Fall and Rise again.
Following the heady days of back to back 1 st Grade premierships in 83-84, there was a mass exodus of players who had either retired or gone to other Leagues (e.g. Sydney 1 st Division). Typically, all clubs in the Illawarra Comp had a smattering of real top class players and a second tier of good players.
Without some of those top tier players (eg. Edwards, Veech, the Copes) the Tigers fell narrowly short of the level required to win finals. Two premiership players who had stayed with the Club: Peter Burton and Mick Smith won the Best & Fairest Award in 1985 and 1986 respectively.
Support for the Senior Club had also decreased but the Juniors, who at times suffered from a lack of numbers, were unearthing some new players which would eventually take the Club forward again.
Talented youngsters such as Sean Caldow, Bill Byrnes, Keith North, Andrew Osadczuk, Jeff Burton, Bruce Speers, Rod (Rocket)Valdivia and Wayne Renshaw had either come through the ranks or were just emerging.
In fact, Speers won the 1986 Reserve Grade B&F award and was a member of 1sts/Reserves till his sad passing in 1991.
The next year started slowly but by the end of ’87 there was a sense of anticipation arising again. Andrew Osadczuk had now realised his potential with a stunning B&F win in 1 st Grade on a famous presentation night in the club’s history which included some players taking retribution on a street gang who had attacked a few Tigers on the way home.
St George Coach Chris Foster attended the night and pledged to Coach the Tigers in 1988. He brought players such as Wayne Cope & Snake back to the Club as well as enticing a host of Uni players such as Busby, Scruff and the late Bruce Picknell.
So, in 1988 with those players added to the squad which included strong men like Frog, Chook, Byrnes, the Burtons, Frank Haggarty and a star in the making (Rocket); player-Coach Chris Foster had us top of the table in both Grades after 2 games. Chris was a top-class trainer with a real knowledge of the game and we were riding on a lot of emotion.
However, emotion won’t get you all the way – whilst we were good enough to make it to the finals (and probably should have won the 1 st semi), we just didn’t have the team maturity to go further; we lost to arch-rivals Port Kembla at Kiama’s old ground. It didn’t help that the Coach suffered a punctured lung in the 1 st Qtr and had to go to hospital.
Peter Burton romped away with the 1 st grade B&F in ’88. Curiously, 1987 winner Chook won the Reserve Grade B&F, he must have doubled up a fair bit that year.
In the context of our recent past we had improved immensely, but the challenge was about to get bigger.