Knights newcomer fires up
HAVING tasted an Ipswich local derby for the first time against the Ipswich City Bulls, Ashley Hempstead has a new-found regard for regional rivals.
The Ipswich Knights coach expects nothing less in tomorrow's Division 1 showdown against Western Spirit.
"I haven't been involved in a derby with Spirit yet," the long-serving Brisbane-based mentor said.
"I respect the Spirit and any Ipswich team. It doesn't matter where they are on the ladder."
Hempstead discovered during his team's hard-fought 2-0 win over the Bulls on March 24 how much local derbies mean to the players and Ipswich-bred coaches like Nev O'Sullivan.
"I was impressed with them (Ipswich City Bulls). I think Nev's done a good job with them," Hempstead said after the match.
"That's the art of coaching, getting the best out of what you've got."
An understrength Western Spirit side only beat the Bulls 1-0 in last weekend's local derby at Brassall. But the conditions were tough with rain and a muddy field.
Hempstead expects Spirit to be better suited if conditions are dry in tomorrow's 3pm clash at Bundamba.
The Knights mentor is keen to unleash a full-strength side except for regular Nick Parfitt, who is still completing a suspension.
After resting several key players in his team's 6-1 Canale Cup loss to Albany Creek on Wednesday night, Hempstead is happy to have captain Stephen Hughes back tomorrow.
"We missed Hughesy's direction in the midweek game," Hempstead said.
"Hughesy and Mattie Christensen have stepped up (in the midfield).
"I'm really pleased for Hughesy.
"I think he's one of the reasons we've got going (in recent weeks).
"And Noodles (Wayne Adams). He's brought a lot to our team."
Other players back after being rested include goalkeeper Zayne Freiberg, defender Chris Denman, utility Andy Drager and speedster Ben Hunt.
In his only selection headache, Hempstead was unsure how he would play leading goal-scorer Peter Drager after he missed a number of weeks for his wedding.
"It's a difficult one. If I play Peter, it means Jay (Kitching) has to miss out," he said.
"Jay was very good last game. . . but we all know Peter is a match-winner.
"That's the only thing I've got to decide."
With Spirit above the Knights on the Division 1 table and both sides pushing for the top four, Hempstead said a win tomorrow meant more than bragging rights.
"It's a huge game for us and the next two weeks are vital for both clubs," he said.
"I'm looking forward to it."
Western Spirit coach Stewart Drinkeld shared Hempstead's enthusiasm for the derby in naming his side yesterday.
"This is one of the games all the players look forward to all year," Drinkeld said (full preview in story right).
Local derby review in Monday's QT.
Western Spirit squad: Steve Purdy, Matt Taylor, Phil Brown, Gerard Sanfuentes, Lucas Wilson, Dale Robinson, Julian Pace, Nick Reo-Coker, Dan Liddy, Joel Hancock, Raj Oshen, Sam Hay, Lincoln Rule, Ben Smith.
Tomorrow: Local derbies - Ipswich Knights v Western Spirit at Eric Evans Reserve, Bundamba. Division 1 game at 3pm after Reserves clash at 12.45pm.
In Division 1, Western Spirit are 7th on 17 points from 12 games and Knights are eighth on 15 points from 11 games.
In Reserve grade, Knights are second on 23 points from 12 games, with Spirit seventh on 21 points (12 games).