By TONY WHITE
THE South Grafton Rebels sputtered to a 30-12 defeat of the Grafton Ghosts in the local derby at Frank McGuren Field yesterday.
While it was a tough, physical encounter it was a stop-start affair that failed to reach great heights.
There were numerous injury stoppages and referee Dion Aldridge handed out 16 penalties, 12 against the Rebels.
Mistakes and ill-discipline from both teams further marred the game as a spectacle.
"It wasn't a game of footy out there. It was disappointing for the crowd," Rebels coach Stevie Kirby said.
"The biggest killer for both teams was the penalties.
"Our ball security wasn't good and we didn't complete our sets of six.
"We're happy to get away with the two points. It's always good to win."
Ghosts coach Matt McKee said his club would write a letter to the Northern Rivers Regional Rugby League Board detailing several contentious rulings.
"I was happy with my boys commitment, happy with the referee but unhappy with a number of questionable decisions by the touch judges," he said.
"Some of the decisions changed the game."
While the Rebels were definitely the better side on the day, two controversial first-half rulings proved extremely costly for the Ghosts.
In the 31st minute, with the score 8-all, Don Dickson made a great break down the eastern touchline, kicked ahead and Warwick Brown regathered and put the ball down under the posts.
However, the touch judge stood firmly with his flag in the air claiming Dickson had put his foot into touch before kicking.
A minute and a half later following a darting run by Dallas Waters, flying Rebels winger Dave Purcell crossed to take the Rebels to a 12-8 lead.
Then in the 39th minute, Aldridge ruled a Ghosts player had lost the ball in a two-man Rebels tackle and from the ensuing scrum, three plays later, man-of-the-match Xavier Sullivan charged over untouched and the Rebels went to the break leading 18-8.
Sullivan, 24, had a whale of a match with his charging runs and rugged defence.
In his first game as Rebels captain, Sullivan was in the thick of the action all day scoring two tries, his last when he left seven defenders sprawling with a 45m run with three minutes left on the clock.
"I'm buggered, it was a very physical game," he said. "We've got a lot of talent in this club. We showed that today winning all three grades.
"They're a good bunch of blokes and it's an honour to captain them.
"The Ghosts threw us off our game plan early and we had to dig really deep."
Ghosts supporters hopes were raised after 12m of the second stanza when Scott Kilduff scored to narrow the gap to 18-12.
Six minutes later Chris Adamson dived on a ball after a Trent Barber kick, but Aldridge correctly ruled he didn't ground the ball properly. Adamson was injured in the incident.
In the 61st minute, Ghosts fullback John Carney attempted a quick tap after a penalty, but was ruled not to have taken it on the spot. After winning the scrum Dallas Waters weaved across the line before passing to Purcell who scored untouched.
The Rebels led 24-12 then Sullivan's rhino-like charge brought Rebels supporters to their feet.
Best for the Rebels were Sullivan, the creative halves Waters and Andy Bell, Purcell and hard-working Colby Schrader.
The Ghosts were best served by captain Matt Michael, who played his heart out despite carrying an injury, flyweight and brave hooker Chad Cassidy, Shaun Davison, Scott Kilduff, Mitch Cooper, Jon Winters and Warwick Brown.
Rebels utility Paul Donovan will be out for several weeks after badly tearing his hamstring but Ray and Ken Mercy will return next week.
Ghosts back rower Davison is still troubled by a sternum injury and Dickson has ankle and leg problems.
"It was a much better effort by the team today. Next week they're going to learn how to win," McKee promised.