The Grafton Tigers celebrate after winning the 2020 AFL North Coast grand final against the Sawtell-Toormina Saints.
The Grafton Tigers celebrate after winning the 2020 AFL North Coast grand final against the Sawtell-Toormina Saints.

‘You won’t see the smile wiped off my face for a while’

IN ONE of the most remarkable sporting narratives in recent years, the Grafton Tigers have gone from whipping-boys to winners in just one season.

While on the surface, the sudden emergence of Grafton Tigers as a AFL North Coast force may be surprising, their defeat of Sawtell Toormina Saints in Saturday’s grand final is a testament to the hard work and belief of those behind the scenes.

Speaking after the Tigers’ 58 – 20 victory, club stalwart Lee Anderson was quick to praise as many people off the field as there were on, emphasising how the committee “from the president down” has stuck by the club “while they were getting belted”.

“It is a very close-knit footy club at the moment. From the junior footballers to the seniors – everyone sticks together.

AFL North Coast Grand Finals at C.ex Stadium.
AFL North Coast Grand Finals at C.ex Stadium.

“The culture around the club at the moment is really good.”

The hard work put into junior development, as well as the addition of a few of experienced players like Danny Holder, Ryan Sheather and Sam Morrison had made the difference and it clearly was a special moment for Anderson, who was himself coming back after seven years away.

“It means everything, it means a lot to me,” he said.

“To make a comeback at 42, I didn’t think I was going to do it but I did for Ben Holder and I can’t be more grateful.

“You won’t see the smile wiped off my face for a while.”

The match itself was a tough scrap and certainly won’t go down as a classic but Anderson said it was typical for a grand final.

The Tigers surround coach Adi Campbell during the the team song.
The Tigers surround coach Adi Campbell during the the team song.

“Grand finals are never pretty, it’s always the toughest game. (There are) a lot of nerves and you have just got to stick to basics,” he said.

“It was just a bit of heart and bit of determination and Adi (Campbell, Tigers Coach) asked that from us.

“Aaron Ashby had a great game, he was our X-factor today and that is what made the difference.”

Saints captain-coach Brandt Lee had been ruled out of the game by injury and cut an understandably solemn figure following the final siren.

He said the most disappointing thing was to work so hard all year, build a solid platform with last week’s great win over Coffs Harbour, only to come out and not turn up.

“I wish I could say we gave 100 per cent and lost giving it our all but I just can’t say that,” he said.

AFL North Coast Grand Finals at C.ex Stadium.
AFL North Coast Grand Finals at C.ex Stadium.

“They just wanted it more – (they had) more experience and we just couldn’t put it together.”

However, Lee didn’t want one poor performance to define the season and said there were really promising signs for the club.

“It’s definitely a stepping stone – we definitely took a step in the right direction in making the grand final,” he said.

“If the youth stick together who knows, maybe we can lift the cup next year – because we are making those steps each year.”