Strong start is crucial for Rats

Rats' Liam Cavanagh and Warriors' Shane Field contest the ruck during last season's Battle of the Great Divide.

Rats' Liam Cavanagh and Warriors' Shane Field contest the ruck during last season's Battle of the Great Divide.

WFL - Fresh from a week's break Ararat Rats' joint-coach Andrew Louder wants to see his team buck the trend of slow starts and put Wimmera Football League rival Stawell to the sword in the opening quarter of Sunday's blockbuster match.

Louder said the Rats are notorious for giving teams a head start following a bye round as evident in round six against the Warrack Eagles after the Interleague break and he doesn't want to see his side forced to play 'catch-up footy'.

"We started pretty slowly that day against the Eagles, so while breaks are good to help players that might be carrying niggles, it doesn't always help the following week," he said.

"Hopefully we will get our act together early on instead of waiting till later in the game.

"I think it has got to come back to each person and whether they are mentally up and about. As coaches you can only do so much, the players themselves have to play a big role in their own preparation."

Louder said he and David Hosking will look to the likes of on field leaders including skipper Alan Batchelor, Beau Cosson, Aaron Searle and Dan Mendes to ensure their team mates are switched on from the opening bounce.

The Battle of the Great Divide is an important one for Ararat, with the Rats looking to maintain third position on the ladder.

With only one win on the board past the halfway mark of the season, there is nothing but pride on the line for the Warriors come Sunday afternoon.

The two teams clashed in round two at Central Park and saw the Rats triumphant by 50 points, although the visitors were made to work on that day, only running away with the match in the final term.

With winter conditions setting in Louder said Ararat will need to shut its opposition down promptly or risk the traditional rivalry match turning into a hard slog.

"When Stawell are allowed to play their style of football they are a good side," he said.

"If we are not on our game early and let them have control like we did in the first round, if the weather conditions aren't real flash, then they are going to be hard to beat.

"They have got some really good footballers as well, make no mistake, so you give them a chance they are not going to be the easy beats just because they have only won one match this season.

"They have improved as the year has gone on I think, their fitness will have gotten better which means they will stay in games longer."

The Warriors will also be strengthened with former AFL-listed player Matt Austin joining their line-up in his return from a shoulder injury.

The former Brisbane Lions player is now on the list at North Ballarat, but as the VFL club is without a reserves team Austin was forced to nominate a home club to play with before returning to the Roosters.

In a blow for Ararat, last season's leading goal kicker James Laidlaw will miss Sunday's clash due to an overseas holiday, while Stephen Phillips (groin) is in doubt and crumbing forward Tyler Cronin (hamstring) will be assessed.

The Rats' coaches are sweating on the fitness of 2012 best and fairest Jake Williamson, who has been sidelined for two matches with a hamstring strain, but is in line for a recall after training this week.

“We have missed Jake’s leadership in the backline quite a bit and his ability to read the ball coming in and then rebound it out,” Louder said.

“Peter Thompson and Baywatch (Brady Miller) are doing a really good job, but I think we could really do with Jake back in.”

The 2014 Wimmera Football League season continues to intrigue spectators with the openness of competition not seen in more than a decade.

With reigning premier Dimboola two wins off the pace and little separating the top five teams, each week holds vital importance.

Louder said Ararat is setting itself for a big month ahead.

“We’ll just look at the next four games until our next break. That’s all we will concentrate on and try and win as many as we can in those four weeks,” he said.

“Then we will sit down over the next split round and plan the following three weeks. We don’t try and plan too far ahead, because A – you don’t know what players you will have available and B – if you look too far ahead you lose track of what is going on in the moment.”

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