The Batemans Bay Tigers will play in a Preliminary Final for the first time in more than a decade after a tough 20-14 win over the Moruya Sharks at Ack Weyman Oval.
The Tigers came racing out of the blocks, and prolific centre Tom Bollard was in for the first try inside the first four minutes.
Bollard ran onto a well-placed grubber from halfback Luke Farmer, and stepped around Sharks’ fullback Dennis Green for the try. Farmer converted to give the Tigers an early 6-0 lead.
The first half became an arm wrestle from that point, as neither side was willing to take a backwards step either with the ball or without it.
The efforts from both sides came to a head 10 minutes out from half time, as Tigers’ winger Sean Deaves intercepted a pass, and looked likely to score.
Sharks’ winger Shaun Staples wasn’t willing to give up though, and he produced the best defensive chase of the season in cutting Deaves down just metres short of the line.
Unfortunately for the Sharks, Dean Scott gave away a penalty for offside in the aftermath, and was sent to the sin bin for 10 minutes as a result.
The Tigers took advantage of the one-man advantage, as five-eighth Ken McGuinness put in the perfect grubber for young winger Jacob Bradbury.
Farmer couldn’t convert from the sideline, leaving the scores at 10-0 in favour of the Bay.
The second half started much like the first for the Tigers, as youngster Jack Colovatti scored under the posts inside the first five minutes.
When Michael Tadich scored off a Mason Harrison offload just six minutes later, the Tigers looked home-and-hosed with a 20-0 lead.
However, the Sharks worked their way back into the match, grabbing the momentum through the middle of the park.
They were rewarded at the hour mark as Sam Howlett finished off some great work from Chris Rose and Dean Scott to get his side on the board.
That try kicked off a late rally for the home side, as both Shaun Staples and Dennis Green crossed the line to get the Sharks back to within six points with five minutes remaining.
The home side almost tied the match up late through Caine Brierley, but he was stopped just inches from the line in the dying seconds. The Sharks lost the ball on the next play to seal the Tigers’ 20-14 victory.
Sharks’ acting captain Chris Rose said he was disappointed with the result, but proud of his team’s efforts.
“It’s always tough to bow out like that, but I’m so proud of everyone that was out there, and I could not question the commitment from anyone,” he said.
“We finished with four injured blokes on the bench, and a few guys had to play longer minutes, but that’s footy.”
Rose said the painful exit from the finals could help the club go a step further in 2019.
“Sometimes you’ve got to learn through hard losses, and I really think we can learn a lot from tonight,” he said. “It’s disappointing, but I’ve taken a big positive out of our efforts.
“It’s a very young squad, and I think every player improved over the season, which has to be a good sign.”
Tigers’ captain/coach Luke Farmer was “speechless” in the aftermath.
“It’s an unreal feeling,” he said. “To beat Moruya like that, they’re a really tough side who came back and gave us a scare.
“We were lucky enough to get away with the win.”
Farmer said the side will need to work on their late-game fade-outs if they’re a chance against Bombala next weekend.
“I think it’s our headspace at the end of games, we’ve got to get our heads right,” he said. “We showed a couple of weeks ago against Moruya that we have the ability to play for 80 minutes.
“We’ve just got to get that right, and we’ll be hard to stop.”
Farmer called on every Tigers’ fan to get down to Mackay Park next weekend.
“The whole town has to get there on the weekend,” he said. “We can’t win it without them.”