Rhinos run out of steam

THE Grafton Rhinos conceded 34 second-half points to hand reigning Northern Rivers Regional Rugby League premiers Byron Bay a 48-24 victory at McKittrick Park, South Grafton, yesterday.

The Rhinos, especially five-eighth Ray Mercy and centre Dwayne Duke, conjured moments of brilliance in the first half to lead 20-14 at the main break. But tiring bodies and minds could not prevent Byron from steam-rolling to a 24-point winning margin and a perfect start to their title defence.

Rhinos captain/coach Xavier Sullivan said he could not fault his troops for their first half display, but retained a more sombre mood when discussing the second half.

“The first 40 I was happy with, we showed a lot of potential. (But) I'm disappointed with the second 40,” he said.

Indeed, the Rhinos were away to the perfect start when, as early as the fourth minute, Mercy charged towards the Byron defence and then somehow slipped a miraculous ball to Duke to score the first of his three tries. However, Byron took the offensive almost immediately after the kick-off and were rewarded when some slack Rhinos defence allowed Mike Chapman to cross for Byron's first try. The match then took on the characteristics of a heavyweight fight as both teams ducked, weaved and traded blows.

Duke scored in the corner from a quick tap; Byron's Jayden King scored in the corner from some quick hands before doubling his tally minutes later; Mercy strolled over after Byron fumbled the ball in front of its line, and; Duke landed the last punch of the round with his hat-trick out wide.

At halftime the points, and decision, were with the home-team.

However, there was still another half to play, and it is one the Rhinos players will not look back on with much fondness, as Byron ran in 34 points to the Rhinos four.

“First half was a bit scratchy,” Byron first grade coach Nathan Cross said.

“(But) It was a good second half from our point of view ... I was happy with our attitude. I think we got a good roll on as there big men got tired.”

The Rhinos' lack of match time was evident for all to see in the second half as their defenders slid off tackles and left gaping holes in defence for Byron to exploit.

The Rhinos' attack also failed to click into gear in the second stanza, a stark contrast to the way the Byron players were able to run lines, off-load in tackles and seize half chances.

“We haven't had the best preparation coming into it,” Sullivan said.

“The field wasn't ready for us to train on till this morning because council had it closed all week.

“But I don't want to make excuses.”

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