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SONICS SET FOR GRAND FINAL CHALLENGE

Bristol Sonics are preparing for one final tilt at glory this weekend, with familiar foes Leicester Storm standing between them and a first ever Cooperative Rugby League Conference Midlands Premier title.The two sides will lock horns for a fourth and final time this season in Saturday’s Midlands Premier Grand Final at Aretians RFC, Patchway, Bristol.The Sonics surged into this year’s final thanks to a storming nine-match unbeaten run in which they defeated Storm twice – including a 50-10 win in Bristol – and ended the title hopes of hotly-tipped Northampton Demons with a 34-18 victory at Aretians a fortnight ago.When the two sides met in a ‘dress rehearsal’ in Leicester last weekend, the match had to be abandoned early in the second period following a serious leg injury to young Bristol forward Gary Carpenter. The scores were tied at 10-all at the time.The game was also marred by bad tempered exchanges between the two sides, with experienced Bristol forward Wes Rodgers surprisingly sent off for his part in a brawl instigated by Leicester’s former Sheffield Eagles forward Greg Hurst. Rodgers is now sweating on the date of a disciplinary hearing to see whether he will be cleared to play in Saturday’s showpiece final.Bristol Sonics’ Director of Coaching Karl Fearnley has called for calm on Saturday, asking his team to ‘rise above it’ and show the form that has made them hot favourites to clinch their first Midlands Premier title.Fearnley said: ‘I’m expecting a tough battle on Saturday and we’ll have to be at our very best to beat Leicester. They’re a solid side with a big set of forwards who play a tight game. If they get anywhere near our line they’re dangerous – we need to make sure that we don’t give them a sniff by defending well and playing the game in their half.’We know they’ll come to Aretians and try to knock us off our game plan by slowing down the play-the-ball and other frustrating tactics. We need to just rise above it, stick to our game plan, control the ball and let the game take care of itself.’Fearnley faces a few selection headaches ahead of Saturday’s final, with how to reshuffle his pack of forwards the first priority. With Gary Carpenter unavailable and Wes Rodgers awaiting news from the disciplinary, Fearnley could switch Wayne Cochran to prop alongside regular interchange Dave Leach. With second-rowers Matt Douglas, James Pritchard and Joe Coghlan also unavailable, Jack Gibson and Josh Sampson are likely to start, with Tom Verber returning at loose forward.Fearnley also has to decide on his backline and half-back combination, with in-form veteran James Gross likely to start at scrum half alongside Sonics stalwart and skipper Dom Swann. Andrew Bond, Dan Evans, Marcus Brooker, Ed Tofts, Johan Schoeman, Elliot Nightingale, Sam Barker and Mike Norman are fighting for places in the backs.This time last year, Bristol narrowly lost out to Coventry Bears in ‘golden point extra time’ after a thrilling Midlands Premier Grand Final at Old Coventrians. The Sonics produced a thrilling second half of the season to sneak into their first final at the expense of Leicester Storm, only to fall at the final hurdle in an agonising extra-time period.Sonics’ skipper Dom Swann is keen to put things right on Saturday and lead Bristol to their first Midlands Premier title. Swann said: ‘Last year’s final loss has been a huge motivating factor this year. We were so close to producing what would have been a big upset in that final, and it hurt to lose like that in extra time. All the way through this season we’ve targeted this final, and it means so much to us. It’s a huge day for the club.’Bristol have previously won a regional West Midlands title via a Grand Final, beating Burntwood Barbarians in a thriller in 2007. The following year, Bristol made the national RLC Regional Final, losing out to Doncaster’s Thorne Moor Marauders in Derby.Leicester, on the other hand, will be playing in their first RLC final on Saturday.Bristol Sonics Chairman Phil Cole has attended each of the club’s finals since their inception in 2002. He’s relishing a first ever final in Bristol. Cole said: ‘It’s a brilliant feeling to be able to host a final, as all our other finals have been played elsewhere. Traditionally we have a great record at home and rarely lose. I’m a little nervous, but very excited – it should be a terrific day!’Cole also called on local sports fans to get behind the Sonics this weekend: ‘If you’ve got no plans on Saturday, get yourselves to Aretians. I know the lads would appreciate your support, and the club certainly will. It promises to be an exciting match, with the promise of some great rugby. Entry is free and Aretians will be running a bar. Come and cheer on one of Bristol’s most successful sports teams!’Bristol Sonics squad (17 to be selected on the day):Dan Evans, Mike Norman, Ed Tofts, Marcus Brooker, Andrew Bond, Elliot Nightingale, Sam Barker, Johan Schoeman, Dom Swann, James Gross; Wes Rodgers, Harry Marson, Wayne Cochran, Josh Sampson, Jack Gibson, Tom Verber, Dave Leach, Dan Wegryzn, Wijnand Wormhoudt.

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