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Former New Zealand Residents forward Corey Lawrie is back after a season with the Warriors in the NRL and another at English club Doncaster. He will lead out the Hornby Panthers tomorrow against titleholders Linwood Keas, who have Canterbury Bulls' 2008 player of the year Johnny Aranga at fullback again after a short sabbatical in the Queensland Cup.
Hornby and Linwood who are in their sixth successful final will contest the Pat Smith Trophy final at Rugby League Park.
After a glimpse of the glamour life as a NRL pro and a season under the coaching of Great Britain legend Ellery Hanley, Lawrie could be forgiven if he found club footy in Christchurch a step down.
But far from it.
"There's nothing better than coming home and playing with your mates," he said. "And playing in a grand final just adds to it."
Lawrie, now back working as a scaffolder, grew up playing alongside some of tomorrow's teammates. He said it was an honour to be captaining Hornby from loose forward.
"We're in our 95th year, and there've been a few Pat Smith [trophy victories] about the club."
The Panthers have a posse of players who have been in grand finals before.
"Donny Aitken goes back to 1980, I reckon. He's been around forever," Lawrie quipped.
Actually, Aitken, a popular policeman and longtime Bulls outside back, was in Hornby's 1996 winning team when current coach Scott Nixon was on the substitute's bench.
Aaron Harris, Hornby's standoff tomorrow, made his grand final bow in 1997 and Lawrie and second rower Sam Wallace won their first title in 2001. Wallace's father, Wayne, was the head coach that year and is now Nixon's adviser.
Lawrie has been impressed with Nixon's switch from scrumhalf last season to head coach this year. "I labelled him Brad Fittler at the start of the season, because he was a bit relaxed and laidback, but he's been very good for the club."
Aranga was equally effusive about Linwood coach Maurice Emslie, who had "the players' respect because he played alongside us for a couple of years" at the start of their remarkable grand finals run.
It is no coincidence that the already potent Linwood attack has stepped up a gear since Aranga (Brisbane Norths) and powerful second rower Chris Bamford (Brisbane Easts) returned from the Queensland Cup mid-season.
Aranga said he came home for personal reasons, but plans to go back to Queensland next year, either to Norths or the Burleigh Bears. He said the set-up was "so professional over there" and he had tried to "bring some of that back".
Aranga said Linwood had worked hard on their defence during the second round and they would need to be at their best again tomorrow.
The Keas are crammed with players who have been around for all six finals, including Aranga, 23, who first played in his first year out of Cathedral College.
"I missed a couple of finals with injuries, but this will be my fourth."
Bamford, brothers Damian and Nathan Horgan, centre Siona Tuiloma and former Warrior Kane Ferris are other seasoned campaigners.
Captain Andrew Auimatagi and hooker Nathan Sherlock are a crafty couple of distributors for the Keas, while the Panthers have proven playmakers in Lawrie, Harris and hooker Jonny Limmer, and power in the centres through Craig Smith and Tolo Auva'a.
Linwood and Hornby also clash in the reserve grade grand final, highlighting their status as Christchurch's leading clubs.
HORNBY has won 11 Pat Smith Challenge Trophy grand finals since the season-ending showdown was introduced in 1967. The Panthers have won a record 23 titles since 1917. Last Victory: 2006.
LINWOOD is the only survivor among the clubs which contested the first Canterbury championship in 1913. The Keas have won nine championships, including three grand finals. Last Victory: 2008.RECENT RESULTS2000: Halswell 38 Papanui 20.
2001: Hornby 28 Halswell 18
2002: Riccarton 54 Linwood 14
2003: Halswell 16 Kaiapoi 14
2004: Riccarton 33 Linwood 14
2005: Linwood 66 Hornby 10 (*record score)
2006: Hornby 32 Linwood 28
2007: Kaiapoi 28 Linwood 14
2008: Linwood 30 Papanui 22TEAMS HORNBY PANTHERS: Ainsley Fenika, Joe Hendry, Craig Smith, Tolovae Auva'a, Henry Whyte, Aaron Harris, Sean Spooner, Leo Toomalatai, Jonny Limmer, Mike Kingston, James Baxendale, Sam Wallace, Corey Lawrie. Interchange: Donny Aitken, Jason Manning, Lisiate Ofa, Mo'Ale Paunga, Jeremy Lawrie, Lee Paru (two to be omitted). Coach: Scott Nixon. Assistant: Wayne Wallace. Manager: Faraimo Malaki.
LINWOOD KEAS: Johnny Aranga, Shane Bowden, Phil Wahnig, Siona Tuiloma, Alex Davis, Andrew Auimatagi, Teariki Tangiiti, Damian Horgan, Nathan Sherlock, Iluma Mulitalo, Chris Bamford, Kane Ferris, Agaese Fiso. Interchange: Kodi Warbrick, Ieni Hesp, Nathan Horgan, Alex Todd. Coach: Maurice Emslie. Manager: Ian Gamblin.
Referee: Adam Burns.
Kickoff 3pm at Rugby League Park.