IN a heated game dotted with illegalities and controversial referee decisions, Murwillumbah absorbed plenty of punishment and defied the odds to snatch a remarkable 20-14 victory against the Grafton Ghosts yesterday.
Reminiscent of last year's grand final, both teams were staggering around like punch-drunk boxers after the final whistle sounded in the brutal top-of-the-table NRRRL clash.
The Mustangs forwards proved too powerful, whacking their more-fancied opponents with some stinging defence while their backs managed to come up with the big plays when it mattered.
The game threatened to boil over on several occasions with both packs desperate to gain advantage and field position.
But it was Mustangs representative hooker Sam Panting who caused the defending premiers the most headaches with his sniping darts out of acting-half.
The Ghosts drew first blood when back-rower Aaron Hartmann crossed out wide.
However the visitors hit back almost immediately after a mistake from the kick-off by the Ghosts gifted the Mustangs perfect field position.
From the ensuing scrum a perfectly timed move allowed five-eighth Matt Goodfellow to slice through a gaping hole to score next to the uprights.
The Ghosts continued to stretch the Mustangs defence and as a result centre Khan Williams slipped a basketball pass to his winger to score in the corner giving them an 8-6 lead.
Minutes later Hartmann was in the action again, this time breaking through some feeble Mustangs' defence before off-loading to a flying Mitchell Lollback.
The Ghosts' fullback looked certain to score but the referee ruled he was held up over the line, much to the astonishment of the home crowd.
The decision proved crucial as the Mustangs, through the booming right boot of Goodfellow, found themselves camped on the Ghosts line. Quick hands gave winger Michael Keating a free run to the line.
The Mustangs led 10-8 at the break in the second half their big boppers started to make easy metres.
For Mustangs' coach Troy McLean it was sweet revenge after losing last year's decider.
"It's the biggest thing in the comp to play the Ghosts at home and beat them," a delighted McLean said.
"We worked hard all week and as I said we've been waiting since last September for another shot.
"We have the best hooker in the competition and our forwards worked hard even on the back of a lopsided penalty count."
Ghosts captain-coach Ryan Farrell said there were no excuses for his side's performance.
"I was pretty happy with the boys' effort. We now know where we stand and we have a few things to work on," Farrell said.
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