Sutherland Sharks are hoping to claim a premiership and championship double when they host APIA Leichhardt Tigers in Sunday’s Grand Final at Leichhardt Oval.
Having led the competition outright since round one the Sharks finished the regular season 11 points ahead of second-placed APIA and made minimum fuss in cementing their Grand Final position after beating Sydney FC in last fortnight’s major semi-final.
Nick Dimovski’s side will enter the encounter as heavy favourites and the Sharks custodian says his side are in top condition as Sutherland hone in on their second trophy of the year.
“We’re keeping it as normal as possible this week and remain focused on Sunday, our goal from the start of the year has been to win the Grand Final and full energy is going towards making that happen.
“I’ve been there and done it before so I’m not as nervous as last time, my role is to keep the players calm and make sure they’re in a good spot on the day.”
The former Bonnyrigg technical director led Marconi Stallions to the 2015 20’s Grand Final where they were defeated 3-2 by Blacktown City, but Dimovski is intent on setting the record straight with Sutherland in 2017.
In keeping with their reputation as Sydney’s breeding ground for youth footballers the Sharks will field a hugely proficient side with over 100 games of 2017 first grade experience bolstered throughout the roster.
It’s a challenge that APIA Leichhardt manager Franco Cosentino relishes after the Tigers claimed their Grand Final spot with a stunning 2-1 victory over Sydney FC last Saturday.
The former Parramatta stalwart arrived at Lambert Park eight weeks ago following the departure of Michael Urukalo and heavy 4-0 thrashing at the hands of the Sky Blues but has lifted APIA to their best form of the campaign in his short tenure.
Cosentino says improvements in fitness, defensive structure and work ethic has prevented the Tigers from slipping away and attributes the creation a first grade environment as key to the side’s progress during the final third of the campaign.
“The boys have reacted really well, we’ve changed a few things about what we expect and what we want to do as a team and they’ve taken everything on board.
“They respect me and have confidence in me which is a great thing.”
The APIA manager acknowledges his side approach the match as outsiders but is looking to throw the gauntlet down to the rest of the NPL with both Tigers senior teams in the championship running.
“Sutherland are a great side, Nick will have them well drilled and they’re a very flamboyant team going forward.
“We don’t mind being the underdogs – I’ve been an underdog for a long time.”
Cosentino has already signed on for the 2018 season and will be administering various technical positions across the Tigers’ youth teams.
APIA defeated the Premiers 2-1 in round 14’s clash at Lambert Park with Sutherland triumphing 2-0 over the Tigers in round three.
Sydney Olympic won the 2016 20’s Grand Final after defeating Manly United on penalties.
Sutherland Sharks v APIA Leichhardt Tigers, Sunday 12.30pm at Leichhardt Oval
-By Jacob Windon