DREAM CRUSHERS: Saints out to stop fairytale finish
THE Sawtell Toormina Saints will be out to stop Grafton Tigers' etching their name in local sporting folklore by going from wooden spooners to champions.
Since winning their first Senior flag in 1997, the Saints have made winning Premierships a habit and in the past 15 years Sawtell has won nine Senior titles, making it the most successful club in League history.
And on Saturday when the Saints run out in the 2020 AFL North Coast Grand Final, they will looking to make it ten.
Sawtell's playing list is different to previous seasons and they have a proliferation of local youngsters who have learnt their trade in the Saints colours.
The emergence of a new crop of talented players has provided the Saints with a much better balance than in the last couple of years.
This is highlighted by players such as Jonah Horan, Angus Anderson, Tyler Donovan, and Ronan Singleton whose presence allows Mitch Napier, Brandt Lee, and Matt Dwyer to focus on playing key position roles rather than having to switch hit between multiple positions throughout a match.
However, standing in their way is the Grafton Tigers who are on the verge of completing one of the great resurrection stories in local sport.
In the five year period from 2015 to 2019, the Tigers managed only three wins from 68 matches played. Prior to the start of this season, the club had lost 43 consecutive matches and had to go back to round 3 of 2017 to find its last win.
However, the Tigers started the season with a win over the defending Premiers and have just kept on winning in 2020 to top the ladder with a 77% win ratio and be the first team into the Grand Final.
Key to the form reversal of the Tigers has been the return of Premiership heroes Adi Campbell (coach), Benny Holder, Sam Morrison, and Mitch Lollback. The inclusion of these players has not only added quality to the roster, but has shared the load with established stars such as Luke Stanford, while reducing the expectation on young guns such as Ronan Leslie and Evan Whitty who have not had to play in key positions in 2020.
The Tigers are yet to lose to Sawtell in four outings across the 2020 season, however the teams did record the first draw in memory in the Senior grade in round 5. The average winning margin across the four previous meetings is 15 points, and this couple with the draw, points to an extremely tight tussle.
The Reserve Grade Grand Final features Nambucca Valley Lions against Coffs Harbour Breakers.
The Lions have been a revelation in their return to the competitive fold after an eight year absence.
That they have gone through the season undefeated isn't a surprise considering that they have three members of the recently announced Team of the Decade in Leif Stuart, Aaron Clarke, and Jimmy Angel, plus recent Senior grade players in Aaron Boatfield and Joe Drage. However, very few teams win flags off the back of four or five players only and it's the depth that the team possesses that has been key to their success.
Former Victorian Jake Hare has dominated matches, Haydn Suridge brings athleticism in his first year in the code, and Jacob Welsh offers plenty of goals up front highlighted by his six goal bag in the Semi.
In their last incarnation, the Lions won two Under 18 titles but are yet to claim an open age crown. This year could well be the one that sees the duck broken.
The Breakers Reserve Grade side has made it to this stage of the season on a number of occasions but is yet to get its hands on the Premiership Cup.
Even in his forties, Brad Giri is one of the smartest footballers going around and offers plenty of threat up forward, but his entry to the match could be delayed due to his role as Women's coach.
Aaron Crolla adds grunt to the midfield and is always a threat with a long bomb. Josh Hunt is both fit and fast and will relish the wide open expanses of the Stadium, especially as the game goes on and opposition legs grow tired.
While many players in the club have juggled their time between the open age grades, Brayden Coad, Will Buckingham, Cody Woods, Rohan McMahon and Cooper Patricks have been the mainstays that coach Benny Watson builds his team around.
Nambucca comfortably won both clashes this season between the two teams so the Breakers know they have their work cut out if they are to prevail in the biggest match of the year.
All matches are at C.ex Coffs International Stadium on Saturday 10 October with Under 17 starting at 10:00am (gates open at 9:00am). Tickets must be pre-purchased through the Eventbrite website.
The program for the day is:
10:00am Under 17: Sawtell Toormina Saints v Grafton Tigers
12:10pm Women: Coffs Harbour Breakers v Northern Beaches Blues
2:00pm Reserves: Nambucca Valley Lions v Coffs Harbour Breakers
4:00pm Seniors: Grafton Tigers v Sawtell Toormina Saints