By MITCHELL DALE
BELLINGEN'S chances of qualifying for their maiden Coffs Harbour and District Cricket Association first grade grand final have received a major blow, with experienced skipper Chris Moran battling a torn calf muscle.
Moran has become the linchpin of his side's sometimes-fragile middle order in the latter half of this season, with his experience and cool head helping to steer the side out some potentially dangerous situations.
Bellingen will meet Coffs Hotel Tigers today and tomorrow at Fitzroy Oval with the winner booking a place in next weekend's grand final against Sawtell.
It is Bellingen's first appearance in a top-grade preliminary final since joining the CHDCA five summers ago, but they are likely to go into the match without their skipper.
"I'll let you know if I'm fit at about 12.30pm tomorrow," Moran said yesterday when asked whether he will be right to play this weekend.
"It's pretty s%?thouse at the moment.
"I'd say I would be a 50-50 chance."
If Moran is not fit, more pressure will fall onto the shoulders of the side's top order, led by Moran's son Jordan and all-rounders Justin Gilbert and Bruce Mills.
"I'm sure they will realise there is a bit more pressure on them, but I don't think it will choke them," Moran said.
"If all our players perform to their ability, I think we will come out on top.
"There is a perception that once you lose six wickets, you're gone, but we bat right down to eleven.
"I think we have a greater depth of talent than they (Tigers) do."
Tigers hold a 2-0 record over Bellingen this season, but both captains dismissed that record yesterday.
"It won't affect us at all," Moran said.
"We haven't lost a game since Christmas and are on a good roll."
Similarly, Tigers captain-coach Brad Greenshields said there would be very little psychological advantage gained from the two victories.
"Both matches were very tight and probably could have gone either way," Greenshields admitted.
"The two matches we played were before Christmas and both sides have come a long way since then."
Greenshields, who was absent from last weekend's heavy loss to Sawtell, said that result was out of his players's minds.
"Look, from what I have heard we were smashed like guitars last week, but I think the general feeling among the guys was that if we were going to slip up, last week was the week to do it," he said.
"I think the players realise there are no second chances after last week, if anything I think the urgency will go up a cog."
After Sawtell's bowlers managed to slow Tigers' run flow to a dribble last weekend, Greenshields called for his batsmen to be more alert for short runs in the preliminary final.
"We don't have any worries with the four-ball, but there are not many of them handed up in finals," he said.
"We need to make the quick singles work and turn over the strike more, which will put their fielders under pressure."
Tigers will be without left-arm quick Kieran Hogan, who has succumbed to a shoulder injury sustained against Nana Glen in the final round of the competition.
His spot will be taken by another left-arm paceman in Nick Rowe, who will play his first match in the top grade for the season.