By DAVE MORRISON
LISMORE City won the day, but the Jacaranda Hotel Redmen gained plenty of respect in an enthralling opening match for the Far North Coast Rugby Union season on Saturday at South Grafton.
A big crowd turned out in summery conditions to see Lismore hold off the Redmen to record a 26-20 win in a bruising, high-quality encounter. The second half was worthy of a semi final.
Things looked bad for the Redmen when the visitors skipped away to a 14-0 lead midway through the first half.
Sustained pressure just before the break saw rewards for the Redmen, fullback Justin Spurway slicing through off a pass from five-eighth Jon Chevalley to score.
The game came alive early in the second half with two Redmen tries in the space of two minutes giving the home side a 17-14 lead over the defending premiers.
First, John Flaherty scored after sustained controlled pressure from the Redmen.
Spurway bagged a double almost from the restart with a great individual effort from 40 metres, going over under the posts.
This brought the game alive as both sides threw themselves into each other with ferocity.
The lead was traded, first with another Lismore try from 60 metres to put them 19-17 ahead, before a Shan Warren penalty put Grafton ahead again.
Grafton looked to have done enough to secure an upset win until the final five minutes when Lismore once more showed their potency and pace out wide, counter attacking from their own quarter to score a tremendous matchwinning try.
Grafton had one last assault at the Lismore line, getting over through a rolling maul but being unable to ground the ball.
In a game of exceptional quality for so early in the season, Lismore showed they will be hard to beat this season while the Redmen proved they are back.
Grafton had generally the better of play and came out on top in the forward exchanges.
For Grafton, flanker Tim Landrigan was tireless, fullback Spurway always dangerous in attack while hooker Scott Forwell turned in a big game, hurting the Lismore defence with his bustling runs up the middle.
Lismore won in the lower grades, in games that could have gone either way.
A penalty goal separated the sides in the Seconds 3-0, the Under 19s were level until a Lismore try gave them a 19-12 result, while two late tries gave the Greens a 15-3 win in Thirds.