THE Oberon Tigers were playing for pride in their last game for the 2019 season when they hosted competition favourites Bathurst Panthers on a glorious Oberon Sunday afternoon.
Many at the ground rated the first half the best footy of the season as both teams set a hectic pace in an intense game which the visitors ultimately took out 28-10.
Farren Lamb and Andy Adams were both unavailable for the Tigers, but this cleared the path for local Jake Foley to make his first-grade debut, taking up his post on the wing.
It was a torrid affair as both teams ripped in from the outset. The Tigers' big man Josh Starling was inspirational as he fearlessly charged into the Panthers pack, setting an example for his team-mates to follow.
Starling was well-supported in the early exchanges by the likes of Abel Lefaoseu and Jake Dawe, who proved to be an impenetrable wall in defence.
The first clean break wasn't made until the 13th minute as the Tigers' mercurial Matt Ranse stepped on the gas to split the Panthers defence wide open.
With the vocal crowd urging on the Tigers, it was Richie Peckham who looked to have put the first try on the board as he stepped through the defence untouched to plant the ball down over the white-wash. The crowd's roar soon subsided as the match officials deliberated for a moment before disallowing the try for obstruction.
With 10 minutes remaining in the half and tensions on a knife's edge, Panthers were next to cross the tryline but they too were denied by the match official, who ruled a forward pass.
Shortly after, though, Panthers winger Mackenzie Atkins was able to skirt the sideline and managed to stay in-field to post the first four-pointer of the day. Willie Wright converted in the windy conditions and the Tigers found themselves 6-0 down with half-time approaching.
New recruit Daniel Rodgers made his first-grade debut coming off the bench and settled in to the battle as the Tigers pack fought and scrapped to get back on level terms. Their efforts were rewarded as Starling crashed over from short range with one minute left on the clock until the break. The conversion attempt was unsuccessful and both teams went to regroup with the scores all but locked up at 6-4 to the visitors.
In the sheds, Starling was confident that the wind advantage and crowd support would get his team home if the players continued to put in the effort and didn't lose concentration and commitment.
However, Panthers captain-coach Doug Hewitt must have found inspiration of his own at half-time as the Panthers resumed with a try minutes after the kick-off to take the score out to 10-4. Unable to recover from the earlier onslaught, the Tigers were further shell-shocked when Panthers were in again after just six minutes of play to extend their lead to 14-4.
It took a man-of-the-match performance from Jackson Brien to get the Tigers back in the game. Charging on to the ball, Brien sliced through from his side of halfway only to be dragged down with the tryline looming. With the shackles now broken, the Tigers swung into attack to send 'man mountain' Tye Simmonds smashing over for a try which Matt Ranse was able to convert.
The Panthers responded by showing their competition credentials for the remainder of the match. Instead of panicking and trying to protect their slim lead of 14-10, they regrouped and consolidated their efforts to score three unanswered tries to take out the match 28-10.
Despite the scoreline, it was a great effort from the Tigers, who never gave up. Jackson Brien was outstanding, taking out the players' player and man-of-the-match awards, and was well-supported by Dawe, Lefaoseu and Blake Fitzpatrick.
The Panthers were too strong in the other games, although our league tag side were unlucky after leading early on in their game to eventually fall 18-4.
The Tigers will be holding their presentation night on Saturday, September 21 at the Oberon Leagues Club. All sponsors and supporters are warmly welcome and we look forward to seeing you there.
Details will follow.