By DAVE MORRISON
THE Grafton Jacaranda Hotel Redmen finished off their pre-season preparations in ideal fashion with a hard-fought 8-7 win over traditional rivals, Coffs Harbour, at South Grafton on Thursday night.
The two clubs may play in different competitions, and there nay not have been premiership points at stake, but that meant little as both sides obviously treasured a win against in a continuing friendly rivalry that has persisted for more than 30 years.
Coffs were highly fancied to win, unbeaten Mid North Coast premiers for two seasons, and boasting 12 zone players that were in a side that recently knocked off the Far North Coast representative side.
That meant little in a hard, physical encounter, in which try-scoring opportunities were rare as defence dominated.
In fact, there were only three real chances all game.
The first, just before half-time, threatened to break a scoreless deadlock, when the Grafton pack powered over the line in a well executed rolling maul from 10 metres out.
To Coffs' credit, they got bodies in the way and forced the ball free as Grafton prop Dan Hayne attempted to ground the ball.
It was a big night for all the front rowers, the scrum contest was a beauty, with both packs having a bit of fun utilising all their tricks to dominate their rivals.
The contest at the tackle was equally willing, neither side gaining a clear advantage, but putting bodies on the line to secure possession.
The Redmen struck with 20 minutes to go, winger Craig Daley capitalising on Coffs inability to secure the ball in their own in goal area to score.
That 5-0 lead was held right up until the final three minutes.
Both sides got the chance to become more expansive in the final quarter as the forwards tired, showing the toll of the physical battle up front.
Coffs backs broke free near halfway from turnover ball, finishing off well to take a slender point lead that should have been a match winning one.
However, ill-discipline at the final ruck of the game gave Grafton fullback, Trent Dickson, a chance to snatch the result, which he duly did from 40 metres.
Grafton coach Gary Powell was rightly well pleased with the result, as much as the execution and effort as the win, although as many in the good sideline crowd commented, it is always good to beat Coffs if only in a trial.
It was a powerful, full strength Coffs side and to match it, suggests that the 2005 Redmen should be more than competitive in the Far North Coast.
Five-eighth Jon Chevally controlled the game like a veteran, his kicking game decisive.
Matt Coombs at centre worked well with Chevally and this combination, esp[ecially with Daley and Justin Spurway, both who had great games out wide, looks more than promising.
Again, Al Donaghy was the class forward on the field while rookie prop Matt Woods looked well at home despite the step up in level for him.
The game augurs well for a huge day next Saturday when the Redmen host Far North Coast premiers and Club Champions, Lismore City in four grades, to mark the official opening of the Clubhouse and ground improvements.