A grand final at Country Club Oval.
Considering the form of the two Bathurst Bushrangers sides for most of the 2017 Central West AFL season that always seemed an unlikely prospect for the Orange Tigers but, incredibly, it’s now just one victory away.
The in-form Tigers scored their sixth straight win in last weekend’s final regular season round, producing a clinical showing in front of goal to down the Bathurst Bushrangers Outlaws and seal a spot in this weekend’s major semi-final as a result.
A side that’s been somewhat wayward in front of the sticks this season, the Tigers were the complete opposite on Saturday, winning 16.5.101 – 10.8.68.
They’ll take on the minor premiership-winning Bushrangers Rebels in the first grand final qualifier this weekend, at Bathurst’s George Park.
“When I took on the coaching job, I definitely didn’t think we’d have a crack at a home grand final,” Tigers coach Dale Hunter admitted.
“But about five weeks into the season that changed a bit and we started thinking we were capable of this, especially because everyone was underestimating us.
“Now we’ve got ourselves that chance and the boys are all very hungry to play finals footy again after a year off.”
Considering the Tigers went within one kick of knocking the Rebels off last time around and the Dubbo Demons actually beat them last week, the Orange side has a right to feel confident.
“We know what happened last time around, we were in control of that game and let it slip so we do want to make amends for that one,” Hunter said.
Brady Bennett’s five-goal haul helped the Tigers seal Saturday’s victory, the decisive factor overall proving to be the Orange side’s massive third quarter.
When I took the job, I definitely didn’t think we’d have a crack at a home grand final.Tigers coach Dale Hunter
The Tigers trailed Bathurst by seven points at quarter-time but after the first break it was one-way traffic at Country Club Oval.
The Tigers outscored the visitors 19-5 in the second quarter to lead by eight at the main break, then promptly kicked six goals to three in the third term.
After heading into the final quarter with a 27-point lead, Orange extended that by another goal by full-time.
“That performance in front of goal was long overdue, and it’s nice to see our plans and structures for the forward line coming together,” Hunter said.
“It’s the first time we’ve beaten either of the Bushrangers sides so we’re pleased with it. I’m sure they’ll be quick to say Pauly Long didn’t play, but that was cancelled out by us not having Brent Tucker I think.
“We won the midfield battle without him though, it was great to see other guys step up in his absence, and we were able to nullify their game plan a bit.
“They like to chip to the wings and attack from out wide, the guys knew that and we were able to cut off their supply to guys like Tim Hunter.
“He’s had two quiet games in a row now though, I wouldn’t want to be in Dubbo’s shoes with him hurting like that.”
Along with Bennett, Al Charnock, Josh Bubnich and Chris Pethybridge all slotted multiple majors.
The victory also secured the Tigers the Byrne-Long Cup, the annual trophy the two clubs play off for.
While the Tigers travel to Bathurst to play the Rebels, the Demons will do the same to face the Outlaws in the minor semi-final.