Young Tigers roar

By LEITH BASSET

THE Grafton Tigers Under-18 team won its way through to the NCAFL grand final by winning a nail-biting match on Saturday against the Port Macquarie Magpies at Coffs Harbour International Stadium.

In what turned out to be a fantastic display of football from both teams, the game was still in dispute until the final siren sounded, with Port having the opportunity to win the game in the final 30 seconds.

After losing the coin toss, the Tigers were asked to run into a stiff breeze in the first quarter and it proved important to their chances as they had to keep their opposition from scoring too heavily.

They were successful in doing this, restricting Port to four goals, one behind and scoring two goals, two behinds themselves. This was even more significant considering one of the Tigers main ball winners, captain Bryce Kirtzman, was playing in the forward pocket due to an injury suffered the previous week.

In the second quarter, the Tigers were running with the wind and needed to assert some dominance on their opponents. The midfield started to win the ball and drive it forward, giving the forwards

every opportunity to score some goals. The team took the advantage of the wind and kicked three goals two behinds for the quarter. This was a good effort and was more than backed up by the midfield and backline, led by fullback Paul Raithby who held the Magpies to a single behind for the quarter, giving the Tigers a halftime lead of eight points.

Coach Rick Hayman asked for a massive effort from the whole team at halftime and stressed the importance to the side of the upcoming quarter of footy. Many a game has been won and lost in the third quarter ? also known as the premiership quarter ? and the boys would need to be on top of their game to make sure they were well within striking distance at the end.

They didn't disappoint their coach or the supporters, making a real contest out of the quarter and only being 11 points in arrears by three-quarter time.

The final quarter got under way with both teams still very much in the contest. Goals were traded by both teams as they moved the ball around with the skill that you would expect to see in a major final.

It was easy to see that both teams wanted to be in the grand final the following week ? all players attacked the ball ferociously, trying to win that vital possession that could win the game for their side.

The Tigers got their noses in front late in the quarter by four points and looked like they were going on to win, when some great play saw the Magpies work the ball forward and take a mark 30 metres out in front of goal. The kick sailed wide and went through for a behind with less than a minute on the clock, allowing everyone to breathe again. Grafton 65, Port 62.

Paul Raithby brought the ball back into play and cleared it as far as possible away from goal, allowing nearly every other player to kill the ball and any chance the Magpies had of scoring a match-winning goal.

The Tigers now get to regroup and set themselves for a grand final match next weekend. If the finals' game so far is an indication, it should be a hardfought contest again, with both teams having a realistic chance of taking home a premiership.



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