Season goes on the line for Tigers and Magpies
The fortunes of the Grafton Tigers and Port Macquarie Magpies go on the line in Saturday’s Elimination Semi Final. For one team, the season will be over, while the other keeps their premiership dreams alive as they head towards a Preliminary Final.
Both teams have struggled to get their best outfit on the park all season and their results have reflected this challenge. At full strength, both sides are competitive and capable of springing an upset, but full strength has been the exception rather than the rule in 2017.
Grafton proved this in the final round when they went within a goal of beating Minor Premiers Coffs Breakers. Whilst the Breakers weren’t at full strength they still had a quality line-up and Grafton pushed them all the way to fall just short in the final quarter.
This match has taken an injury toll on the Tigers though with at least three key players unlikely to play due to injuries sustained in that match, including the ever reliable Luke Stanford. Grafton will be sweating on the return of boom recruit Josh Veness however he is still rated as doubtful with his own injury worries.
If Grafton are to win it will be off the back of monumental efforts by proven performers such as Pat Curtain, Sam Hardes, and Chris Leslie.
Whilst Port Magpies season hasn’t attained their own lofty standards, the team has looked at its strongest over the course of the last month and has strung together a series of improved performances. Even in last week’s loss to reigning Premiers Sawtell Toormina Saints the Magpies competed strongly throughout and were within one goal in both the first and last quarters.
Experienced players Craig Dicker, Rod Sonogan, Luke Long, and Scott Dalton have provided the foundation, whilst younger players such as Luke Boxhall and Fraser Carroll have made important contributions in recent weeks and the club will definitely be looking for more of the same from them during the Finals.
Club champion Jesse Schmidt has endured a disrupted season with two injury layoffs but returned to the side last week and adds much needed polish to the forward line.
Across the course of the season, the home side has generally held sway in clashes between the two teams, with Port claiming the only away win on the head to head front. Neither team has the home ground advantage to draw upon this week with the match set down for C.ex Coffs International Stadium, so both will have to overcome their travelling woes. Whichever team finds their feet the quickest will go a long way towards extending their season to at least one more match.
Coffs Breakers and Sawtell Toormina Saints both have the week off ahead of their meeting next Saturday (19 August) in the Qualifying Semi Final when a spot in the Grand Final goes on the line.
Elimination Semi Final – Saturday 12 August
Port Macquarie Magpies v Grafton Tigers, C.ex Coffs International Stadium at 2:20pm