Healthy Tigers heading in right direction leading into decider: Hunter

KEY COG: Chris Rothnie has been in strong form in the past few weeks up forward for the Tigers. Photo: CARLA FREEDMAN.
KEY COG: Chris Rothnie has been in strong form in the past few weeks up forward for the Tigers. Photo: CARLA FREEDMAN.

“Everything needs to go right in finals.”

Orange Tigers player-coach Dale Hunter isn’t beating around the bush heading into the Central West AFL grand final this weekend, against old foes Bathurst Bushrangers Rebels at George Park. 

Despite a blistering start to the season – losing only one game in the first 12 rounds – the Tigers had lost three games in four starts before a thrilling win over Bathurst Giants last weekend in Orange. 

That month-long run of form cost the Tigers a home grand final, but considering the side’s historically patchy form coming off byes, which this year included their first loss to the Rebels and a scratchy win over an undermanned Dubbo in round nine, playing the extra week hasn’t been detrimental to the Tigers. 

In fact, last week’s two-point win may have played them back into form, with ruckman Andrew Nelson saying after the game players were backing each other into the contest in ways they hadn’t in recent weeks. 

However, Hunter said during the week that one win didn’t necessarily mean a return to form for his charges. 

I don’t think the venue matters to our team all that often, we had a great start to the year with the seven away trips and we don’t mind getting away

Tigers' coach Dale Hunter

“I can only go back as far as our last meeting with this side and they got us, one well-ground out win, I don’t know if that turns form around but we’ve definitely put footsteps in the right direction,” he said. 

He said the nerves kicked in after team selection on the Thursday night, but early in the week “with a team full of healthy footballers” he was feeling relaxed about the trip to Bathurst. 

“I don’t think the venue matters to our team all that often, we had a great start to the year with the seven away trips and we don’t mind getting away,” he said.

“It being their ground, they’ll see it as an advantage to themselves but we don’t see it as a disadvantage to us.” 

HE'S BACK: Michael Rothnie will play against the Rebels. Photo: CARLA FREEDMAN.

HE'S BACK: Michael Rothnie will play against the Rebels. Photo: CARLA FREEDMAN.

The Tigers have added Tom Gibbons and Michael Rothnie to the side that brought down the Giants last week, with an injured Hunter – who was never going to play the decider – and an unlucky Caleb Campbell the two making way. 

“I reckon they’ll go pretty well unchanged to what they beat us here with, that was about their full-strength side and I don’t recall them getting any injuries and our team will obviously look a little bit different, we had a few players miss – Tim Barry being one of them – but it’ll be a good hit-out,” Hunter said. 

Discipline has been heavily spoken-about in the Tigers’ camp during the finals campaign, and Hunter said that was one area he was drilling down on. 

“I don’t want to sour anything from the time they got us here but our discipline, which was a hell of a lot better this weekend and a really close game like that showed you discipline can cost you any moments in games,” he said.

“We have to take on from that and make sure we don’t give them any cheap goals from mouthing off to the umpires. 

“That time spent arguing with an umpire can be better spent by spreading and getting back and making amends for giving away the free.”

The Central West AFL men’s grand final kicks off at 2.30pm on Saturday at Bathurst’s George Park. 

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