MURWILLUMBAH Mustangs coach Troy McLean, normally very reticent in predicting a win for his team, was extremely positive when asked to assess the Mustangs' prospects against Grafton Ghosts in the Northern Rivers Regional Rugby League first grade grand final at Stan Sercombe Oval tomorrow.
"If we get beaten it will not be on the counts of lack of preparedness, fitness, enthusiasm or desire," McLean said.
"If the Ghosts do win their third premiership on the trot, they will have done so by beating a great football team. My boys are ready to go and I'm certain each and every one of them will run out on Stan Sercombe and play to the best of their ability.
"And if they do that - I am supremely confident they will - it will be a long, sad bus trip home for the Ghosts and their supporters. This is an entirely different outfit to the one beaten by the Ghosts in last year's decider down at Grafton.
"That heart-breaking loss in 2011 has brought us a maturity we sort of lacked last year. We have every right to go into the game full of confidence."
McLean was "very pleased" that the team did not go overboard with the celebrations after their 24-22 semi-final victory over the Ghosts a fortnight back.
"They had every right to go crazy after coming back from 22-2 down midway through the second half to win 24-22," McLean said.
"But the feeling at the Courthouse (hotel) after the match was 'that was good but it'll mean nothing if we don't win the grand final'.
"It was the quietest post-match drink all season."
The Daily News attended Mustang training runs on Tuesday and Thursday nights and hardly noticed a ball go to ground during fast-paced sessions.
Both sessions went like clockwork - the only talking was done by the man calling the shots and players went about their business, fully switched on in ensuring they went into tomorrow's clash with all the boxes ticked.
McLean said he had "tweaked" a few areas where the Mustangs let themselves down for those first 60 minutes in the major semi.
"We'll be a far more relaxed side this time and I can assure our supporters we'll be out of the blocks early to put the Ghosts off playing football and thinking about other things," he said.
"Yeah, they'll become frustrated and frustrations lead to foolish decisions being taken - I'll leave it at that," McLean quipped.
The coach has worked his men long and hard at defending around the play-the-ball where they performed poorly for most of the last encounter.
"Their three back men were terrific, scooting out of dummy-half and catching our markers and defenders off their guard and making good ground through the rucks," McLean said.
"We worked hard on cleaning up that area and they won't be allowed the same latitude on Sunday."
The Ghosts back three are fullback Mitch Lollback and wingers Joel Moss and Dan Lollback.
"The three of 'em are terrific at getting to the ball quickly after kicks and then making plenty of ground and putting their team onto the attack in good position," McLean said.
"We've worked really hard on our kick-chase game to make sure they are hemmed in."
Mitch Lollback will be given until the last minute to prove his fitness after copping a heavy knock to a shoulder in last week's preliminary final win.
"There are a couple of other blokes carrying injuries and I won't be making up my mind as to who will play where until late Sunday morning," he said.
If only Lollback fails to take his place, options are to move Joel l Moss to fullback, Hartmann from centre to second-row, put Josh Donohoe back to the bench and bring Sam Hartmann off the bench into the centres.
The Ghosts have named an 18-man squad - big Dave Emmott moves to the bench if Lollback is out.
Sunday, September 2, Stan Sercombe Oval
- 11am: Under 18, Mullumbimby v Grafton Ghosts
- 1pm: Reserves, Mullumbimby v Grafton Ghosts
- 2.45pm: Firsts, Murwillumbah v Grafton Ghosts
- Gates open 9.30am. Entry $12 adults, under 16 years free.