A HISTORIC first Hampden league finals appearance awaits Portland on Sunday, yet Tigers coach Jarrod Holt is imploring his players to make the most of the occasion.
The league’s most western-based side will take on Warrnambool in the elimination final at Port Fairy’s Gardens Oval, some 10 seasons after joining the competition and an initial 2021 campaign was ruined by COVID-19.
It’s a moment the club isn’t taking lightly, with the Tiger Army set to make the trek east in droves in the hope a historic first campaign can go deep into September.
“We’re really proud of being in this position,” Holt said.
“Last year we were close until the year didn’t quite finish up but it’s (reaching finals) been a long-time in the making.
“We’re a really proud club and have had a lot of success in the past in other leagues but it has taken a little bit of time (here) for various reasons.
“We’re really proud of where we’re at and hopefully our trajectory is still on the way up and we can start with a win this weekend.”
Having started the season in blistering fashion, winning their first 11 of their first 13 games, Portland’s run to the finals might have left a little to be desired.
Faced with the prospect of finishing inside the top three and gaining a double chance, the Tigers faded in the last month and half of the season, losing important games to Camperdown and Terang Mortlake, which ultimately cost them third spot.
While Holt conceded his side’s performances were disappointing in those matches, he is confident the Tigers are close to rediscovering their best football following improved displays against Koroit and South Warrnambool in recent weeks.
“Our form hasn’t been great the last month to six weeks,” he said.
“I guess the obvious thing is we’re pretty light-bodied and the heavier grounds haven’t suited us much but we’ve got to be better with our contested ball.
“Last weekend we were pretty happy, but it’s hard to read a lot into it as South didn’t have much to play for and I guess we didn’t either.
“We were happy with some of the things we saw but our performances against Koroit and South the last couple of weeks are holding us in better stead than we probably were tracking.”
Portland has had the Warrnambool’s measure in 2022, and while the Tigers will take confidence from those victories, their coach is asking them to defend strongly and implement its “run and gun” style if they are to progress beyond week one.
“It’s probably obvious that our style of footy differs from the top few sides but we think for the cattle we’ve got that suits us,” Holt said.
“Sometimes we execute it well and sometimes we don’t and that seems to be whether we play well or not.
“We do flick it around a bit to try and get some guys with a bit of run…if we can get it forward quick and hurt sides that way (that’s our go).
“The thing I think we’ve done well the last few weeks is we’ve defended a lot better, which I think we went away from a bit of late.
“We need to make sure our pressure is up, we’re defending well and we’re making the right decisions to defend.”
Meanwhile, North Warrnambool defender Tom Batten will celebrate his 250th game in the Eagles qualifying final showdown against South Warrnambool.
Batten has been a mainstay at Bushfield throughout his career and will be hoping to play an integral role in the Eagles quest for a first senior premiership.’
The two sides will meet at Koroit’s Victoria Park, with the winner to take on Koroit for a chance to book a spot in the grand final the following week.
Both finals this weekend will be broadcast live on Hampden League Live (94.5FM) and live-streamed on the 3YB FM Facebook page.