SOME missed first quarter opportunities came back to hurt the Grafton Tigers as they went down by 60 points to the Sawtell Saints in the North Coast AFL match at Ellem Oval, Grafton, on Saturday.
Grafton, full of confidence after a scoring a resounding victory over Port Macquarie the previous week, went into the clash with last year's premiers full of confidence.
The Tigers began with all guns blazing, having the first five scoring shots of the match.
However, they failed to capitalise, converting just two of those shots into majors.
Those misses allowed Sawtell, shaken by the first 10 minutes, back into the contest and they began to win the ball out of the centre of the ground.
The visitors kicked the next four goals to lead by two at the first change.
Sawtell continued on its merry way in the second quarter, kicking six unanswered goals to lead by eight at halftime.
The Tigers looked a beaten side at halftime.
Coach Grahame Blackwell dealt his charges some strong words over the break, and it seemed to have the desired effect.
Grafton kicked seven goals to six in the third term, with Blackwell adding four on his own in an inspirational performance.
Trailing by seven goals at the last change, the Tigers had little chance of winning the match so the task was to prepare for their next clash against the bottom of the table Nambucca Lions.
However, the players had other ideas, and threw everything at the Saints in a bid to try and steal the match.
This effort by the players is a massive turnaround from previous seasons.
“They could have thrown in the towel, given up, saved themselves for the next game, but that's not them,” Blackwell said.
The Tigers continued to push the Saints right to the end, going in hard for the football, tackling with vigour and refusing to give in.
Unfortunately, the fight back in the third term took a lot out of the Tigers and they could only manage four goals to seven in the final quarter. Sawtell won the match 22.17.149 to 13.11.89.
“It may have been a 10-goal loss, but there was some tremendous signs for the Tigers going forward,” Blackwell said.
Blackwell finished with six goals and Dale Beaver three.
Onballers Dom Duggan, Tim Whalan, Scott Onus and Tony Batty, all still young by comparison to other teams, took giant leaps forward and will learn a lot from the way Sawtell ran the ball.
Defenders Luke Chard, Justin Darby, Ben Gardner and Ryan Sheather will each benefit from the experience.
Grafton was best served by Kelly Thompson across halfback and in the ruck, Dion McGregor on the wing and Damian Cameron through the middle.
The Tigers now face a very testing time, with five games in a row on the road after starting the season with four consecutive homes games.
Grafton's biggest problem in past seasons has been the players' reluctance to travel, with the closest away game being in Coffs Harbour.
If Blackwell can get his men on the road, the next five weeks could prove very interesting.