Ghosts have ghost of chance: rival
GRAFTON Rhinos captain-coach Xavier Sullivan has fired the opening salvo in the build-up to Sunday's local rugby league derby, claiming the 2008 Grafton Ghosts were better than this year's squad.
The Ghosts finished second in 2008 - losing to Byron Bay by one point in the grand final - and have dropped just one match this season.
But Sullivan is not convinced the Ghosts have improved since last season.
“I don't think the Ghosts are the side they were last year,” Sullivan said ahead of the McKittrick Park clash.
“And I think we have the squad to expose their weaknesses.”
A very different-looking Rhinos team downed the Ghosts when the sides first met last season, with the Ghosts winning the return bout at McKittrick Park.
Sullivan said a major factor in the Rhinos' victory over the Ghosts last year was the performance of centre Ken Mercy, who is not a guaranteed starter for this Sunday's clash.
“It's touch and go with Mercy,” Sullivan said.
“Hopefully being a home game (his work) will be lenient with him and let him play.
“It would be a shame if he missed out because he had it all over Aaron Hartmann last year.”
However, the Rhinos will meet a Ghosts squad starting to hits its straps.
“One of our main goals was to turn around our defence and get it back to where it should be,” Ghosts first grade coach Col Speed said.
“With one side of the completion rates taken care of ... our attacking flair will come.”
On the injury front, Sullivan allayed any injury fears by 'ringing around' the squad to make sure all his players had pulled up well after Saturday's victory over the Tweed Raiders.
If anything, the Rhinos skipper was the most at risk of injury, starting the game suffering the after effects of a blood poisoning-induced fever.
“I cut myself in the pub and it got infected,” Sullivan said.
“I spent three days in bed and shivered so badly I knocked out one of my teeth fillings.”
The Ghosts will be without veteran prop Shaun Davison for around four weeks after he tore his hamstring against Ballina on Sunday.
However, they will welcome back rep players Ben McLennan and Nat Sewell, who each missed Sunday's win over the Seagulls.
Speed is quickly becoming spoilt for choice when he sits down to ink his starting 13, with young Nic Bell joining utility Josh Donohoe and Englishmen Liam Bland and Dave Emmott in the push for starting positions.
“It's taken (Bland and Emmott) a while to adjust and there are some boys with the runs on the board in front of them,” Speed said.
“But I've been impressed with them ... and they're keen to learn and improve.”
Further down river, well away from talk of derbies, the Lower Clarence Magpies were counting the cost of an impressive performance against early season pacesetters, the Mullumbimby Giants.
Starting hooker Tom Martin was forced off in the first half with a suspected knee injury, while captain-coach Dallas Waters succumbed to a hamstring injury in the second stanza.
“We won't know the extent of Tom's injury until later in the week,” Waters said.
“I hope it's not as bad as first thought (possible ligament damage), but he'll have a scan as soon as possible.”
Waters' hamstring 'pulled up sore' after the match, but after receiving treatment last night, he remained 'touch and go' to face Evans Head this weekend.