Ipswich's best face Toowoomba test
IPSWICH hockey teams involved in the annual title battle with Toowoomba are keen to use Sunday's showdowns to advantage.
On a busy weekend for A Grade teams, the Wests women and Hancock Brothers men have to play at Raceview on Saturday before challenging Toowoomba opponents the next day in the Combined Competition final.
Unbeaten Wests tackle Red Lion at 1.15pm in Toowoomba before the Hancocks men face Newtown in the following match to decide the premier teams from both competitions.
Preparing for doubleheader weekends, experienced coaches Brent Nicholls and Phil McLeod were dealing with different challenges.
However, Wests mentor Nicholls and Hancocks head coach McLeod were confident the extra game time would benefit their teams with Ipswich competition finals just weeks away.
"The hunger is there so it's a matter of me getting their performance right,'' Nicholls said, happy with his team's progress.
The Magpies have won every match except for draws against Hancocks (in the mid-season final) and Toowoomba side Rangeville last weekend.
Nicholls said his team had a mid-season lull "because you can't stay up for that long''.
However, he said the defending premiers would "really up the ante to be at our peak come finals' time''.
Nicholls sounded relaxed about the weekend ahead, having a 2.30pm Ipswich competition clash with Swifts on Saturday before his players back up on Sunday against Red Lion.
He'll be without top goal scorer Amy Kickbusch and Emma Reeves for the Combined Competition final.
Both have personal commitments.
His daughter, Australian Schoolgirls and state junior representative Gabby, will miss Saturday's match while playing in Brisbane.
Wests overpowered an understrength Red Lion side 10-1 when the teams met in earlier Combined Competition games.
"I wouldn't take a gauge off that,'' Nicholls said.
After Hancocks completed a spirited 4-4 draw with Norths in the wet last weekend, McLeod said his side would be understrength this weekend.
Regulars James Day and Kai Douglas have other commitments with valuable defender Ayrton Coolwell recovering from a hamstring injury and representative goalkeeper Cade Banditt out (shoulder injury).
Hancocks play Easts on Saturday night at Raceview before heading to Toowoomba.
"It will be a big ask,'' McLeod said of having to tackle Newtown so soon after battling the Tigers.
Hancocks lost 2-0 to Newtown in their previous intercity clash.
"Going up there (Toowoomba), I'm still hoping that we'll be able to put up a good show and possibly come away with a win,'' McLeod said.
The Hancocks coach said his team was ready to click for the Ipswich playoffs after the expected mid-season slump.
"In two or three weeks time, hopefully we'll be back into full swing again,'' he said.
"You don't win the grand final at the start, or the middle of the year.
"That's what I'm hoping for - everyone knuckles down for the run to the finals.''
With the Ipswich competition finals starting next month, Nicholls said his players had plenty to keep them aiming high.
"I think everyone has improved,'' he said, aware of how other Ipswich A Grade teams have been progressing in recent weeks.
"We had a pretty ready made team at the start of the year and other teams are starting to find their combinations now.
"When everyone is at their full strength, it's very very tight.''
But he backed his fast and skilful side to step up for the finals.
"It hasn't been hard to keep everyone motivated given we've had a pretty good year,'' Nicholls said.
"Everyone is setting their own goals. Their expectations have lifted of what they expect from themselves personally and as a team.
"For us, it's about refocusing and really concentrating on being at our peak (for the major semi-final).''
In rare Saturday scheduling in recent years, four A Grade matches are being played at the Ipswich Hockey Complex on Saturday.
The games were programmed on the same day to accommodate the annual Combined Competition finals in Toowoomba the following day.
Saturday's main matches at the Ipswich Hockey Complex
2.30pm: A Grade women - Wests v Swifts
4pm: A Grade men - Norths v Wests
5.30pm: A Grade women - Hancock Brothers v Norths
7pm: A Grade men - Easts v Hancock Brothers.
Sunday Combined competition finals in Toowoomba
1.15pm: A Grade women - Wests v Red Lion
2.40pm: A Grade men: - Hancock Brothers v Newtown.