FOR the last three seasons the Hastings Valley Vikings have faced limited challenges on their way to three-straight grand final wins.
But this year is a little different as they prepare to head to Sawtell for the right to host the Mid North Coast Rugby Union grand final.
Three successive grand final qualifiers at Oxley Oval over the last three years have ensured the Vikings had one foot in the big dance before the game started.
Coach Mark Howard, however, acknowledged this Saturday’s clash with the Snappers in Coffs Harbour would be their toughest test in many years.
“Travelling away to play your way into a grand final is something we haven’t experienced for a while,” he said.
The two-hour trip north will be a mental battle Hastings Valley will have to overcome.
Travelling away to play your way into a grand final is something we haven’t experienced for a while.Hastings Valley Vikings coach Mark Howard
“You can burn up a lot of nervous energy on the bus thinking about the game,” Howard said.
“When you go out onto the field the blokes’ playing ability is about the same; it’s just about what happens between the ears.”
The Vikings don’t have positive recollections of their last two trips to Coffs Harbour which have yielded two losses to the Snappers and Southern Cross University.
“We haven’t travelled too well up there recently, but we’ve spoken about it and hopefully we can find a cure for it,” Howard said.
Despite being the three-time premiers, the coach was happy to claim underdog status ahead of the match.
We haven’t travelled too well up there recently, but we’ve spoken about it and hopefully we can find a cure for it.Mark Howard
“We’re the underdogs, there is no doubt about that, but we won’t cruise in,” he said.
“In a way it’s refreshing to know for us to get to the grand final this year we’ll have earned it.”
For the first time this season the Vikings will be at full-strength, a position the coach was happy to be in.
The Vikings ladies team and reserve grade side will aim to make it a trifecta of wins with both sides to play before the first grade encounter.
“It could be a really big day for the club,” Howard said.
First grade kicks off at 3pm at Jung Quarries Rugby Park, Toormina.