Grafton Ghosts Aaron Hartmann is congratulated after crossing for a try during yesterday’s grand final win over Murwillumbah.
Grafton Ghosts Aaron Hartmann is congratulated after crossing for a try during yesterday’s grand final win over Murwillumbah. Debrah Novak The Daily Examiner

Ghosts' glory

IT was a game for the ages.

A good, old-fashioned slug-fest that will be etched into rugby league folklore for the heroic performance of a Grafton Ghosts team that withheld a Murwillumbah Mustangs onslaught for most of the game.

Masterminded by Col Speed, the Ghosts captivated fans and vanquished rivals with relentless defence to win back-to-back NRRRL titles with a thrilling 10-6 victory.

The Grafton Ghosts coach hailed yesterday's miracle win as the club's most courageous performance since he took over the helm.

"It was just unbelievable. The amount of possession they had in the second half. We were just going effort after effort," a relieved Speed said after the match.

"All one to 17 did the job for us today. I couldn't ask for anything more."

Speed admitted winning a second grand final in as many years was a credit to the club and the players.

"We'll get to enjoy this one a bit more. Last year was more of a relief," he said.

"Losing six players at the start of the year everyone wrote us off, but guys like Tom Freebody and Aaron Taylor stepped up.

"I also thought George Ambler was fantastic off the bench for us today and Ryan Farrell was unbelievable.

"Murwillumbah kept coming at him but his defence was first rate."

Playing in front of a parochial home crowd, the Ghosts took their chances to outlast a fast-finishing Mustangs.

The contest from the opening whistle was not for the faint hearted, as players from both sides were bruising and sometimes brutal in defence.

It took almost 30 minutes for one team to crack and when Adam Elliott waltzed through some tired Mustangs defence the home side took a 4-0 lead.

Aaron Taylor made no mistake with the conversion for the Ghosts to skip further ahead on the scoreboard.

The Mustangs looked like climbing back into the contest as they peppered the Ghosts line out wide but came up empty, thanks to the home side's brilliant scrambling defence.

After the interval the visitors continued to gain momentum as the Ghosts were guilty of too many unforced errors.

The pivotal moment in the game came after Mustangs centre Richard Squires looked certain to score in the corner only to be denied by the Ghosts' swarming defence.

A kick on the last from the Mustangs' halfback Nathan Jordan saw the ball ricochet off his own player into the arms of Ghosts' fullback Mitch Lollback who sprinted 50 metres down field before being hauled in by his opposite number.

From the ensuing play the old firm of Farrell and Aaron Hartmann put on a pet play with the Grafton back-rower crashing over to score in the corner.

But just when the blue-and-white express looked set to rumble to victory, the referee made his presence felt with a string of penalties against the Ghosts for minor indiscretions.

With the title on the line, both teams reached boiling point and players exchanged punches with Ghosts' Aaron Taylor and Mustangs' Richard Squires receiving their marching orders.

There was pandemonium from the Murwillumbah supporters after their man mountain Linden Murphy burrowed his way over the line to reawaken the contest.

Luke Covell added the extras and all of a sudden it was game on.

In the closing stages the Mustangs threw everything they had at the Ghosts but their renowned ruthless streak in defence paved the way for a well-deserved victory.

Mustangs coach Troy McLean appeared shattered after the game but was quick to praise the Ghosts defensive effort.

"Their defence was just too good. We went at them time and time again but couldn't get across the line," he said.

"We knew the game would go right down to the wire and it did.

"Credit must go to Grafton. They took their chances and got us but I couldn't be more proud of my boys' efforts on the day."

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