Tigers’ Ryan Sheather marks the ball against the Saints at Ellem Oval on Saturday.
Tigers’ Ryan Sheather marks the ball against the Saints at Ellem Oval on Saturday. Debrah Novak

Tigers romp to win

THE Jacaranda Hotel Grafton Tigers started their North Coast AFL premiership defence in the best possible way, with a resounding victory over the Sawtell Saints at Ellem Oval on Saturday.

With the presentation of Grafton's first premiership flag by AFL hall of famer John Rantall and Grafton's mayor Richie Williamson, the Tigers were determined to display the form that had won them the premiership last year and put on a good show for the crowd that was at the ground.

And they didn't disappoint.

In what many predicted would be a closely fought match, the Saints had no answers to the rampant Tigers, who took control early and were never troubled as they put on a clinical display to run away winners by 94 points.

The signs were ominous for Sawtell from the first bounce, when the Tigers midfield of Scott Onus, Ronald Davis and Sam Morrison combined superbly to keep the ball in the Tigers' attacking zone for much of the first quarter.

The big forward trio of captain Dan Zacek, Shawn Purton and boom recruit Lee Anderson were able to find plenty of space up front, with Purton and Anderson kicking a goal each in the first term.

However, inaccuracy in the form of seven behinds for Grafton allowed Sawtell some hope of coming back at the premiers and a goal off the boot of Craig Parsons allowed the Saints to keep in touch and trail Grafton by 11 at the first break.

Any hope that the Saints had of keeping with Grafton was soon quashed in the second term, with the Tigers midfield ripping Sawtell apart.

The Saints tactic of playing two defenders on Zacek kept the Grafton captain to a lone goal for the quarter and the match but allowed Anderson to roam free in the forward 50, where he kicked four goals for the quarter.

Combined with the goals of Carl Boehme, Sam Morrison, Chris Holder, Tim Whalan and Josh Lollback, the Tigers slotted 10 majors to Sawtell's three and looked comfortable at the half-time break with a lead of 55.

The Saints started the third quarter in damage control, opting to flood their backline in an effort to contain the Tigers onslaught.

However, two goals each to Purton and Sean Duroux allowed Grafton to extend its lead, and while the Saints were able to add another two goals to their own total off the boot of Parsons, the visitors were becoming increasingly frustrated.

The solid defensive effort of Grafton's backline players Ryan Sheather, Justin Darby and Kelly Thompson, who worked tirelessly all day, shut down any ball that came near them.

Not even Sawtell's veteran forward "Sugar" Ray McGrath had any tricks up his sleeve to outplay the Tigers backs.

He kicked only a lone goal for the match and at the end of the third term Grafton had an unassailable lead of 71.

The intensity the Tigers had shown during the match started to take its toll on Sawtell, which tried desperately to control the Tigers by continuing to flood its backline, but with Grafton's midfield continuing its dominance of the football, the Tigers were still able to kick another four goals for the quarter.

Purton added another two goals to his tally, Anderson added another to his and new recruit John Chapple came up from the backline to kick his first goal in his debut for the Tigers.

A lone goal to Parsons was all the Saints could muster for the term as Grafton romped home to win by 140 to 46.

In the absence of coach Adi Campbell, the roll was filled by captain Zacek.

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