Sweetest victory for Ghosts
By Tony White
THE Ghosts faithful stood and bellowed a collective roar of approval and Frank McGuren Park erupted into a sea of emotion.
Finally, the Grafton Ghosts had posted their first win of the Northern Rivers Regional Rugby League 2006 season yesterday defeating fourth-ranked Casino Cougars 26-16.
When referee Dion Aldridge blew his whistle for the final occasion, the post-match scenes were reminiscent of a grand final win.
The players, to a man, gave their absolute all in a magnificent team performance.
"Mate, finally, sensational, just bloody sensational," Ghosts captain-coach Matt Michael said, amid a plethora of well-wishers immediately after the match.
Instead of heading straight to the dressing sheds, Michael led his adrenalin-charged players through the crowd, hand shakes, congratulations and high-fives the order of the day. The players then moved back onto the ground, sang the Ghosts anthem and raised their hands and clapped the throng of delirious supporters who appreciated the gesture of faith.
It was a gripping match that had everything. For the last 10 minutes supporters were on their feet, gasping at near misses and warmly applauding every crunching tackle and deft moves. The tension was incredible.
"How long to go? How long to go?" supporters kept asking Ghosts long-time official and time keeper Vic McInnes.
It was a deserved win and hopefully, the Ghosts have turned the corner. Defensively, they lifted enormously, the cornerstone of the victory.
There were 17 collective heroes, dressed in blue and white. Battered, bandaged and bruised after the tough encounter, the pain didn't matter. Victory was the sweetest elixir.
"The effort's always been there," said Michael, who had an outstanding game leading from the front.
"But a few things went our way today and that made a big difference.
"We believed in ourselves for 80 minutes, not just in 20-minute bursts. The belief in who we are and what we are was there.
"It's my first win as coach. We gelled in the middle.
"All the forwards set the platform for the backs to get good quality ball. And there were four juniors on the bench. They all went well."
Scott Bennett played firsts, reserves and Under-18s.
Asked to name a standout, Michael said the whole team but suggested 'The Black Pearl', centre Travis Daley 'went great'.
Daley, a laconic soul with a football brain to match the peripheral vision of the game's greats, had an outstanding match, continually bamboozling the Cougars. He scored two tries and was always creative.
Michael deserves special mention. He took the ball up with gusto on every occasion and his bone-jarring defence buckled Cougar players.
The force of the hits reverberated around the ground.
Shaun Davison, Tyson Donohue and Scott Kilduff were also magnificent. Fullback Warby, five-eighth Lawrence, non-stop lock Josh Ryder, half Josh Nagle and Aaron Marscham until injured, all contributed greatly.
The Ghosts went to the half time break leading 16-10 after a double to Daley and Lawrence. Hooker Jason Vidler was sin binned for 10 minutes on a high tackle just before half time which left the Ghosts short-handed into the second stanza.
Casino threw everything at Grafton, but it wasn't until 15 minutes into the second half that the Ghosts defence finally buckled, smart Cougars half Matty Roberts scoring and converting to level at 16-all.
A great cut out pass by Daley led to Marscham pulling two defenders over the line to score after 21 minutes. Ghosts 20-16.
Four minutes later Michael snuck under a couple of defenders close to the line and the Ghosts, following Josh Nagle's conversion, edged ahead 26-16. A long-awaited win was tantalisingly close.
The match fluctuated thereafter but Warby's ball and all tackle on a rampaging Roberts in the last line of defence proved a match winner. It was a classic.
The Cougars had several good players headed by lock Ashley Williams, prop Travis Falls and five-eighth Adrian Roberts.
The Ghosts will savour this win. The beleagured Ghosties and their supporters deserve it.
FIRST GRADE: GRAFTON 26 (Travis Daley 2, Aaron Marscham, Trent Lawrence, Matt Michael tries; Tyson Donohue 2, Josh Nagle goal) d CASINO 16 (ben Birney, Matthew Roberts, Clint Vidler tries; Matthew Roberts 2 goals). Referee: Dion Aldridge. Penalties: Casino 7, Ghosts 6.
RESERVES: CASINO 40 (Tyler Williams, Dean Watson, Steve McAlwain, Sidney Torrens, Vivian Solomon, Russell Robinson, Dene Petty, Luke Benn tries; Jacob Benn 2, Sidney Torrens, Russell Robinson goals) d GRAFTON 12 (Scott Bennett 2 tries, Pat Vidler 2 goals).
UNDER-18s: GRAFTON 28 (Carson Galloway 2, Khan Williams 2, Josh McLachlan, Jason Hackett, Scott Bennett tries; Scott Bennett 3 goals) d CASINO 6 (Paul Robinson try; Tyler Williams goal).