THE return of experienced lock Matt Bartlett is a timely boost for Wingham Tigers as they prepare for the Group Three Rugby League elimination semi-final against Port Macquarie at Port Macquarie's Regional Stadium tomorrow.
The Newcastle-based Bartlett missed Wingham's disappointing 34-28 loss to Port City in the last competition round last weekend because of work commitments. A win here would have ensured tomorrow's game was at Wingham. However the Tigers failed to put away a Breakers side reduced to 11 players after two were sent off.
Wingham coach Stu Baker admits the performance was below par but puts it down to inexperience.
"Sometimes it's easier to find a way to lose a game than it is to win,'' he said.
"That's behind us now. If we don't turn up to play this weekend then there won't be any more games for us.''
In fact Bartlett found some positives. The match marked the return of halfback Mitch Steel after a lengthy layoff with a hamstring strain. Steel scored two tries and was by far Wingham's best along with hooker Tyne Owen, who was also back from injury.
"They'll both be better for the run,'' Baker said, adding that Steel's kicking game will be an extra bonus for the Tigers.
Bartlett's return will be the only change to the starting 13 from last week.
The teams shared wins in the competition rounds, with the Tigers taking the first at Wingham and Port the second at Port.
"I rate Port,'' Baker said.
"I said at the start of the season they'd be among the top teams. I still think it's a close competition and any team that gets momentum on the semi-finals can go on and win it.''
Matches tomorrow will start at 10.55am tomorrow with the league tag between Taree City and Port Macquarie. Under 18s featuring Forster-Tuncurry and Old Bar kicks off at 12.05pm with the reserve grade clash between Port City and Old Bar starting at 1.25pm.
The first grade will be underway at the traditional time of 3pm.