Thanks to a six-goal victory over the spirited Bathurst Giants on Saturday, the Orange Tigers have guaranteed themselves a place in the Central West AFL finals series, along with the two Bathurst Bushrangers sides.
Fourth-placed Dubbo is the only top four side at risk of dropping out, although that’s merely a mathematical chance, not a particular realistic one considering the Demons are 12 points in front of the fifth-placed Giants.
The Tigers enjoy the bye, and a guaranteed four points, this weekend before fighting for a top two spot in their final three round games against Young, Dubbo and the Bushrangers Outlaws.
The Tigers are deadlocked on 32 competitions points with the Outlaws, as such that final round game looks likely to decide which of the two sides finishes second.
Although, neither is out of the minor title race either. If results fall their way, they’re both a chance of sneaking past the Bushrangers Rebels.
“The percentage boost the Rebels earned from that forfeit makes a minor title pretty unlikely for us,” Tigers coach Dale Hunter conceded.
“But we certainly haven’t ruled out finishing top two. That would give us a second chance and they’re pretty important in this league.
“That will mean beating the Outlaws in the last round, but we need to get past Young and Dubbo first so we are still a week-to-week side.
“We have that bye as well and they’ve slowed us up a little this season. I think we’d have had the legs to play our last five or six games without that bye, we’re a side that prefers to play every week, but we’ll just have to work hard to make sure that trend doesn’t continue.
“It’s nice to know we will be playing a final no matter what though, it means we can start tweaking the way we play to get ready for that tougher, finals style of footy.”
Although the Tigers led from start to finish, the black and golds didn’t truly pull away until midway through the final term at Country Club Oval.
In fact, after the Tigers flew out the blocks the Giants actually pegged the Orange side back in the third quarter, forcing the Tigers to produce a huge fourth-quarter showing to put the result to bed.
A six-goal opening quarter gave the Tigers a 22-point buffer at quarter-time, which they extended by three in the second term to lead 8.8.56 – 4.7.31 at the main break.
The Giants lifted in the third term to trail by just nine points at three-quarter-time.
But the Tigers shifted up a gear in the fourth quarter, piling on 39 points to 12 to seal the win.
“It was a good win in the end, it was very much like the last time we played the Giants though,” Hunter said.
“They’ve got some very good young players and they played some good footy, they pushed us all the way.”
Josh Bubnich made a big impact in his return to the club, kicking five majors, while Hunter slotted four as well.
Andrew Nelson kicked three and Jaxon Mumme nailed two, while Chris Solomon and Chris Pethybridge kicked one each.
Sam Sloan was the Giants’ best, kicking four of the side’s 11 goals.