By MAX GODBEE
Rugby league writer
SOUTH Grafton handed in their best performance in two seasons knocking Tweed Heads Seagulls off the top of the Northern Rivers Regional Rugby League first grade competition with a 34-22 win at McKittrick Park yesterday.
In a speed-laden game the Rebels crossed for seven tries to five by the Tweed River side.
The Rebels were also magnificent in defence, turning back wave after wave of Seagulls' attacking raids, including one period when South had five penalties in a row awarded against them.
Overall Seagulls were awarded nine penalties to five by referee Peter O'Connor, including 8-3 in the second session.
The Rebels paved the way to victory with an impressive first half, scoring five tries to three to lead 26-16 at the break.
The loss was only the second inflicted this season on Seagulls who last weekend thrashed strong semi-final contenders Ballina 50-18.
After that win they shared the competition lead with Murwillumbah, each on 21 points, but now Seagulls have been forced back into second place.
The win to South Grafton moves them on to 18 competition points, from their nine wins so far in 2005.
South Grafton club captain Xavier Sullivan said the win against the Seagulls should send the message that the Rebels can match it with any other team in the competition.
"Our convincing 42-28 win last week over South Tweed Heads, gave team members plenty of confidence for this, the most important match we have played so far," Sullivan said.
"We have not only won, but we dominated in attack and defence and once again were strong for the full 80 minutes.
"Two weeks back coach Steve Kirby launched our 10-week plan for the remainder of the point score rounds and today's result proves his plan is working out."
Seagulls' non-playing coach Troy McCarthy, while giving praise to the South Grafton victory, said his players seemed to have left their previous winning attitude back at Tweed Heads.
"We didn't know what had hit us when South Grafton led 22-6, 30 minutes into the game," he said.
"We did enough to bring that lead back to 10 points, 26-16, at half time but we did not do enough to turn the scoring around and it was two tries each in the second half."
There was not a player in the Rebels' 18-member squad who did not hand in a first rate performance and this included Under-18 player Mike Randall who put in a big effort on the wing. He notched up the team's second try with a 30-metre burst down the right sideline, sidestepping his way through a number of defenders to make the touchdown.
Lock Ray Mercy had a tremendous attacking game with a treble, earning each of his three tries with sparkling runs.
However, none stood taller than Sullivan who hurt the opposition each time in his multitude of hit-ups, always taking at least three players to pull him down.