REIGNING premier South Warrnambool is confronting the reality it could miss the finals, just three weeks after sitting third on the ladder.
The Roosters, who won the pre-season competition amid plans to go back-to-back this season, occupied a spot in the top five for all but the first week of the season until they suffered an 11-point loss to Cobden on Saturday.
The sixth-placed Roosters must defeat second-placed Camperdown on Saturday in the final home-and-away match of the season to have any chance of playing in their third consecutive finals series.
Coach Matthew Peake, who is battling a degenerative knee complaint, is a “50-50” chance of leading his troops in the club’s most important game of the season.
“We are still positive,” he said.
“There are no ifs and buts, we have to win — we just have to win.”
Even if the Roosters do win, they could still miss the five.
If fifth-placed Koroit defeats seventh-placed Terang Mortlake and fourth-placed Cobden prevails against third-placed North Warrnambool Eagles, the Roosters would more than likely miss out on percentage.
The speed of South’s descent from the top five has surprised many, including Peake.
“We were third two weeks ago and now we are going to potentially miss the finals. The more you think about it, we just have to keep positive,” he said.
“It’s happened very quick. We all knew the nature of the even competition. We’ve said it for the last 10 weeks — anyone from sixth up could win the flag.
“Unfortunately for us we’ve had a lean period at the wrong end of the season,” he said.
Peake said the Roosters’ fall could be attributed to injuries and timing.
“Nothing has really changed at training or in and around the club, but we just haven’t been playing well enough to win games of footy,” he said.
The Roosters have lost their past three matches by an average of 20 points.
Peake said the ramifications of a host of injuries mid-season were coming home to roost.
While players had returned from injury, such as co-captain Jarrod Thomson playing the past three games after seven games out with terrible facial fractures, nothing made up for match fitness.
“We are getting players back but we have half a dozen blokes who are underdone,” Peake said.
“We talk about our work rate and being able to run and to get to as many contests as we can, but we can’t.
“We haven’t got the game fitness back.
“I’m sure if you look at our side on paper it looks pretty strong. Sure we would love to have a couple of tall defenders around the place like Matt Sully and Joe Dalton. But that’s not going to happen. We are just underdone.”
Peake said the Roosters had blooded as many as seven under 18 players this season and, regardless of Saturday’s outcome, the club had some bright talent to draw on next year and beyond.
“We have the belief we can win on the weekend and get the opportunity to play finals,” he said.
“It’s fantastic for the league but unfortunately someone has to miss out.
“Whether that is us, Cobden or anyone else, you could say it is extremely unlucky because all of us are good enough to go somewhere if we get there.”