Gallant Redmen outclassed
By DAVE MORRISON Grafton Redmen
BALLINA had to withstand a late charge from a plucky Grafton Redmen side before running out 46-32 winners in Saturday's Far North Coast first grade rugby union grand final at Oakes Oval, Lismore.
After being well behind throughout a high scoring affair, two Grafton tries in the final 15 minutes suddenly saw the possibility of a remarkable Redmen victory as they clawed back to trail by just seven point at 39-32 inside the final few minutes.
And they went within inches of scoring another to give them a chance to put the game into extra time, until a late try to Ballina centre Luke Sullivan sealed the result in injury time.
However, in reality, Ballina were clearly the superior side on the day, nullifying Grafton's key weapon, their pack, and tearing the Redmen apart through their pacey, inventive backline.
It was a remarkable opening 20 minutes to the game, in which Grafton took an early lead after barely a minute with prop Dan Hayne crashing over off a Jon Chevalley pass.
After that, it was all the Seahorses as they ripped Grafton apart out wide with three tries, two to outside centre Matt Wiggins and the other to five-eighth Michael Greenhalgh.
Suddenly, with the game just a quarter gone, Ballina had a decisive 17-5 lead, and a shell-shocked Grafton already had three players, winger Chris Adamson, fullback Justin Spurway and flanker Paul Cameron, having spent time in the blood bin.
Cameron didn't return to the field, concussed with a badly broken nose, and his speed to the breakdown was sorely missed by the Redmen as they tried to keep in touch with a rampant Ballina backline.
A Rob Brown-surge off a rolling maul gave the Redmen hope of a comeback, however, their chances were all but sniffed out with another Ballina try late, to winger Adam Gaitor finishing off more good work from his centres.
An Adamson penalty on the half-time bell cut the Ballina lead to 27-13 and it was obviously a case of Grafton having to score next to stay in the game.
Fullback Kane Scott had other ideas and his try straight after the resumption blew the score out to an apparently unassailable 34-13.
Further tries were traded, first Grafton's Al Donaghy, clearly Grafton's best player on the day, and then to Ballina's Paul Davies to keep Ballina safe, although the signs were there that the Redmen were starting to get back into the game and certainly were no going to lie down.
Rob Brown scored his second off a rolling maul, and when replacement winger Sam Gerrard scored to get within seven points, suddenly the impossible seemed possible.
In the end, Grafton left their run too late and Ballina ran out deserving winners.
Grafton gave Ballina too much of a start, those three tries early in the first half giving the Seahorses that commanding lead which they essentially held to the end, as the sides traded tries for the final hour.
The second half ended up 19-19 with three tries apiece, but all the damage was done early.
Grfaton can take great credit for their brave fightback.
At one stage, it really looked like a case of by how far for the Seahorses and to have a situation at the end where Ballina had to defend inches from their line to stop the game going into extra time was testimony to this gritty Grafton side.
Grafton were outplayed by a better side on the day, but their courage earned the respect of all and sundry.
Donaghy was sensational for the Redmen, was everywhere as Grafton struggled early. Rob Brown, after a slow start, really came into his own in the second half and was rewarded with his two tries and prop Dan Hayne as usual was a dominating force at the scrum and around the paddock.
Ballina's best came from centres Sullivan and Wiggins, while flanker Chad Duensing was everywhere.