TACKLED: Grafton second-rower Matt Muller is hit in a dominant three-man tackle during the Group 2 first grade preliminary final between the Grafton Ghosts and Macksville Sea Eagles.
TACKLED: Grafton second-rower Matt Muller is hit in a dominant three-man tackle during the Group 2 first grade preliminary final between the Grafton Ghosts and Macksville Sea Eagles. Matthew Elkerton

BOIL OVER: Ghosts out as Sea Eagles swoop on decider

RUGBY LEAGUE: The feel-good story of the Group 2 first grade season has rolled on, while the Ghosts' quest for back-to-back premierships came to an unceremonious end at Frank McGuren Field.

The Group 2 minor premiers were dumped from the finals in straight games after the surprise packet, Macksville Sea Eagles, caused a major boilover, taking the win 19-12.

It was the tale of two sets of halves at the Ghosts' graveyard, with Macksville veteran Cameron Blair outsmarting his opposite number.

Matt Muller stood tall for the home side, but they struggled to break down a willing Sea Eagles pack who fought tooth and nail for every extra metre.

After the momentum swung between both sides through the opening 20 minutes, the first points of the afternoon would come from the boot of Todd Cameron.

With the Macksville line refusing to wilt despite back-to-back sets from the Ghosts, there was no hesitation from Wicks before he pointed to the stick after getting a penalty in front.

Grafton's fifth-tackle options were letting them down in the first half, and it was a dropped ball from Jake Frame that gifted Macksville prime field position.

While the Macksville outfit struggled to find a way through the Ghosts' defence during the set, a mistimed kick from five-eighth Cameron Blair bounced back into his hands as he struggled his way across the stripe.

It was a herculean effort from the veteran half, with Blair carrying four Ghosts bodies across the tryline with him.

STRENGTH: Ghosts' Ben McLennan effects a strong one-on-one tackle during the Group 2 first grade preliminary final.
STRENGTH: Ghosts' Ben McLennan effects a strong one-on-one tackle during the Group 2 first grade preliminary final. Matthew Elkerton

Macksville would be on the scoreboard again within 10 minutes after an intercept from winger Jack Ireland saw him streak 40 metres down the touchline.

While the winger didn't have the pace to go on with the job, it was centre Damian Carriage who scooted from dummy-half, beating two would-be tacklers on his way to the line.

The second half started in the same way as the opening stanza with the two sides wrestling for field position.

The home side struggled for metres up the middle of the field, with one out safety play not troubling the Macksville defence.

It would take a change in style to crack the visitors' defences with captain-coach Danny Wicks, fresh on the field from a mid-game spell, spreading the ball wide to five-eighth Blake Winmill.

Winmill stepped back inside two cover defenders before offloading the ball to second-rower Matt Muller who drove his way to the tryline to bring the home side back into the clash.

With momentum on their side the Ghosts began to roll through the Macksville defence, and a break to lethal centre Dylan Collett would gift the home side perfect field position.

After setting themselves up across the backline, a quick shift from halfback Frame would find young centre Ben Liyou who drove his way under a tackle to level the scores.

The Ghosts' reprieve would soon be undone again by their willing opposition with Macksville fullback Daneil Donovan showing his class to flash through under the sticks.

Macksville would seal their grand final credentials with a field goal to the wily veteran, Blair, as the clock wound down in the final minutes.

The Sea Eagles will meet Coffs Harbour Comets in the grand final at Geoff King Motors Oval on Sunday, while for Wicks' men, they now stare down the barrel of Mad Monday.

SCORELINE: MACKSVILLE SEA EAGLES 19 (Cameron Blair, Damian Carriage, Daneil Donovan tries; Jack Ireland 2, Andrew Blair goals; Cameron Blair field goal) def GRAFTON GHOSTS 12 (Matt Muller, Ben Liyou tries; Todd Cameron 2 goals)



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