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Lions much happier with finals preparation than 12 months agoSaturday, September 9, 2017 - 10:41 PM - by Chris Pike

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SUBIACO have done all they can to be as prepared as possible for Sunday's second semi-final against Peel coming off the break while welcoming back Clancy Wheeler and Kyal Horsley with coach Jarrad Schofield looking forward to another finals crack against the Thunder.

The Lions have once again been the standout WAFL team in 2017 but entering the AHG WAFL Finals Series on a 19-game winning streak is a remarkable achievement that earned them a third straight minor premiership.

Subiaco can now move into a fourth successive Grand Final by beating Peel on Sunday at Leederville Oval but once again standing in its way is a Thunder line-up strengthened with 15 AFL-listed players from Fremantle.

It was Peel who stopped Subiaco's quest for a premiership hat-trick last year and while the Lions have beaten them all three times during the 2017 home and away season, finals are a different kettle of fish as the Thunder showed with last Saturday's 18-point qualifying final over South Fremantle.

Subiaco's preparations heading into last year's Grand Final weren’t quite ideal with the Lions having the Round 23 bye, the week off in the first week of the finals and then another week off ahead of the big dance having beaten South Fremantle in the second semi-final.

While this year Subiaco did have the break leading into Sunday's second semi-final and well earn another week off if they defeat Peel, the fact it's only one week off at a time means it's far less of a concern for Schofield as it was 12 months ago.

Reflecting back, Schofield sees how that two-week gap, a game, then another week off wasn’t ideal preparation heading into last year's Grand Final up against an experienced and hardened Peel team that took all before it to win the premiership.

But the circumstances aren’t the same now in 2017 and with just the one week off leading into Sunday's clash has Schofield feeling the preparation has been ideal to get their game in order, freshen some bodies up and then welcome back key players like Wheeler and Horsley.

"It's a bit different because last year we had two weeks off with the bye in Round 23 which wasn’t ideal and then the first week off in the finals. It was good reward to finish top and then to win that first final, but at the end of the day it probably didn’t help us coming up against such a strong side in the Grand Final with their AFL experience," Schofield said.

"We probably just fell that one game short in terms of match fitness. We have planned and prepared ourselves as best as possible and the players have utilised that week off to get themselves right before our first game in the finals and that's the advantage we've had. 

"We've had time to drill down on our game without the rigours of playing each week with teams consistently throwing everything at us. We had a real strong encounter in Round 23 against East Perth who were vying for that last finals spot so we feel better prepared probably than last year and we have a strong group with a lot of depth we can pick from."

Adding to Schofield's happiness with Subiaco's preparation was that their last game in Round 23 was one where East Perth threw everything at them with their season on the line. The Lions handled that well to win by 42 points just a week after beating a West Perth team who played finals by 82.

Following that, Justin Joyce got a run in the reserves' qualifying final win for Subiaco last Saturday to press his case for return from injury while James Garcia, Simon Parry, Rowen Powell, Bailey Matera, Dylan Nelson, Brayden Ainsworth and Dylan Clarke were among those desperate to impress.

Then with the week off Horsley and Wheeler were able to get that one step closer to being right to return for Sunday and even 150-game veteran midfielder Chris Phelan had another week on the track to get closer to being available.

While Schofield acknowledges that by finishing on top even with a 19-game winning streak the only real benefit is the week off, he does feel that this year could prove an advantage when last year the two-week hiatus proved a hindrance to their premiership quest.

"It gave us the week off and once we had finished that game in Round 23 I told the guys that one season had concluded and another one begins for us," he said.

"It gave us a week off to freshen off after a long year and it gives opportunities for guys who have missed a few weeks to get their bodies right and for us to drill down on our game, and reset ourselves for a finals series. 

"That's what finishing on top gave us but it doesn’t guarantee us anything. Finals games are completely different to home and away. We have freshened up and are ready to go."

Wheeler hasn’t played since injuring an ankle in Round 15 against West Perth but Schofield sees no reason why he won't play on Sunday leaving him and his match committee decide if all of Adam Creeper, Brad Stevenson and Lachlan Delahunty all remain as talls as well.

Captain Horsley also is likely to be back having missed the past three games of the regular season.

But no matter what, Schofield won't be taking any risk on anyone who can't prove they are 100 per cent fit.

"Wheeler has been training the last four or five weeks on the track and that was the advantage last week of being able to give him some controlled training. He has come through really well and he will put his hand up for selection," he said.

"Kyal Horsley is the leader of our club and a real barometer for us, and we'll give him to the last minute to prove himself. But if he's not 100 per cent, the character of the person and where we're at as a club we won't play him. We want guys fully fit and ready to go, reputations probably won't speak too much in terms of the side we roll out."

While Subiaco heads into the clash on Sunday with a Grand Final spot on the mindful of the talent and experience levels that Peel has both in terms of their local Thunder players and those from the Dockers, Schofield knows the key for the Lions is playing the game on their terms no matter who is out there for the opposition.

"We have to focus on what our strengths are and those can hopefully get us the result we are looking for, but that's why we have close games with Peel Thunder because they are heavily contested, both teams have very good defences, they are well-coached and have an even spread of good players across each line," Schofield said.

"With the alignment, they've got 15 and we've played them three times this year where they've had ranging from 10 to 12 or 13 players and the players they roll out this week we've had to face them at some point of the season. 

"You can't underestimate the other guys either with Naughton who will get drafted, Jetta, Ugle and Lawler's defensive work as a half-forward is fantastic and then you've got Bell. You have to focus on their whole and they are a well-coached and well drilled team."