Coffs Harbour fall to Tigers in AFL North Coast opener
IT HAD been 1,183 days since the Grafton Tigers last won an AFL North Coast senior game, but on Saturday that duck was well and truly broken.
Coming up against defending premiers Coffs Harbour Breakers, few thought the Tigers could get the job done but a 13.13 (91)-10.14 (74) upset was just reward for Grafton's efforts at Fitzroy Oval.
A new found optimism surrounds the Tigers this season with dual premiership coach Adi Campbell back at the helm.
The Tigers ripped out of the blocks, kicking five goals to Breakers one in the opening term.
Breakers heeded this warning and settled into their normal style of play in the second quarter to close the gap to four points at half time.
Early in the third stanza, the Tigers' challenge looked to be waning as Breakers started to control more of the play, but they were able to hang tough and maintain a 10-point gap.
The last quarter resembled the first with the Tigers roaring home with six goals to two to not only record victory, but to fire a warning shot to the rest of the competition.
Tigers junior coach and member of the Grafton brains trust, Chris Leslie, said it was one of the strongest performances from a Tigers outfit he'd ever seen.
"It was great. The seniors got up by 15 and the under-17s won by 100 points or so," Leslie said.
"That was one of the best games of footy I've seen in a long time. We got away to an early lead. By three-quarter time they were about 10 points ahead of us. The guys just kicked on in the last quarter, they were really hungry for the ball."
Leslie attributed the win to a strong injection of youth alongside some experienced heads leading the way.
"There would have been half a dozen under-17s playing but they looked like seasoned first graders, they played fantastic football," he said.
"Nico Wheaton played in the ruck, a 17-year-old, and he dominated."
Luke Stanford and Benny Holder provided the toughness and stability, while young guns Clancy O'Neill and Wheaton played their roles perfectly.
Wheaton kicked five goals, while O'Neill and returning Grafton Ghosts star Mitch Lollback added two apiece.
The Breakers best players included Tyrone Jones, Michael McMahon, and Nick Stanlan-Velt who kicked four goals. President Jay Guthrie added a further four goals in a display that shows plenty of promise for the rest of the season.
In Port Macquarie, the Magpies and Sawtell Toormina Saints were neck and neck for three quarters before the Saints kicked away in the last term to seal victory.
In the women's match of the round, Northern Beaches Blues and Sawtell Toormina Saints played out a thrilling encounter which is expected to highlight just how close the premiership race will be in 2020.
AFL North Coast Senior Results
Grafton Tigers 13.13 (91) defeated Coffs Harbour Breakers 10.14 (74)
Sawtell Toormina Saints 7.14 (56) defeated Port Macquarie Magpies 5.6 (36)
AFL North Coast Women's Results
Sawtell Toormina Saints 3.3 (21) defeated Northern Beaches Blues 2.7 (19)