Tigers AFL team faces stern test

THE Grafton Tigers face another big test at Ellem Oval, Grafton, this afternoon, this time against the Port Macquarie Magpies.

After good showings against the Coffs Swans and North Coffs Kangaroos in the opening rounds of the North Coast AFL season, Grafton will be eager to register a win this afternoon.

Grafton has shown signs of improvement despite dropping their opening two games to Coffs Swans and North Coffs Kangaroos.

In recent years the Magpies have challenged for the premiership on a regular basis, winning it in 2007. However, they seem to have lost their way this season, beating cellar dwellers Nambucca by seven goals at home before losing heavily to the Sawtell Saints last week.

The Tigers have a new lease on life this season and need to beat Port this week to have any chance of challenging for a top four position come finals time.

Many of Grafton's best players this season are their younger brigade - Dale Beaver, Luke Hayman, Bryce Kurtzman, Justin Darby, Tim Whalan and Kelly Thompson. After playing seniors for a few years now they have become hardened competitors and look right at home among the older, more experienced players like Dan Zacek, Scott Onus, Damian Cameron and Dion McGregor. The game this week will be won and lost through the middle - if Grafton can control the play through the centre of the ground they can deliver the ball to the emerging forward line of Hugh O'Toole, Zac Edwards, Dale Beaver and Luke Hayman.

Grafton do not seem to have been affected by the retirement of champion full forward Shawn Purton over the summer.

If anything, his departure has opened the door for more players to have an influence on the forward line and has produced more goal-scoring options.

In previous years opposition teams could nullify Purton to stop Grafton's scoring, but with a much more even forward line there are more options to kick to and they are not so predictable.

Port Macquarie also has its fair share of talented youngsters, mainly forward Jesse Schmidt, who has booted 14 goals in two matches this season. Grafton will need to keep him under wraps if they want to win.

Schmidt's speed and good hands make him a hard man to match up on, with Tigers defender Justin Darby expected to get the job on him.

Reserves kick-off at 1pm and firsts at 2pm.

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