THE premiership aspirations of two clubs have been dealt a blow after Wagga Tiger Nathan Cooke was ruled out for the season with an anterior cruciate ligament injury.
Cooke, in the midst of a fine season for the Tigers, hurt his knee in a loss to Mangoplah-Cookardinia United-Eastlakes a fortnight ago.
It is set to also rule the fast bowler out of South Wagga's first grade cricket premiership defence later this year.
Tigers coach Murray Stephenson said Cooke's injury had a "flattening" effect on the squad.
"It's a bit heartbreaking for the group, as a coach I was pretty distraught about it," he said.
"He's a dream to coach and if you had 21 like him fronting up every week you'd be lucky. You give him a job and he does it, we were pretty bummed out about that.
"He's been having a great season, playing a number of different roles for us. He just always finds a way to contribute and his effort is super. It's been a bit flattening to be honest."
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The fifth-placed Tigers (5-5) host bottom-placed Griffith at Robertson Oval on Saturday in a must-win match as they battle for finals spots with Collingullie-Glenfield Park (6-5) and Turvey Park (4-6).
Small forward Will Keogh will make a timely return from a long-term ankle injury suffered during pre-season after a couple of strong displays in the reserves.
Charlie Bance (hamstring) is also back in the side at half-back, while Josh Staines and Jock Cornell are back.
"Will's done pretty well to get back and has kept himself in good shape," Stephenson said.
"Keogh gives us some explosiveness up forward, he's another goal scorer which we've really needed.
"You're never too pleased to lose a player like that (Cooke), but someone steps up and gets an opportunity. Will comes in with this week and we're confident he will put his best foot forward for us in the back half of the season."
A win is critical for the Tigers given they face top three sides Coolamon and Ganmain-Grong Grong-Matong over the next fortnight.
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