The Great Southern Inn Eden Tigers completed the home and away season with a gritty if unspectacular win over the Cooma Stallions last Sunday at George Brown Oval.
While the result of the match meant little as both sides’ destinies for the 2012 season are already determined, perhaps the most important stat from the match was a dreadful injury to Ian Smith, who has been one of the Tigers’ standouts all year.
With a semi-final showdown against Bega next weekend Captain Coach Leigh Hennessey will be hoping some of his wounded players can get back on the field for the sudden death match.
The match started in pretty dour fashion with both sides turning over possession and struggling to come to grips with the wet and muddy conditions which certainly had an impact with Smith being stretchered off after only a few minutes with what appears to be a season-ending ankle injury.
Early exchanges featured good defence from Eden’s Holding, Tyrone Aldridge and Wade Irvin. The deadlock was eventually broken when live wire hooker Matt Evelyn cracked the Cooma line with a trademark scurry to plant the ball under the posts. The Reece Lazenby conversion put the Tigers up 6-0.
With the absence of regular forward leaders Michelin and Baker, Ben Holding and Wade Irvin stepped up, and with Matt Evelyn, Greg Nicholson, fellow Import Danny Smalley and Lazenby they worked tirelessly to hold the big Cooma forwards.
The Eden backs were given a number of chances but were unable to score, but when Nicholson sighted the line right on half time, he was not to be denied, and scored an unconverted try to take the Tigers to a 10-0 lead at the break.
Coach Hennessey was pleased with his charges’ efforts controlling the ball and not missing tackles, but the job still needed to be finished.
It looked as though the match was sealed shortly after the break when Lazenby, showed no signs of a leg injury in what was his best game for the Tigers, crossed to extend the lead to 14-0.
Joe Stewart, Dylan Wheeler and Hennessey were heavily involved in defence, which held until a freak rebound from a Cooma kick bounced into the arms of James Boller and Cooma were back in the game at 14-6.
Eden were awarded a penalty and from the restart Hennessey showed his class and experience by setting up a beautiful try for Jai Tinson.
Eden had experimented with a couple of different goal kickers with little success, and another missed conversion saw the score 18-6.
Two consecutive penalties to Cooma for ball stripping saw the Stallions right on the attack, and when they scored with about 10 minutes to go the score moved to 18-10.
With minutes remaining, Cooma again enjoyed some good fortune when another kick through rebounded up into the arms of a Cooma player who scored an easy try.
With the score now at 18-16 the home fans were looking at the clock, but when the siren sounded the Tigers had managed to hold off the fast finishing Stallions.
Best for Eden were Evelyn who scored a try and did a mountain of defence, Holding who really came of age in this match, the three Pommies Lazenby, Nicholson and Smalley, and Hennessy who was inspirational.
Shaq Aldridge and Joe Stewart were again impressive while Ian McBain showed class and experience.
Sadly this was to be the last home game by one of the all-time great Tigers, Neil Baker. Baker was rested from yesterday’s game to give his war-torn body a chance to be fit for next week’s elimination final against Bega in Bega.
We will be looking for all our loyal supporters to get up there next Sunday and support the Tigers in their campaign for their third consecutive premiership.