By JACK AMI
THE Digicel Cup finals kick off on Sunday with a confident Waghi Tumbe led by stars Garry Lo and Henry Wan set to meet the clinical and consistent Agmark Gurias in the opening fixture of a double-header at the National Football Stadium.
The second match of the day sees defending premiers the Lae Tigers take on the Goroka Lahanis in the elimination final.
For the Tumbe, who have had a successful regular season finishing third, the challenge for rookie coach Francis Ray is to ensure his side, who are first timers to a finals series, are not overawed by the occasion and that they are firing on all cylinders against a professional outfit from Kokopo.
With the dynamic Lo not 100 per cent carrying a hamstring strain injury coach Ray said the focus would be on matching the Gurias in the middle third while completing sets and being in the right part of the field to build pressure on the New Guinea Islanders.
“We’ve trained well all week and we’ve been in Port Moresby since we came down last week for the final round against the Hela Wigmen so we’re feeling good and confident,” Ray said of his side’s morale heading into the qualifying final.
“Garry (Lo) is our best player and we’re hoping he can maintain his form and lead the boys with his experience. I think the Gurias have more experience than us but we beat them already this year so we know we can do it.”
Ray said the Gurias’ biggest threat was their speed and ability to counter-attack from anywhere on the field and his side would need to shut down that area as well as use their larger pack to tire out the Gurias defensively.
“We just need to work extra hard on defence and put pressure on their runners.”
“We have a pack that is one of the competition’s best with our captain Sipa Korken leading by example and Henry Wan making yards with every hit-up so we’re confident we can win.”
The Tumbe snatched a 19-18 win over the Gurias in Minj in round 7 while the Gurias returned the favour with a 20-8 victory over the Jiwaka men in their round 16 clash in Kokopo.
The winner of this match will face minor premiers Enga Mioks in the major semifinal next week while the loser has another chance taking on the winner of the Lae Tigers-Goroka Lahanis clash in the minor semifinal.
Gurias coach Steven Nightingale said as long as his players did their jobs and played as a team they would have a chance of victory.
Despite not having the services of Hunters trio Dilbert Isaac, Ila Alu and William Mone, Nightingale was pleased with the way the squad had risen to the challenge.
He confirmed that there were not major injury concerns and the side were fit and raring to go after finishing runners-up in the final last year.
Fixtures: Sun, Aug 12 – Qualifying final: Agmark Gurias v Waghi Tumbe; Elimination Final: Lae Tigers v Goroka Lahanis.
By JACK AMI