Grand final replayed in full
By Dave Morrison
DEFENDING premiers Ballina affirmed their credentials with a convincing 16-0 win over the previously undefeated Grafton in what can only be described as ordinary conditions at South Grafton on Saturday.
Steady rain made for slippery and heavy conditions that made what transpired, a hard and physical confrontation, inevitable.
The Mighty River Redmen played solidly, but were outplayed by a Ballina pack that made the most of the conditions, dominating the lineouts to telling effect and generally having the better of the confrontations at the breakdown.
It was hard, gruelling rugby suited to the constant rain and loved by the purists, where defence and rucking were the order of the day.
From the outset, it was clear that points were to be at a premium, which meant that possession and field position were going to be crucial.
In both aspects, Ballina just shaded the Redmen, becoming more dominant as the game wore on.
In the first half there was little between the sides, two penalty goals giving the visitors a 6-0 lead at the break.
It was a deceptively slight lead that was always going to be hard to peg back in conditions that made running rugby virtually impossible.
Neither side had the ascendency at that stage, Ballina adjusting just slightly better to the wet track, their lead owing to shading Grafton in the possession stakes and some lax discipline from the Redmen.
The first 20 minutes of the second stanza were decisive.
The Ballina pack cranked it up and Grafton, while hitting hard in defence, couldn't get continuity of possession and hence had little field position.
Inevitably, the points came, first a try from a kick ahead that resulted in a scramble for the loose ball in the Grafton in goal, and midway through the half, a second from sustained pressure on the Grafton line.
From there, Ballina closed the game out, winning their own ball and kicking downfield.
Grafton tried hard, played some good football, but came up empty.
In the end, it was a return to physical confrontation and brutal defence, a marked change form the cricket scores of early in the season and both sides can hold their heads high for wholehearted performances.
Ballina deserved their win and have raised the bar, the scoreline perhaps fair but arguably they were not quite a 16 point better side.
For Grafton, their effort was great, but their discipline at times was poor.
Ultimately this may have cost them more than anything, as at times there were drawn into confrontation rather than football.
Evergreen Rob Brown was in his element and stood out for the Redmen, just shading flanker Tim Landrigan who, as usual, tackled everything that moved.
Half Brett Graham had a tremendous game on a day that is not made for halfbacks while prop Scott Forwell showed his improvement in his new position by taking it up to one of the Zone's best all day.
In a poor day for Grafton, Ballina took out the lower grades, 10-0 in seconds and 15-0 in thirds.