Ararat and Stawell began their under 17 football seasons against one another and will fittingly close them together at this weekend’s grand final.
The Rats and Warriors were far and away the best teams in the top junior football competition, but Stawell nearly didn’t make it to the decider.
They stumbled early in the finals series against an impressive Horsham outfit before going on to take care of Nhill in a semi-final.
The Warriors then re-faced the Demons, this time finding the form that secured them second place on the ladder. They waltzed past the Demons by 72 points to book a grand final appearance against the Rats.
The Rats sat back and watched the game, having booked a spot in the grand final the week before.
“They (Stawell) were very impressive,” Ararat under 17 coach Matthew Summers said.
“They took on a strong Horsham side but were very impressive with the way they moved the ball.”
Stawell under 17 coach Brett Graveson said he was very pleased with what he saw from his side in the preliminary final.
“If this weekend we play how we played against Horsham we will have a good chance,” he said.
“It was about getting the ball down and out of the contest and getting plenty of forward 50 entries. Our contested possession was double Horsham’s on Sunday so that is an effort we would love to repeat.”
During the home and away season, Ararat lost just twice while Stawell only lost three times. They both had one win and one loss each in their head-to-head series.
Stawell took the honours in round one while the Rats pinched a narrow two-point win at Central Park in round 10.
“Ararat have been the benchmark and deserve every right to be at the top,” Graveson said.
“We will just play our game and stick to what we know.”
There will be a variety of players with grand final experience out on the ground for both teams.
The Rats will have the more experienced side on that stage, having won the under 17 premiership in 2017.
Summers said while there has been a high turnover in players, a significant portion of his side has grand final experience.
“Hopefully they know what to expect and to be prepared and ready for it,” he said.
"They are young kids so there are definitely nerves there but hopefully they are enthusiastic nerves.”
For Graveson’s side, many of his players would have experienced a preliminary final loss last season. He said he has emphasised to his team to enjoy the experience as a whole.
“They are pretty excited. It doesn’t come around too often that you get the chance to play in a grand final,” he said.
“It is about enjoying the week and being proud of how far they have come.
“We trained three nights a week at the start of the year and the kids showed their dedication then, so they deserve to be where they are. They have all the tools to win, it is just about the belief now.”
Summers said a key focus for his side is to prevent the Warriors’ tall players from dominating, in particular league goalkicking winner Aiden Graveson.
They are pretty excited. It doesn’t come around too often that you get the chance to play in a grand finalBrett Graveson
“They are very tall compared to us. Aiden Graveson is a big target and can be hard to stop,” he said.
“If we can pressure the football in the middle to cut down his delivery and work as a unit all over the field we will be on track.
”We have to move the ball quick and use the ball well by hand and foot and in front of goal.”
The under 17 grand final will start at 10am at Anzac Park in Warracknabeal on Saturday.
Follow the rolling coverage of Wimmera League grand final day at araratadvertiser.com.au or stawelltimes.com.au or on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for updates as the day progresses, including from the under 17 grand final.