Rugby League: Ghosts bow out at home
POOR handling, which has been a feature of the Grafton Ghosts season, has brought the Grafton sides dreams of a Group 2 premiership defence to a screaming halt at Frank McGuren Field on Saturday afternoon at the hands of a relentless Nambucca Heads Roosters.
In what was a fiery contest on a sunny afternoon the Ghosts drew first blood but never seemed comfortable in the match with Nambucca gaining the lead soon after and holding onto it until the final whistle.
An almost perfect goal kicking record for Nambucca lock Cameron Blair kept the Ghosts behind on the scoreboard throughout the contest and kept the match in the Roosters favour.
Following the Ghosts' opener, Nambucca struck back quickly after a Blair offload found the chest of Kurtley Kelly who crashed over beside the sticks.
The first try for the visitors was soon followed up after their bullocking forward James Livock steam-rolled his way up the middle of the field before spreading the ball to centre Michael Kelly who scored in the corner.
Both sides headed to the sheds with Nambucca up by more than a converted try and the Ghosts needing to be the first team to score in the second stanza.
Nambucca squashed that dream within the first five minutes after Khan Williams was sent off after consecutive lazy efforts saw him lying in the ruck.
Roosters' centre Jay Melrose made quick work of the short defensive line scoring ten in from touch.
With his side struggling against a bigger and tougher Nambucca pack, Ghosts' captain-coach Ben McLennan took matters into his own hands.
In a throwback to classic rugby league, the big man powered through the Nambucca line from twenty out and carried three men on his way to the try line.
The determination in their leader spurred the Ghosts on to a fight back with Joel Moss crossing soon after on the back of a scrum.
A return try to Roosters fullback Zac Sheppard appeared to seal the game, before Josh Donohoe got a rare pie to send the fans into a frenzy.
With four to go and only two points between the sides, the Ghosts threw everything at the Roosters but to no avail.
A last minute try to winger Wes Kelly on the hooter sealed the win and a place in next week's preliminary final for the Roosters.
McLennan admitted it was a tough loss for the home side but was proud of their efforts in his first season in the roll.
"I am gutted," he said. "I feel like I have let the boys down. I love them all and they have put in a massive effort all year to get where we are.
"No one rated us at the start of the year and I am proud of where we got. I really thought we had it in us to win it this year after everyone writing us off and bagging us out but that's how it is.
"I have learnt a hell of a lot this season. Not just football wise but also personal wise and I am proud of what I have done and what we have achieved."