By TONY WHITE
GRAND final day has arrived several weeks early for in form Lower Clarence.
The Magpies take on Ballina Seagulls at Maclean Showground tomorrow in a must win game.
"Every game from here on in is a must win situation for us," Magpies captain-coach Jason Hebbard said bluntly.
"If we want to be in the top six, that's what we've got to achieve.
"We can't rely on results from other teams, we've got to win and keep winning."
The Magpies (16 points) are eighth on the Northern Rivers Regional Rugby League ladder with five rounds remaining until the first set of semi-finals scheduled for August 27-28.
Ballina are sixth on 20 points.
After a season of inconsistent form, often disrupted through injury, the Magpies have beaten South Grafton, Grafton and heavyweights Murwillumbah, with a 54-12 loss to Cudgen crambed in between over the past four weeks.
The Magpies will field almost the same side that has taken the paddock in three previous matches with only Tom Freebody returning after sitting out last week due to a head gash.
Hebbard suggested the major turning point to the Magpies season was the club's sensational 22-20 defeat of Murwillumbah in round 12.
"Since then the enthusiasm has really built up," he said. "When we knocked them over the boys really started believing in themselves.
"Beating South Grafton last week was great. We went there (McKittrick Park) believing in ourselves and came away with a win.
"Our enthusiasm, completion rates and defence got us over the line."
Hebbard said Ballina would be a different proposition and he was wary of the Seagulls talented group of Under-18 players in firsts.
"Ballina are a pretty physical side and they have some quality young fellas," Hebbard said. "We certainly won't be taking them lightly."
Ballina, who fielded a club record six Under-18 players in its 54-10 defeat of Grafton last week have four juniors ? Damien Buckley, Clarence Kelly, Robert Miles and James Rix ? lining up against Lower.
Mitch Aubusson is away on Australian schoolboy duty this week.
It's sure to be a crackerjack match after Ballina beat Lower 34-16 in round four.
LOWER CLARENCE: Fullback, Aaron Murray; wingers, Ben McDonald, Luke Many; centres, Darren Blackett, Darren Essex; five-eighth, Adam Elliott; halfback, Gavin Galvin; props, Luke Mapperson, Mick Harris; hooker, Chris Brophy; second-rowers, Tom Freebody, Terry Power; lock, Jason Hebbard (c). Reserve, Brett Smidt; Coach: Jason Hebbard.
BALLINA: Fullback, Damien Buckley; wingers, Clarence Kelly, Trent Gasnier; centres, Robert Miles, Ashley Moran; five-eighth, Justin Bolt; halfback, Troy Johnstone; props, Grant Erickson, James Rix; hooker, Matt Temby; second-rowers, Matt Slattery, Corey Windle; lock, Josh Mather. Bench: Tyler Iverson. Coach: Chris Binge.