Another seven-goal starring performance by Sam Stafford enabled North Gambier to fire back into form under the new lights of Millicent’s McLaughlin Park on Saturday night.
Hurting from a heavy Anzac Day defeat just six days before round 4 of the Bendigo Bank Western Border season, the Tigers roared again, but were pushed all the way by a gallant Saints side.
Inspired by two wins in as many weeks, Millicent pressed hard and went goal for goal with North in the first term. Just three points split the pair at the first change before the Tigers snuck ahead as their key forwards imposed themselves on the game.
North coach Justin McConnell found his groove as did his partner in crime Stafford, who looked more dangerous as the minutes ticked by with great leads and an accurate left foot. Around the ground it was a battle of the veterans with Scott Flett and Steven Duldig turning back the clock by performing for their respective sides.
Flett was brought in to help youngster Henry Gould cover the Tigers’ regular ruckman Luke Powell, who spent his weekend off by running a marathon at Kangaroo Island. Duldig provided the Saints a calm head at half forward.
With only five points the difference as the three-quarter time siren approached, a grandstand finish was in prospect and North proved its side was up to the task. A long kick entering inside 50 landed in the lap of Stafford, who brushed his opponent off and kicked truly from a tight angle in the pocked to push the Tigers’ lead past double figures.
In the opening minute of the final term, McConnell and Stafford joined forces to add another major which put the home side on the back foot. After a couple more scares, North stayed ahead for the remainder of the contest to take home the premiership points 90-69.
Having regrouped from the disappointing Demons’ defeat with a walk down the raillands, Tigers’ co-captain Brad Stafford said his side was hungry to get back on winning terms. “South showed us where the benchmark is going to be at, so we needed a pretty good response and it was really pleasing to have a good four-quarter effort by the entire team,” he said.
Helped by the promising debut of junior Jack O’Connor in the backline, Brad Stafford said defender Jake Schutz rose to the challenge of shutting down the prolific Millicent forward Gene Robinson to two goals, while the midfield’s fitness was also pivotal.
“Gene has been phenomenal, so Jake was given a huge task and could not have done any better,” Stafford said. “It was a nerve-racking four-quarter game, but our end-to-end gut running from Hamish Telford and Nick McInerney was luckily enough near the end.”
The Tigers will now embark on a 2019 WBFL grand final rematch at home with West Gambier, while the Saints travel to the “Kennel” to face East Gambier.