Red letter day for Redmen
By TONY WHITE
THE relentless Grafton Redmen shored up the Far North Coast Rugby Union minor premiership with a powerful 35-11 win over Wollongbar-Alstonville at Rugby Park, South Grafton, on Saturday.
With only two rounds remaining before the finals series, Grafton, beaten only once this season, sit on top of the table on 62 points ahead of Yamba Buccaneers (50), Wollongbar (47) and last season's premiers, Ballina, and Casino on 44.
Lismore are still within reach on 37.
"The minor premiership was a major talking point through the week and it's a small achievement, but a stepping stone," captain-coach Gary Powell said.
"While we've won premierships in the interim, it's a first minor premiership since 1987.
"It's one goal achieved and most importantly it guarantees a home major semi-final and that's very important to the club."
The winning score didn't reflect the game, with Wollongbar really putting it to the Redmen in the early stages, skipping to an 11-0 lead in wet conditions.
"They led 11-0 after 18 minutes and really put it to us," Powell said of the opening exchanges.
"But we managed to score two converted tries before halftime to Aaron Taylor and Jono Speechley to lead 14-11 at halftime.
"Jono's try from a rolling maul was a beauty."
The Redmen forwards, smaller in stature than their rivals, but more mobile, set the platform for the win, continually grinding away for valuable yards and good ball control.
In the second half the Redmen asserted their superiority scoring 21 unanswered points, with converted tries to Scott Lloyd, Al Donaghy and Powell.
"The pleasing point from a coach's point of view was we've been criticised previously for dropping off in the second half, but to score 21 unanswered points was very pleasing," Powell said.
"It was a top all-round team effort."
Halfback Brett Graham said he was rapt with the forwards' performance.
"They scored three tries from rolling mauls," Graham said.
"Due to the conditions we had to play it pretty tight and didn't go as wide as often as we normally would.
"It was a tougher game than the score reflects."
Former South Grafton Rebels league star Ray Mercy made a welcome return to the club, running on as a replacement when fullback Aaron Taylor was injured early in the second half.
"Ray isn't quite fit yet, but he's a great replacement to have coming off the bench," Powell said.
Taylor went off with a back injury and Justin Spurway also left the field with an injured shoulder.
"Both boys should be right for next week, " Powell said.
Shane Denshire won the players' player award ahead of inside centre Jason Chevalley, with Donaghy, Graham and the two wingers, Jono Speechley and Paul Cameron commended by Powell.