5 straight grand final wins in a row for union champions
WOLLONGBAR-Alstonville have taken out a fifth straight Far North Coast rugby union grand final in a hard-fought 19-14 win over Lennox Head at Crozier Field, Lismore, on Saturday.
Brothers Ben and Daniel Damen scored first-half tries to give the Pioneers a 12-0 lead after 21 minutes.
It was a gutsy effort from Lennox Head, which defended well with no real possession until five-eighth Hugo Marks scored out wide just before the break.
Big game experience showed when the defending premiers forced their way over right on half-time through second-rower Matt Scott to extend the lead to 19-7.
The only second-half points came from a penalty try when winger James Vidler was yellow-carded for a deliberate knockdown when attacking the ball in a two-on-one out wide.
It was a tough call that put the Trojans back in the frame at 19-14 and second-rower Hayden Blair almost crossed late in the game when he was held up over the tryline in kicking range.
Not only was the try disallowed but it was called back another 40m for a penalty against them at the breakdown for an infringement minutes earlier where they had the original advantage.
The Pioneers paved the way for the win with their defence while centre Matt Nean and five-eighth Ben Damen were a constant threat in attack.
In the presentation after the game, Damen was also named FNC best and fairest and the representative player of the year for his efforts with NSW Country.
"We gave it everything we had, we didn't start as well as we would have liked and Ben showed his class with that early try," Lennox Head coach Jason McCombie said.
"That was probably the only real difference in the end because there wasn't much between us after that.
"We changed the way we played in the past month and we've taken on these teams up the middle.
"It nearly worked again today but we just weren't quite good enough."
The Pioneers lost second-rower Steve Mison in the first 10 minutes when he went down with an ankle injury.
It was a seventh straight grand final appearance for Wollongbar-Alstonville, with the clubs having now won five each since 2008.
"It's a celebration for everyone involved and most of these guys are club juniors," Pioneers coach Ern Sandral said.
"It was a war of attrition out there today and we played ugly in the second half but we got the result we came for.
"Our defence won us the game and it was a testament to both teams because it was there to be taken by either side at the end."
In other games on Saturday:
Ballina claimed back-to-back premierships with a 20-14 win over Lennox Head in reserve grade. The Trojans played almost the entire game with 14 men after flanker Mackenzie Winchester was red-carded for a lifting tackle in the first 10 minutes.
Yamba were dominant in a 29-3 win over Evans Head in the President's Cup grand final.