Ghosts and Comets begin new rivalry that's worth the wait
A NEW rivalry was born in fitting style as Grafton Ghosts and Coffs Harbour Comets sized each other up for the first time in 50 years.
Both sides delivered a gruelling showcase of solid structure and rugged defence in greasy conditions at Geoff King Motors Oval.
Grafton led 6-0 into the breeze at the break and applied the pressure early in the second half. But a failure to capitalise on territorial advantage came back to haunt the Ghosts when Coffs halfback Nathan Curry converted his own try after back-to-back penalties gifted Coffs their first meaningful attack of the second half.
Teenage lock Jayden McDonogh shouldered a terrific workload for Grafton and was rewarded when prop Ryan Binge produced a timely offload to put the flying youngster through.
The 12-6 lead looked enough for Grafton when Coffs' Abel Lefaoseu was sinbinned for dissent. But as torrential rain set in, the home side never threw in the towel and again went level when captain Andrew Smith found the line from dummy half and Curry converted.
A draw would have sufficed in a grinding battle, however Smith's class proved the difference as he snuffed out a second in the dying minutes to hand the Group Two defending premiers an 18-12 victory and first blow in what will no doubt develop into a classic rivalry between these sides.
"We always expected it to be tough," Smith said.
"Obviously they've got a point to prove coming into this competition and we wanted to stamp our authority as defending premiers.
"I think we did that."
The clash pitted Coffs coach Colin Speed against his former club for the first time. Despite walking away with two points, he was left in no doubt Grafton remained a side to be reckoned with as both sides confirmed their dual status as the competition's heavyweights.
"I thought it was what everyone expected," Speed said. "Tough, tenacious. Both sides came out hard, played in the right spirit and didn't give an inch." Despite finishing behind on the scoreboard, Grafton captain-coach Ryan Farrell will take a lot of positives from his side's first litmus test in its new surrounds of Group Two.
"We got the lead a couple of times and unfortunately they kept coming back," Farrell said.
"Andrew Smith's a pretty classy player. Next time we'll need to tighten up our ruck a bit more."
Grafton suffered a major blow when it lost hooker Todd Cameron 20 minutes into the contest.