A DEPLETED squad of Tigers missing eight regular first-grade players took on ladder-leaders Orange Hawks last Sunday and came away with a gutsy 22-20 win against all odds.
The game was a dead rubber for the Tigers as they could not have advanced beyond their fifth place on the ladder irrespective of the result. But that didn’t matter to the proud Oberon men.
Ravaged by injuries themselves, the first division side made the ultimate sacrifice by forfeiting their game so they could send troops to bolster the premier league run-on side.
And their troops stood up and delivered, with the likes of Zac Rowlandson, his brother Zane, Ethan Barker, Trent Guihot and Senio Lefaoseu more than holding their own.
The game didn’t start well for the Tigers. The Hawks looked ominous from the kick-off and, within one minute, had scored to lead 6-0.
Oberon responded and, through a Ben McAlpine 20/40, had the Hawks defending their line. Poor Tigers ball control let the Hawks off the hook and, not long after, the blue and whites were able to stretch their lead to 12-0 at the 20th minute mark.
Cheap turnovers were punishing the Tigers and the Hawks had a roll on. Raid after Hawks raid was repelled as Josh Starling and Mickey Hawkings led the Tigers pack. It took a brilliant play from McAlpine to regather his own kick and get the Tigers on the scoreboard.
Now the Tigers were focused and for the remainder of the half they peppered the Hawks defence and were full of running. As the half-time siren sounded, they trailed 12-4.
In the sheds, it was the players who spoke first. They knew their ball control was not up to standard and there was a strong belief that the Hawks would tire and they would run them down.
Coach Luke Branighan, still on the injured list, instructed his players to use the wind in their favour and tweak their attack.
The Tigers shot out of the gates in the second half and immediately put the Hawks under serious pressure.
Matt Ballinger capitalised on the momentum when he put the ball on his toe and regathered on the half-volley to dive over and score the try of the match.
Tui Oloapu added the extras and the Tigers were on the chase at 12-10.
From this point on, the patched-up Oberon team were playing with a full head of steam.
Starling, Hawkins, Oloapu and Dawe were making ground at will as the loyal Oberon supporters in the stands urged their boys on.
On the back of sustained pressure on the Hawks tryline, Oloapu proved more than a handful as he dragged defenders across the line for Oberon to take the lead at 16-12.
There’s a reason the Hawks are competition leaders and they showed that in their response as they struck back to level the scores at 16-all.
The Hawks are widely known as one of the best hosts in the competition, but with seven minutes remaining, the electronic scoreboard failed and the officials were left scrambling to keep the crowd informed.
Apple devices were in overdrive as Josh Starling smashed through the Hawks line to find Hawkins backing up. He charged 20 metres to score, dragging Hawks defenders with him over the line.
Oloapu converted and, with three minutes remaining, the Tigers looked home against all odds at 22-16.
Footy games go for 80 minutes and the Hawks’ never-say-die approach landed them a try with seconds ticking down.
At 22-20, the Hawks had a chance to draw the game after the siren. In the stands, the Oberon supporters held their collective breath, but, cruelly for the Hawks, the ball smashed into the upright and bounced back into the field of play.
The under 18s and the ladies’ league tag side both played strong games, but went down to the home teams. The league tag side, in particular, put up a great effort against the second-placed Hawks. The girls have had a great season and are a credit to the Oberon club.
The future for the under 18s squad is bright with many of their players earmarked to make an impact in the senior teams in the years to come.
This week the Tigers will lick their wounds thanks to a bye round. Oberon will still finish fifth and qualify for an elimination semi-final, but it will be an away game. We’ll see who we face, but the Tigers are coming.