MAITLAND captain Carl Manu reckons sometimes it takes a "kick in the bum" to spur a side into action.
That was the case with the Blacks after the 35-19 loss to Wanderers in the qualifying semi-final a fortnight ago. Maitland gave up three length-of-the field tries - two from intercepts and one from a spilt pass - in the defeat.
"I know what these guys are like," Manu said. "When they get hurt, they know how to get back up."
Maitland responded with one of their best performance of the season, beating Merewether 25-17 in the minor semi-final, despite being without gun forwards Travis Brooke and Michael Howell.
With the inclusion of Pat Robards at inside centre, they straightened their attack, increased their line speed in defence and aimed up in the forwards.
Manu is after more of the same when they take on Wanderers again at No.2 Sportsground on Saturday - at stake is a spot in the grand final against Hamilton.
The Blacks, whose last premiership was 20 years ago, went down to the Hawks 20-12 in the decider last year.
"The Wanderers game was a bit of a kick in the bum," Manu said. "We have learnt from the mistakes we made in that game. We gifted them four tries. Against Merewether, we came out with a bang. Getting Pat Robards back after a long time out with a hand injury was massive. He is such a leaguey. He gives us a bit of size and gets us on the front foot. Defensively he did a job on Bill Coffey. We knew if we shut Billy down they didn't have many other options."
Fijian inside centre Nimi Qio does a similar job for Wanderers.
"He have been really good at handling him," Manu said. "You cant let him run. Once he gets wound up, oh man ... If you let him run anyone will find it hard to stop him. You have to close the space down, He is not really a passer."
One aspect the Blacks will need to improve is the line-out. With Travis Brooke (concussion) missing against the Greens, their lineout self-destructed. They lost four with the throw and much of the ball they won was clunky.
"Last week, the boys panicked a little bit," Manu said.
Neither Brooke or Mick Howell have been named, but both are expected to play.
"We didn't want to finish with Travis and Mick Howell sitting out," Manu said. "Coming into the change room and seeing the smiles on their faces knowing we have another week ... these guys really know how to play for each other."
Wanderers coach Dan Beckett said Brooke's inclusion would be a factor, especially at the lineout, but was confident the Two Blues had the personnel to cause the Blacks problems.
"Brooke is not the Anderson Medal favourite for nothing," Beckett said. "We saw on Sunday what he means to their lineout. He is a skillful, very smart lineout technician and certainly brings a lot to them. He is a terrific player, but we have some good players too.
"Maitland were a better side last week than when they played us, that is a given. They certainly played with a bit more sting. We know what we are in for."