Destined to go right to the wire
By DAVE MORRISON
There's never a sure bet in a grand final, but given the sort of season seen in Far North Coast Rugby in 2005, today's premiership decider between Grafton and Ballina at Lismore will go right down to the wire.
It has been a season that has been remarkable for its closeness and the last time these two teams met, in the last competition round, was the perfect example.
In a game where either side could have missed out on the semis with a big loss, the Grafton Jacaranda Hotel Redmen got home courtesy of a last-minute penalty goal.
It is history now that that goal propelled the Redmen into the major semi final, in which they defeated Casino in almost identical circumstances to get themselves into the decider.
Ballina had to do it the tough way from fourth spot, but will be chockfull of confidence after successive wins over Lismore then Casino to earn their right to tackle Grafton.
While the result may be wide open, other things seem to be a little more predictable.
The match should see a huge battle up front, the big powerful Grafton pack rightfully earning the respect of all and sundry, however they will be sorely tested by a somewhat underrated Ballina eight.
Grafton will try to take control of the game up front and use their big, physical pack to dominate the Seahorses.
Ballina must compete in the forward battles if they are to have any chance, and hence a hard, physical confrontation at the breakdown is ensured.
The set pieces should be evenly split, especially in the lineout although the Grafton scrum led by Dan Hayne may be a shade strong.
The backrow may the key, the side that dominates here will dominate the 50/50 ball and probably win the day.
Grafton flankers Tim Landrigan and Paul Cameron have not received the plaudits that others have, but have proven that they are as good as any in the competition.
Cameron has an added reason to play a big one today, this being his 100th game for the Redmen.
Ballina's obvious strength is in their backline and it is here that they will fancy themselves to take charge.
Their ability to spread the ball wide, particularly in counter attack is their chief asset and will test the Redmen defensive composure and positional play in the three-quarter line.
Grafton's ability to keep their alignment and to cut down on broken-field opportunities will be as crucial as Ballina's ability to nullify the Grafton pack.
It is shaping as a terrific and classic confrontation be- tween two confident sides with differing styles.
It will likely take the full 80 minutes plus injury time to get a result.
Grafton's greater consistency and demonstrated to play with confidence under pressure, as shown in their major semi-final win, looks to give them the slightest of edges.
The Redmen to win.
Spectator buses leave the Jacaranda Hotel at 11.30am sharp.
A HUGE Grafton pack may hold the key to the Red- men's attempt to defend their second grade title against Ballina today.
Props Matt Woods and Beau Brotherson, plus locks Craig Chad and Matt Runge, provide a massive platform for the Redman to launch a game plan that will seek to starve Ballina of decent possession.
It would have to be one of the biggest second grade packs seen in years, but one that is deceptively mobile and has proven that it can go for the full 80 mintes.
Grafton were dynamic a fortnight ago in beating Ballina, their pack taking its toll and dominating a final 20 minutes after the scores were level mid-way through the second stanza.
Grafton's rolling mauls and control of the rucks and tackle kept Ballina on the back foot and coach Steve Hackett will be looking for more of the same today.
Hackett also has plenty of experience to call on, with veteran five-eighth Tony Norton still displaying all his skills in the first grade major semi.
He plays his 100th Club game today.
The key may be the ability of the Grafton centres, Shan Warren and Lee Green, to again shut down the dangerous Ballina backs, as they did in the semi-final.
Once more, it will be a game of contrasting styles and Ballina's dangerous attack will mean that the Redmen can't relax for a moment.
However, Grafton have shown through their successive wins over their rivals, that they have the game to win and should start favourites.