By: Hayden Tilbrook
IN the centrepiece of Round 3 Premier Division action, South Croydon hosts Blackburn in a marquee Anzac Day game, the result of which will carry enormous implications for both clubs’ seasons.
After a winless start to 2019, the Bulldogs will welcome to Cheong Park an undefeated Blackburn outfit absolutely flying after its Good Friday rout of Balwyn.
South Croydon captain Dylan Marshall (pictured above) told EFL Media what it meant to the club to host the Anzac Day clash.
“It’s pretty special,” Marshall said.
“We’ve played probably the last four or five years over Anzac Day, and a few standalone games like Thursday – we always get a really good crowd.
“For us, for our season, we really need to step up to the challenge and get a win on the board to get our season rolling.”
After the Bulldogs’ 0-2 start to the season, Marshall said the players know the importance of the match, but believes Thursday’s game is far from a doomsday scenario after the club recovered from a similar slow start to make the grand final in 2018.
“We were in a similar position last year, so it’s definitely not panic stations,” he said.
“We just need to get back to believing in what we’re trying to do and I’m sure if we’re able to get the four points on Thursday that’ll get our season headed in the right direction.”
The Bulldogs captain is confident that the playing group would be ready to rise to the special occasion.
“We’ve had a really good week away from footy, we’ve had some really good discussions and we definitely want to step up,” Marshall said.
“For the sense of occasion for Anzac Day, the players are really excited for it.”
South Croydon will be without linchpin forward Jake Tucker and ex-Box Hill Hawk defender Chris Jones, with the star pair expected to miss significant periods of football.
Marshall said while there is no replacing the duo the club was excited by the challenges and opportunities the losses presents.
“They’ve got some pretty lengthy time on the sidelines,” he said.
“That provides a new challenge for us and a bit of new look for our forward line and our backline, but that’s done now, we’ve just got to adjust to it and move on from it.
“Hopefully we might get ‘Jonesy’ back later in the year, but ‘Tuck’ seems to be done.
“We’ve got some good guys running around in the twos – we’ve got Ryley McKernan, Alex Birch who can step up into those roles. We’ve got Liam Tobin who’s someone who can sort of swing back and forward.
“So we’ll jig things this round a little bit and no doubt be able to cover those guys.”
Blackburn captain Pat Contin shared his opposite number’s anticipation for the clash.
“It’s an absolute honour to represent not only the Blackburn footy club but the wider community on such a special day,” he said.
“It’s something that certainly I know our footy club doesn’t take for granted … and I’m sure the South Croydon boys feel exactly the same.”
The Panthers come into the Anzac Day clash fresh off a 129-86 Good Friday demolition of Balwyn and despite being overseas, the captain was delighted with the body of work his side gave.
“It was great to see the boys roll out and give the performance they did, and it was good to see the some of the young guys stand up,” Contin said.
“Our pressure was pretty manic, I think we got close to 100 tackles for the game.
“That’s the main thing I took out of it, the unrelenting pressure and playing the Blackburn way that we wanted to … seeing all the structures and everything that we try to put in place over the preseason coming to fruition.”
Panthers coach Brendan Allen didn’t take for granted the significance of the victory.
“Early wins are really important for the season,” he said.
“It was good to have a really good, solid win … we’ve just got to replicate that on Thursday.
Blackburn’s record against the South Croydon makes for gloomy reading for Burners fans, with the Panthers’ last victory over the Bulldogs coming in Round 3 of the 2016 season.
Allen is acutely aware of the two clubs’ head-to-head history.
“We haven’t beaten South Croydon in three or four years,” he said.
“They match up really well against us, and have obviously troubled us.
“They’re a proud club, they’ve been soundly beaten in the first two games … they’ve had a 13-day break, we’ve had a six-day break. They’re going to want to come out and put us to the sword early.
“It’s going to be a pretty tough encounter.”
The Panthers’ coach is wary of a wounded South Croydon side.
“They’re going to be a bit of an unknown quantity too, in that Jones and Tucker are both injured,” Allen said.
“It changes them up from a match-up point of view against us quite significantly.
“We’re not quite sure what we’re going to come up against in a height and weight match-up.”