coast Premier League. The premier league league was scrapped this year and Thunder took a huge step to join the Manning division one competition,where they have been a welcome addition.
Thunder accounted for the Bull Sharks and Tigers to advance to this Saturday’s decider and will be riding high after their overtime win in last week's final. Thunder recorded a big 6-0 win over Chatham this year.
Veterans Jarrod Smith and Andrew Meldrum give this young team experience and guidance. They are solid and reliable in defence, while Smith switches to the midfield on occasions.
Thunder have vastly improved youngsters who don't overplay their hand. Bryden Smith, Ben Harris and Jesse Beard have stood up to the pressure although playing the Wolves in the grand final will be the ultimate test.
Young keeper Declan Pitt is another improver. Pitt will need support from key central defender Mitch Patterson. Patterson is in penalty corner scoring form, bagging three against Tigers from the PC battery. He'll need to find his radar again.
Sam Peake, Ryan Payne and Bryce Philpott will be vital if Thunder are to enjoy success. They will not get the same space and time in midfield against the Wolves as they were afforded in previous weeks. Chatham will look pressure them into making poor decisions with ball. Peake has been strong in the finals, while Payne has been outstanding all year and has some sublime skills. Philpott, a former West Australian under 21 representative, has silky skills and great match awareness and could hold the key for Thunder.
Thunder have two extremely dangerous strikers Ash Grummitt and Brad Patterson. If they have a day out they can cause Chatham headaches. A former goalkeeper, Patterson can sniff out a goal. Grummitt has a high hockey IQ and is an elite sharp shooter. They’ll cause problems if Chatham’s defence is flat-footed.
Thunder boast the structure and style to frustrate Chatham.