One that got away
By TONY WHITE
REBELS mud-spattered human buzzsaw Colby Schrader, who played his heart out, best summed up his team mates and South Grafton supporters feelings when he said post match: "I feel like I've been kicked in the guts."
After a stirring fightback, South Grafton were agonisingly beaten 26-24 by Cudgen at McKittrick Park in the Northern Rivers Regional Rugby League round 11 match yesterday.
It was a crackerjack game, undoubtedly one of the best of the season but a game tinged with controversy.
Inside the final minute the Rebels, who trailled for most of the match, nearly scored a miraculous win.
Lock Ray Mercy broke through three defenders and somehow managed to keep fending off tacklers in a charging 50m run down the eastern touchline. Mercy, running on laden legs, willed himself on but was caught 25m out.
Incredibly he slipped a pass to winger Dave Purcell, who headed infield chased by two Cudgen defenders.
With the crowd on their feet, yelling hysterically, Purcell looked certain to score under the posts until Hornets centre Andrew King crunched Purcell from behind inches from the tryline.
The ball spilled loose and that was the ball game.
"If ever there was a game that could break your heart it was this one," Rebels captain-coach Stevie Kirby, who had an outstanding game, said.
"It was touch and go all the way.
"It's heartbreaking for everyone but I'm very proud of the boys."
Kirby was frustrated with several decisions by referee, Dion Aldridge.
"We just can't get a go off them (the referees)," Kirby said.
"Some things were very disappointing."
Cudgen won the penalties 6-3 but there were several contentious decisions.
South Grafton officials were irate yesterday at the state of McKittrick Park which was turned into a swamp-like mud heap.
A broken pipe near the northern touchline and sprinklers left on by Council on Saturday evening resulted in surface water on the ground and large mud patches which proved slippery for the players.
Hornets coach Jamie Mathiou said he was glad to get away with the two competition points.
"It was a hard slog in the mud but everyone enjoyed the game. It was a great spectacle," Mathiou said. "All in all we toughed it out but overall we didn't play too smart.
"We played dumb football at times. Souths, to their credit, slowed us down. They are a good football side.
"I thought we deserved to win. Our substitute Chris Sheens had an outstanding game, Dickinosi (Troy), Craig Thurston and Brian McCarthy also played very well.
"We've still got a lot of work to do. We're under no illusions."
Hornets centre Damien Bryant also stood out both in attack and defence.
Bryant scored two tries and elusive and creative halfback Dickinosi three.
Cudgen, who led 18-10 at half-time, scored six tries to five with hooker Nick Mobbs only converting one touchdown.
While it was tit for tat scoring, South Grafton trailled until the 59th minute when Purcell scored after a dropped ball from Cudgen.
A costly knock on after a scum win by Rebels replacement James King ultimately led to Bryant scoring his second to take Cudgen to a 26-24 lead.
Schrader, 18, heading to the Newcastle Knights on a scholarship next season, starred for South Grafton with a tremendous work rate. Man mountain Xavier Sullivan, Jack Currie and Walters played with passion and courage.
"Dan Randall had a blinder," Kirby said of the 16-year-old first grade debutant.
"He caught every high ball, cleaned up really well and scored a try.
"Colby is a freak, what a game. And Xavier has got to be the best forward in the competition."