TIGERS must get off to a positive start if they are to upset Chatham in the Manning division one men’s hockey grand final timed to start at 6pm tomorrow at Taree Recreation Centre.
Coach Tony Lewis admits his side is much-the-underdog going to the decider against the defending champions. He added the club has battled a horrific injury toll this season that has seen key players including Dave Johnson, Mark Atkins and Steven George sidelined.
Atkins, a club stalwart, who has been involved with numerous premiership winning Tigers sides, has undergone knee surgery. George suffered a devastating injury when he was struck by the ball during the major semi a fortnight ago, sustaining four fractures to his lower jaw while also losing four teeth.
However, Lewis pointed out that Chatham put four goals on his team in the first half of the major semi and the game was won and lost then.
“If we are going to have any chance this week we’re going to have to start well,’’ he said.
"If we can do that and put some pressure back on them, then we could cause an upset. But we can’t let them get away from us early in the match.’’
Lewis said his side was buoyed by the 4-3 win over Sharks in the final last weekend in what he said was ‘a quality game.’
“A lot of people thought we wouldn’t win that,’’ he said.
“But the team really rallied well. That’ll give us confidence for the grand final.
“We trained really well earlier this week and this is a grand final, so we’re up for it.’’
Lewis said Bailey Pitman has been inspirational for Tigers this season and gives the side speed around the field. Goal keeper Marcelo Castro has also been a strong performer as has experienced Matt Pullen. Daniel Bowman returned to the club this year and was called into first division when the injuries started to mount and Lewis said he’s also shown some vintage form.
“Just about every player in the club has had a run in A-grade because of all the injuries we've had,’’ Lewis, who will also be in the team tomorrow, added.
However, Lewis admits Chatham will take a power of beating.
“They just don’t have a quality team, they have a quality squad,’’ he said.
“That’s from 1 to 14. They can bring a player off the bench as a replacement and don’t lose anything and that’s what we’re going to have to counter.’’
The first grade men will carry the club’s hopes of a premiership in the senior grades this year.