ON THE BALL: Workers’ Ben Sharkey, left, confronts Goonellabah defender Kurt Stephens during the teams’ 2-all draw in Far North Coast premier league soccer at Weston Park, Goonellabah, last Saturday. In the semi-finals this weekend, Workers play Richmond Rovers tomorrow, while Goonellabah will head to Lennox Head for a sudden-death encounter this afternoon.
ON THE BALL: Workers’ Ben Sharkey, left, confronts Goonellabah defender Kurt Stephens during the teams’ 2-all draw in Far North Coast premier league soccer at Weston Park, Goonellabah, last Saturday. In the semi-finals this weekend, Workers play Richmond Rovers tomorrow, while Goonellabah will head to Lennox Head for a sudden-death encounter this afternoon. STEVE MACKNEY

Soccer: Confident Workers could test Rovers

DEFENDING major premiers Richmond Rovers will open their semi-final campaign in a home clash with traditional rivals Lismore Workers in Far North Coast premier league soccer tomorrow.

The winner will go on to meet minor premiers Byron Bay next week for a place in the grand final, while the loser will be destined for a sudden-death showdown against either Lennox Head or Goonellabah.

"It's a whole new competition now, all previous form is out the window and it's all about what you do on the day," Rovers player-coach Bobby Bugden said.

Bugden will be forced to make changes to his squad with Reid Brewer-Charles gone for the season and Andrew Casagrande and Ben Morgan suspended.

Michael Field is likely to come into the backline, while the experienced Ian McGregor will join captain Russell Dent in the centre of the field.

"We're expecting a tough, physical game from Workers; it'll be a typical semi-final," Bugden said.

Workers coach Zac Crowley has injury doubts over Sam Sharkey and Feeiny Williamson but after a five-match unbeaten run the Redmen will go in with confidence.

"The boys are really pumped up, they want to beat Rovers in their own backyard," Crowley said.

"The key for us will be keeping possession and being able to cover in defence when they break, but the mood is very positive."

Experienced defenders Jay Keevers and Daune Hoare will give little away at the back, while Paddy Kable and Tom Fiedler will look to push forward from midfield to join Bill Latimer and Matt Keevers in a flexible attacking line-up.

But the Redmen will need to produce their best to crack the tightest defence in the league, led by seasoned goalkeeper Andrew Marshall and quick young defenders Scott Flynn and Jeremy Perkins.

Kick-off is 2.30pm.

Lennox Head and Goonellabah will be playing for survival when they square off in the elimination semi at Skennars Head today.

The two sides have already met three times this season, the first in the Anzac Cup final which Lennox won 3-1, before the Sharks went on to win both of their premiership encounters as well.

As a result, Goonellabah player-coach John Eakin will be looking for a different tactical approach to upset the Sharks' well-balanced line-up.

"What we've tried against them so far hasn't worked so we need a fresh approach," he said.

For most of the season the Hornets' game plan has been based on numbers at the back and quick counter-attacks but that could change today.

"Without giving too much away, we could use a more attacking formation, but our two strikers Batok Ring and Dave Annetts will still be key parts of any plan we use," Eakin said.

The absence of suspended defender Sam Eyears will force a reshuffle at the back, with Eakin likely to partner Kurt Stephens in central defence, but it's midfielders Jason Woollett, Jack Lyons and Matt Weir who could hold the key.

If they can shut down the Sharks' creative duo of Ihsan Savran and Luke Wakefield they will have a chance, but if they are allowed to feed dangerous strikers Sam Ireland and Byron Milne the Hornets will be under pressure.

Kick-off is 3pm.