Norwood's Jade Rawlings leading his troops in the first week of SANFL finals. (Photo: Norwood FC/Dave Emery)

Norwood is set to be bolstered by great talent and wild experience for this weekend's first semi final against South Adelaide.

Norwood is set to be bolstered by great talent and wild experience for this weekend’s first semi final against South Adelaide.

Following a tough seven point loss at the hands of the Eagles last week, Paul Puopolo and Brad McKenzie return to the side from injury to feature in the do-or-die clash.

Puopolo was stretchered off during the side’s round 16 loss to eventual minor premiers Glenelg with a medial knee injury. while McKenzie has sat out the last two weeks with hamstring soreness.

Despite a young brigade featuring the likes of Xavier Tranfa, Jack Heard and Henry Nelligan pushing the side forward, coach Jade Rawlings admits seeing the duo’s names on the whiteboard this week is “pleasing.”

“They were really close last week but given they were a bit short on their conditioning at training we thought it was best to hold off another week,” he said.

“Paul Puopolo has provided an enormous amount to our club this year broadly, but especially when we’ve been through tight game scenarios which we’ve been in quite a bit this year.

“His experience and talking through what he knows of those situations has been beneficial and to be able to actually be out there and get stuff done will make a difference as well.”

Puopolo, a three time AFL premiership player with Hawthorn, was welcomed back to the Parade in 2021. He previously spent his junior career, as well as 68 senior games worth prior to 2011 when he was drafted, at the club.

He’s been instrumental upon his return, and has provided many a highlight for Norwood fans across the year too, including multiple mark of the year contenders.

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“One thing we’ve tried to retain this year is integrity in selection and also conditioning and fitness,” Rawlings said.

“Paul Puopolo had a pretty traumatic injury against Glenelg and it looked like it was ACL, but it ended up being medial so he needed to do some drills that were pretty demanding late last week so if he’s available, he plays.

“I think [Brad] McKenzie’s had a really good, strong year and he’s one of our leaders, so we’d like to get him back in and make the team better.”

McKenzie elected to play at Norwood in 2017, following 37 games at North Melbourne, instead of Sturt where he played his junior football.

The Redlegs were primed and ready to take it up to the Eagles last week, welcoming back captain Matthew Nunn – who finished the day with 25 possessions, one goal and eight tackles – back into the fold from injury.

“Having Nunn back he’s pulled up well, we had Pedro back last week, McKenzie, Puopolo – I think it’ll be reasonably full strength,” Rawlings said.

“We’ve had challenges over the year in relation to full availability but one of the things we’ve tried to do is have good depth on our list and we’ve backed in some inexperienced players as well.”

Norwood captain Matthew Nunn returned last week to lead his side. (Photo: Norwood Football Club/Dave Emery)

Rawlings spoke about his “admiration” for the group, as they trailed by just a goal at quarter time and could’ve very easily found themselves in this weeks second semi final instead.

“I think we competed really hard, we prepared to challenge ourselves and put it out there,” he said.

“Just talking to Jade Sheedy, we both agreed it was a really tough game, tough final, the way it should be played and we didn’t come up where we wanted to.”

They’ll come up against a South Adelaide side who also have the luxury of recalling a 150+ AFL-game player two weeks into the finals.

Jarrad Wright has brought former Port Adelaide player Matthew Broadbent into his side, following a late withdrawal from their elimination final with a hamstring strain last week.

And while this is the first time in 31 years that the two sides have met in a final, Rawlings knows that more than just pride is on the line and that the Panthers present quite the challenge.

“They’ve got a lot of talented players and when you’ve got talent out on the park you have to respect it and I think they’ve got a really good understanding of how Jarrad wants them to play as well,” he said.

“That came out early in the season, you don’t fluke being on top of the ladder where they were, and it’s come out again late in the season.

“They’ve tweaked a few things positionally which I think has reinvigorated the team… I think they’ll ask a lot of questions of us.”

SANFL Finals Week Two

Saturday, 18 September 2021 – Adelaide Oval

First Semi Final

Norwood v South Adelaide – 3.15pm

Second Semi Final

Glenelg v Woodville-West Torrens – 7.15pm

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