It?s almost crunch time for Redmen
By DAVE MORRISON
Rugby union writer
IT'S not quite crunch time yet but it's pretty close for the Grafton Jacaranda Hotel Redmen when they face the form team of the Far North Coast Rugby competition, University, at Lismore today.
Seemingly well out of contention for a semi final spot a month ago, the Students have strung together three impressive wins on the trot and picked up the bonus point for scoring four tries each time, and suddenly are looking to be a real premiership propsect.
For them, their big hurdle may be to make the semis, but a win today over Grafton would make that a very likely scenario as they face bottom placed Yamba in the final game.
Grafton's task is tough with a hard game at Ballina next week, however they can put paid to University's hopes, and secure a semi-final place with a win today.
Grafton's must get two points in their final two games or on other results to get them home, and while bonus points would do that, coach Gary Powell would far prefer not to walk that tight rope.
This certainly should be one of the best games of the season.
University's late charge has coincided with the return of five eighth Mark Sherwood from a length injury layoff and has enabled them to rekindle their traditional attacking prowess.
Their smallish, but dynamic, forward pack has been another key factor, their ability to secure enough ball at the breakdown to give their backs attacking opportunities a key to their game and was decisive in their defeat of defending premiers, Lismore City, last week.
The Redmen game has been built on a strong forward platform, probably the best defence in the competition and consistency, and all three ingredients required if they are to repel the Student charge.
It's hardly a secret that Grafton will look to dominate up front and wear down the smaller University forwards, thus nullifying their play in the loose.
The likely return of big Al Donaghy boosts the size of their pack and helps set the Redmen up to dominate the set pieces. The match is likely to go down to the wire, but the big Grafton pack is University's biggest test to date and should tip the balance in favour of the Redmen.
In the lower grades, Grafton have sealed a major semi-final berth in second grade and should win well while in the Under-19s, Grafton will be out to finish their season off in style.
A bus leaves the Jacaranda Hotel at 10am.