HAMILTON coach Scott Coleman has sensed a buzz at training this week synonymous with one thing - finals footy.
Coleman has been highly critical of the Newcastle and Hunter Rugby Union's decision to put the finals back a week due to wet weather. The delay created a three-week gap between games for the minor premiers, who are chasing a historic fifth straight premiership.
But any frustration was cast aside this week as the Hawks clicked up a gear ahead of the major semi-final showdown with Wanderers at No.2 Sportsground on Saturday.
"There is a change in attitude, a bit of a buzz and excitement around," Coleman said. "Guys are turning up early and are strapped and ready to go by six. During the season it's a hard slog to get them there by six."
Wanderers, who Hamilton have beaten in three of their four consecutive grand final wins, are the only side to topple the Hawks this season - winning 24-12 at No.2 Sportsground in round four.
The Hawks reversed the result in the final round, with a resounding 40-29 victory at Passmore Oval to secure the Hawthorne Cup.
"We definitely lift for Wanderers," Coleman said. "Both clubs do. We have had a competitive rivalry for five or six years. We don't hold any grudges. You just enjoy playing against the better teams."
The Two Blues' win in round four was their first over the Hawks in three seasons, but Coleman said that would mean little on Saturday.
"Everything is different," he said. "Different coach, different personnel. The set piece is definitely a platform that needs to be laid. If anything, that is where we have had an edge over them in the past five years."
Wanderers have made one forced change from the side the shut down Maitland 35-19.
Jack Johnson-Holmes comes in and Piers Morrell moves into the second-row for the suspended Dan Kevill.
"Piers made the mistake of saying he has played a bit of second-row in England," coach Dan Beckett said. "He is an outstanding young player and is all heart. It won't matter if he is in the second-row or back-row, you know what you will get from him."
The final-round capitulation to the Hawks was the only game in which Wanderers have conceded more than 22 points all season.
"We had our pants pulled down," Beckett said. "The things that had been so good for us all year went missing in one game. Hamilton thrive on strangling the opposition and when they do that, you make poor decisions. I thought some of our play was really good against Hamilton but it was about decision making.
"I was proud of them last week, because it takes a pretty special team to flick the switch. They have shown what they can do and I expect them to do it again on Saturday."