JAMES Gray isn’t angry.
He just wants to get even.
The Mitta United enforcer is the first to admit he let his side down by getting suspended at the pointy end of last season.
But Gray, who copped a two-week ban in the wake of the now infamous clash with Thurgoona, is more motivated than ever to make amends when and where it counts.
“I’m getting older and I’ve only won one premiership, which was great, but to get another one before my career ends would be fantastic,” Gray, 29, said.
“We knew we had to work harder this year.
“Mitta have always been known as slow starters, I guess, and don’t start training as early most other clubs but we all play for the same reason and want to be there at the end.
“I think it’s that bit of a mentality of having lost the biggest game of the year that gives you a bit of extra drive.
“We need to do everything we can to give ourselves the best chance of being there at the end.”
And that’s exactly what Gray’s doing.
The star forward has shed almost 10 kilograms since last season and has hit the ground running this year.
He sits second in the league goalkicking charts with 22 after six rounds, saving his best bags for Dederang-Mount Beauty and surprise, the Bulldogs.
While he still scratches his head about the saga that saw a host of players suspended by video review, Gray said there was no doubt he’d let his teammates down by getting rubbed out against fierce rival Thurgoona and no doubt it impacted his performance in last year’s grand final.
“It was disappointing, yeah,” Gray said.
“I probably shouldn’t say too much but what happened, I didn’t really agree with, and missing games meant I probably lacked the fitness.
“I started the game on the bench and when I was out of the team, the forward line had to change, but myself and a couple of others came back for the grand final and it changed everything again.
“Practice makes perfect with structures and that, so it made things hard.”
Gray has every reason to be frustrated about every game he missed. He’s making up for lost time as it is.
After rupturing a disc in his back in late 2009, the fact that Gray is still playing is a surprise in itself.
“I never thought I’d play again. The back was pretty bad and I didn’t play at all in 2010 and 2011,” he said.
“But getting around the boys again and being able to play and win a flag in 2012 has been one of the best things for me.
“It’s got a lot better this year, which means I’ve been able to work harder at training and do a lot more.”
Gray said the Blues entered Saturday’s grand final rematch against Barnawartha in solid form.
Mitta United sits second on the ladder behind Kiewa-Sandy Creek and has lost just one game for the year.
The Tigers are behind on percentage alone.
“Coming up against them (Barny), it would be nice to win, for sure,” Gray said.
“But we’ve got to concentrate on our game and forget about the rest of the stuff.
“We need to put four quarters together and play our style. That’s all we’re worried about doing.”