Redemption – that was the objective for the Orange Tigers during Saturday’s thrilling Central West AFL preliminary final against Bathurst Giants at Waratahs Sportsground.
They earned it too.
And after dropping their last home game to the young Giants as part of a run of three losses in a month, the Tigers claimed a nail-biting two-point win to progress to the grand final.
The Giants started like a house on fire, making the most of the wind to kick three goals to two in the opening quarter before the Tigers flipped the script, kicking two goals to none to hold a nine-point lead at half-time.
They matched the Giants in the third despite kicking against the wind, however, a Mitch Taylor major seconds before the three-quarter-time siren cut the Tigers’ previously-healthy margin to just seven heading into the final term, stealing the momentum off the yellow and blacks.
Despite the finale kicking off with a Tigers’ point and an Andrew Henry check-side to extend the hosts’ lead to 13, the Giants surged against the two-goal breeze to cut the margin to two points.
At that point they looked like they had the leg-speed to run over the top of the Orange outfit.
But, that two-point margin would turn out to be the final score of the game despite the healthy crowd expecting more scores to come with the Giants and Tigers both pressing hard.
But both defensive lines stayed composed and level-headed despite the pressure, with the final siren sounding and the Tigers’ faithful erupting.
In a nice touch, half a dozen former Tigers’ players belted out a child-friendly version of the old theme song – which caused controversy when changed earlier this season – with the winning side joining in.
Tigers’ ruckman Andrew Nelson – who has also spent time playing for the Giants – said it was a “really tough game”.
“We were behind the eight-ball at the start and credit to the boys, with a bit of ticker they fought their way back in at half-time,” he said.
“The Giants boys came at us in the last quarter and we did the hard and disciplined things and got back and ended up hanging on by the two points.”
Nelson said the side had turned around its patchy from the past month.
“Pressure was definitely on, we backed our structures and backed our teammates which is something we haven’t done in the past few weeks but they really stood up today and I’m proud of them,” he said.
He said while he was impressed with his former club, he said his focus was on the grand final and the Tigers’ efforts this season.
We did the hard and disciplined things and got back and ended up hanging on by the two pointsTigers' ruckman Andrew Nelson
“I’ve been around them from the start and they’re a great club and with a lot of young kids there’s a lot of potential. With top blokes around them like Paul Jenkins, Dave Manning and Simon Kay, they’ve got the talent to be a top side,” he said.
“But I’m more proud for the Tigers and what we’ve achieved this year, we’ve had to battle to get this chance (in the grand final) but we’ll relish getting in there.”
The game pitted two of the competition’s leading goal-scorers in Tim Barry and Aidan McCauley against each other, but both were held goalless by Simon Kay and Mick Evans, respectively, and neither had anywhere near the impact they did in the home and away seasons.
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Neither forward was helped by wet and windy conditions, with the Tigers also struggling to find Barry on the lead.
Instead, Chris Rothnie proved the Tigers’ key target, kicking three goals – including two in a row in the third quarter – in a dominant display from centre half forward which included strong pack marks in the wet.
Both teams also dealt with injury, with the Tigers losing Michael Rothnie to a hamstring strain early in the week and player-coach Dale Hunter struggling with a heel issue.
Meanwhile the Giants were harder hit losing Josh Broes (shoulder) and Sam Sloane (dislocated finger) before half-time – not that coach Mark Kennedy used that as an excuse, saying he was proud of his charges for taking it up to the minor premiers right until the siren.
“I can’t be prouder of our playing group this year, to come from where we started from a few years ago, we were getting beaten by 100 and 200 points and (this year) we were two points away from making a grand final,” Kennedy said.
“It was one of those games I described as if we’re going to beat the Tigers over here it would be like climbing Mount Everest in flip-flops – although today flippers would have been more useful.”
He went on to say the maturing Giants would be a massive threat in season 2019.
“We’ve got a few younger bodies out there, half the side is under 17 and they’re developing and we just want to put our best bodies on the field but look out next year. The boys will be bigger, stronger and more hungry and as I said, I can’t be prouder,” he said.
The Tigers now turn their attention to the decider date with Bathurst Bushrangers Rebels next Saturday in the grand final at George Park Oval.
- ORANGE TIGERS 7.5.47 (Chris Rothnie 3, Tyson Hannus, Andrew Nelson, Andrew Henry, Pierce Frecklington goals) def BATHURST GIANTS 7.3.45 (Frank Bright 3, Alex Cuttiford, Nathan Belbin, Mitch Taylor, Paul Jenkins goals)