GUNDAGAI captain-coach James Smart could not have plotted a more precise plan to keep the Tigers in the race for a drought-breaking Group 9 premiership.
Amid the jubilation of a crushing 42-10 win over Cootamundra in the minor semi-final at home on Anzac Park yesterday, Smart revealed he had set a firm agenda for skittling the Bulldogs.
“I wanted to play up tempo,” Smart said.
“The idea was to run them around as much as we could.
“They’ve got plenty of bigger blokes and we wanted to tire them out in the warm conditions.
“The last time we played it was cold and wet and that suited them.”
Sticking to the script, the Tigers set a frenetic pace and achieved a near-perfect result, with the Bulldogs big men reduced to almost walking pace at times.
Rebounding from a horror start — Cootamundra winger Sirla Pera scored in the third minute — the Tigers scored the next four tries for a 20-4 lead.
When powerhouse centre Damian Willis blasted over in the 53rd minute, Gundagai had a 24-4 lead and was off to the preliminary final against Thunder at Wagga’s Equex Centre on Saturday.
Cootamundra coach Mark Elia later took the verdict on the chin, giving credit to the winners.
“That was pretty comprehensive,” Elia said.
“They were too fast and very methodical.”
Given a dream opening, the Bulldogs were up 4-0 inside three minutes after Pera scored off a sweeping cut-out pass from skipper Aaron Byrne.
But the momentum was lost when Smart put Tyron Gorman over in the corner in the eighth minute to level the game.
Resourceful Smart turned the screws on Cootamundra by putting Willis over for surging try in the 18th minute and scoring the next off a pass from the barn-storming centre.
In between, Gundagai forwards Brett Eccleston and Kieran Pearce put in a herculean effort and set the scene for Smart.
With Gundagai in control at 14-4, Cootamundra winger Uli Takitaki made a fateful error, turning over possession in the 29th minute for retiring Tigers veteran Mat Rose to pounce for a try.
The teams swapped tries to start the second half, but the Tigers blew the score to 30-10 when Smart threw a superb long pass for Phil Latu to score in the 60th minute.
Cootamundra was denied a try to Aka Matapo five minutes later, but the Bulldogs energy levels were running low by this point and the fight was lost.