By DAVE MORRISON
THE Grafton Jacaranda Hotel Redmen proved that they are contenders rather than pretenders following their gritty 20-15 win over competition front runners and defending premiers, Lismore City at Lismore on Saturday.
In a high quality game, both sides played right up to their potential, the heavy track guaranteeing a fierce battle between two highly-rated packs.
Grafton's eight had a clear points victory in this regard, and was instrumental in the final result, although they had to call on all their resources to deny a Lismore side that threw every thing they had at Grafton in the final 10 minutes.
In the end, Lismore played as you'd expect the top-ranked side in the competition to do, the simple fact was that Grafton played better.
All the more meritorious for the Grafton effort was that they came back from a 12-point first-half deficit and held the vaunted Greens back line scoreless in the second half.
Despite having all the early play, Grafton came away with nothing after the opening 20 minutes.
Once Lismore got some ball, they scored two good tries and all of a sudden, an ominous 12-0 lead had developed and things bode poorly for the Redmen.
However, Grafton's patience to stick with their game paid dividends in a crucial period before half time.
Two signature driving mauls resulted in two tries, and with a Jason Landrigan penalty thrown in, Grafton went to the break with a 15-12 lead.
The second half took on much the same flavour as the first, Grafton's forward power and complete dominance in the scrum telling.
This time, they converted pressure into points, another rumbling maul instrumental in a third five-pointer being scored out wide midway through the half.
As good sides do, Lismore came home strongly and had the Redmen on the rack for the final 10 minutes.
Lismore threw all they had at the Grafton defence, camped on the Grafton line and using their potent outside backs to stretch the Redmen.
The Grafton defence, quite simply, was superb and too good on the day.
John Chevalley and Matt Coombs were terrific, cutting down numerous attacking raids while once more, flanker Tim Landrigan tackled anything that moved.
Chevalley had another great game, his tactical kicking a big factor in the win.
Prop David Hales, despite being a doubtful starter with a hamstring injury, was most peoples' pick for the player of the match, and flanker Paul Cameron topped off a fine all round game with four or five crucial lineout steals in the dying moments under pressure.
The win cements Grafton's position in the top four and throws the Far North Coast competition wide open.