Ask both Mudgee Dragons coach Peter Hickman and Oberon’s injured mentor Luke Branighan just how much Sunday’s clash means to either side and it’s as if both have sat down mid-week and agreed to bring the semi-finals forward six weeks.
And with a coveted spot in the top three alongside Orange CYMS and Bathurst Panthers on the line, who could blame them.
“It’s a massive game,” Branighan said ahead of the Glen Willow clash.
“There’s still five or six weeks before finals but whoever wins this game will more than likely end up third.
“The boys know where I stand in terms of where we need to finish at the end of the regular season, and it’s in that top three.
“We’ll be treating this game like a semi-final.”
Oberon (18 points, plus-64 differential) currently occupies third spot, but a Mudgee (16, plus-97) victory will mean the Dragons leap-frog the Tigers.
On the flip side, if the Tigers win, that four-point buffer will be almost insurmountable for Hickman’s outfit.
It’s not win at all costs, but the premiership winning Dragons coach believes a win over the Tigers on Sunday will do wonders for a red V outfit that’s battled injury all season but still managed to maintain pace with the top end of the ladder.
“Really, for this side, last year’s run is still fresh in their minds so where we finish on the ladder isn’t that big a concern,” Hickman said, Mudgee claiming last year’s premiership from fifth on the ladder.
“But getting into that top three, with two bites at the cherry, the confidence we’d get from that would be immense.
“The top three is key.”
Oberon heads into the clash still minus Branighan, but the Tigers do welcome back Trent Rose to add some serious potency to the black and golds’ left edge.
For the hosts, Hickman welcomes back last year’s Dave Scott medalist Hamish Bryant into the frontrow, which pushes Nick Harvey out to the centres.
Harvey replaces the absent Lee Hicks outwide, but the Dragons’ coach says the prop-come-centre won’t look out of place in the three-quarter line.
“When you’ve got first grade footy players you find a place for them in your side, where ever that may be,” Hickman said.
The Mudgee-Tigers clash will kick-off at 2pm, with league tag starting the day at 10.30am.
OBERON: 1 Blake Fitzpatrick, 2 Matt Ballinger, 3 Abel Lefaoseu, 4 Jackson Brien, 5 Tyler Hughes, 6 Anton Wareta, 7 Blake Mills, 8 Tui Olopea, 9 Luke Carpenter, 10 Jake Dawe, 11 Mike Ingwerson, 12 Trent Rose, 13 Dave Sellers; 14 Matt Wakefield, 15 Sione Fotu-Moala, 16 Nathan Booth, 17 Josh Rivett.
MUDGEE: 1 Corin Smith, 2 Nathan Orr, 3 Nick Harvey, 4 Jared Robinson, 5 Andy Laurie, 6 Sam Wooden, 7 Tim Condon, 8 Hamish Bryant, 9 Ben Thompson, 10 Nathan O’Brien, 11 Ethan Butler, 12 Todd Munn, 13 Kurt Gudgeon; 14 Aidan Woods.