'COOL HAND' READY TO TACKLE TUMUT
By Les Muir
EXPLOSIVE Gundagai lock Luke Berkrey is relishing the intense pressure ahead of the defining game of his Group Nine game.
Unlike the bulk of his team-mates – Noa Fotu is another exception – Berkrey has not savoured, or perhaps endured, the stress and strain of a finals campaign.
Even on the other side of the football divide, some of his Tumut rivals are old hands at playing in the biggest games of the year.
Tumut coach Jarrad Teka (2008), skipper Adam Pearce (2010) and superior second rower Ben Roddy (2008, 2010) have won grand finals with the Blues.
In contrast, Berkrey is virtually a finals novice, but it is hard to tell.
After a stellar season, in which he has soared to the top echelon of players in the region, Berkrey is going about business as usual before the preliminary final at McDonald’s Park on Saturday.
“This is easily the biggest game I have played for Gundagai,” Berkrey said.
“I know what it means for them.
“Hopefully I can play well for them all.”
Amid the build up, “Cool Hand” Berkrey is doing his level best to soak up the exhilarating atmosphere.
“Obviously it’s pretty exciting,” Berkrey said.
“We're sort of expecting a lot of people at the ground, which will make it even better.”
Taking time to run the gauge over the teams striving to join Southcity in Saturday week’s grand final, Berkrey has pinpointed some of the Tigers key players.
“I think Dane O’Hehir is in for a big game and James Smart,” the star lock said.
“He's (Smart) having a great year.
“I (also) think Joel Field, one of our younger front-rowers, will definitely be looking for a big game against the big Tumut side.
“He’s (Field) been going great for us up front.”
Despite the glare of attention on Tumut giant Dan Kilian, Berkrey says the Blues are not just a one-man band.
“It’s not just Dan (Killan), they’ve got a lot of big boys,” Berkrey said.
“It’ll be a very tough, physical game but we’ll be trying to move their big boys around.”
For Berkrey, the rewards of his move from Cootamundra to Gundagai this year have not come without a huge effort.
Berkrey has trained longer and harder than most players and is fitter and is also more determined.
As much as the loser on Saturday will miss the grand final, Berkrey admits there is a special feel about this game.
“Ideally, both the teams (Tumut and Gundagai) would have loved the grand final,” he said.
“But obviously Southcity already grabbed that first ticket.
“Still, I'd say this is the biggest game Tumut and Gundagai have played in a long time.
“Maybe the last time was a semi-final, maybe, back in 2011.”
Fresh from blowing a 10-0 lead in losing 26-22 to Southcity in the major semi-final a week ago, Gundagai cannot afford to let things slip against Tumut.
And Berkrey is adamant any advantage will be guarded and superbly satisfactory on Saturday.
“One point will do,” he said.
“As long as we win; that's all that matters.”