Future in Redmen?s hands
By DAVE MORRISON
Rugby union writer
A BERTH in the major semi final is the reward for the winner in today's final round Rugby Clash between the Grafton Jacaranda Hotel Redmen and Ballina at Ballina.
For the loser, a semi-final lottery awaits with fourth spot and a minor semi position, or fifth spot and semi-final oblivion depending on the outcome of the University ? Yamba game, bonus points and possibly for and against to decide who stays alive in 2006.
This cut-throat scenario completes the competition rounds of the most evenly contested Far North Coast season in memory and is one that will make for tremendous rugby that will test the nerves of players, referees, coaches and supporters.
For the Redmen, barring a 60point for and against differential turnaround in Grafton's favour, they need a bonus point only to secure fourth spot.
For Ballina, it's a bit closer.
This makes for an intriguing clash at Quays Reserve Ballina today.
In their two previous encounters, the home side has won relatively comfortably with 10-point margins, and this suggests that there is little between the two sides.
Both are coming off losses, Ballina comprehensively beaten by minor premiers Casino while Grafton had their opportunities, but lost their way in the final minutes last week at University.
It will probably come down to the forward battle and the set pieces in particular.
Both teams place so much emphasis on controlling possession and tend to be good front runners, and hence the battle up front will be tough, and probably decisive.
Ballina are renowned for attacking prowess in their backs, but the reality is that they perform best on the counter attack, something that the Redmen will need to make a big mental note of.
By cutting down the Seahorse's ability to counter attack, Grafton would have gone a long way to cutting down their scoring options.
While this is more easily said than done, discipline with the ball and a sound kicking game are essential ingredients in a Redmen successful game plan.
The pundits are evenly split on this one, the home ground advantage and obvious attacking potential of Ballina countered by Grafton's more consistent season and frugal defence.
Perhaps a toss of the coin, but those last two aspects in such a vital game can't be ignored and the Redmen may just sneak home and into the major semi.
Seconds are set to face Ballina in a rehearsal for the major semi, so both coaches will be keeping things close to their chest today and little will be read into this result.
It's another knockout game in Thirds with the winner to face Yamba in the semis and the loser out.