THE mind games might have started early.
Fresh from Southcity smacking Gundagai 28-12 in the Group 9 qualifying final at Harris Park on Saturday, cagey Bulls captain-coach Daniel Fitzhenry was declaring the form would not be good enough to upstage Albury in a grand final qualifier at Greenfield Park next weekend.
Taking stock of a feverish five tries to two victory over the Tigers, Fitzhenry promptly turned the heat on the Bulls by saying they would need to up the ante in the major semi- final against the Thunder on the border.
“Sure, we’ll have to improve,” Fitzhenry said.
“They’re the benchmark (team) of the past two years.
“We might have beaten them (Albury) up here a couple of weeks ago, but it will be different down there.
“Remember last year Gundagai beat them (Albury) in the last round and went down to Albury and got smashed.”
The Tigers history lesson aside, Fitzhenry’s cautionary words were almost certainly a reflection of his frustration at the serious injury toll from the game, rather than the performance of his team.
In a double blow, the Bulls lost key players Nathan Rose and Pani Manawatu with leg injuries during the decisive win.
Delight turned to distress for the Bulls moments after centre Ned Mortimer shrugged off three defenders to score a try a try in the 51st minute.
Although Mortimer’s controversial try — Tigers players thought he had held in a previous tackle — pushed Southcity out to a 20-12 lead, the celebrations were restrained.
At the same time as Scott Bowden was booting the conversion a minute later, Manawatu was struggling from the field with a leg injury.
A sorry situation only turned dire when Rose also joined the casualty crew.
Barely two tackles following the restart of play, Rose was virtually carried from the ground with an ankle problem which has him in considerable doubt for the duel with the Thunder.
On crutches after the game, Rose said the ankle was “worse” than it had been a week earlier.
“I won’t know exactly how bad until I have scans and see the physio,” Rose said.
“It’s definitely worse than when I did it last week.”
According to Fitzhenry, the impact of the dual setback only served to strengthen the resolve of the team and showed the resilience of the Bulls.
“We lost two hookers in the space of few minutes,” he said.
“The great thing was that Peter Little was able to take over and do a terrific job.”
Fitzhenry is adamant the ability of a core of players to move freely from one position to another is a bonus for a coach.
“We’re blessed we’ve got three backs who can just go into the forwards and not lose a beat,” he said.
“They (Mortimer, Wil Merritt and Bernie Trevaskis) really take the pressure off.”
With the teams trading two tries each in the first half, the Tigers led 12-10 by half-time but had lost gun forward Peter Magnone with a shoulder injury in the process.
Albury Thunder is expected to be at full strength against the Bulls with coach Josh Cale recovering from a calf injury.
Meanwhile, Cootamundra kept its season alive by defeating Kangaroos 36-30 at Fisher Park.