Gritty Grafton goes down
A BRAVE defensive effort from the Village Green Redmen was commendable but not enough to secure them victory in front of a large home crowd on Saturday, eventually succumbing to Ballina 26-8.
Despite the scoreline, which looks convincing enough for the visitors, it really was a game that was there for the taking for Grafton midway through the second stanza, some questionable options and some poor execution being ultimately decisive.
In a bizarre first half, Grafton did all the tackling and held Ballina out until right on the half-time whistle.
A remarkable first-half statistic showed that Grafton’s time in the opposition half was as long as it takes to run from the half way line to score, a Murray Brookes-inspired break finished off by Steve Gallagher rewarding the Redmen in their only foray into opposition territory.
That gave Grafton an unlikely 5-0 lead after absorbing huge pressure in their own danger period for the first half hour.
Flanker Matt Wake was sensational in defence, continually cutting down the Ballina three quarters in dangerous situations. Brooks and fellow centre Brad Lloyd were likewise prominent.
Grafton held that lead until the cusp of halftime, strangely opting to take a scrum , which had been under pressure, instead of a quarter line drop out to relieve pressure. The resultant turnover was turned into points by Ballina with a converted try to take a two point lead into the break, a lead which really should have been more like 22 based on possession and territory.
The match turned on another crucial decision soon after the break. Grafton declined an easy three points form a penalty ten metres out and in front, looking for a try. However, a turnover handed Ballina a counter attacking opportunity which they converted into a try at the other end, the passage of play resulting in a potential ten point turnaround.
And an almost identical situation developed twenty minutes later, with the same result to put a Ballina side that was under constant pressure for the second half decisively ahead 21-8.
Another Ballina try on the bell completed the scoring.
It was a game played in two halves, Ballina completely dominant in the first half but unable to establish a decisive lead due to some poor execution and some incredible Grafton defence.
However, Grafton were clearly the better side in the second half and dominated territory. They got themselves into a position to win the game but, with the benefit of the sideline eye, probably took some poor options that cost them the game.
Matt Wake was a standout and clearly the best player on the field. Brookes and Lloyd in the centres were terrific as was diminutive winger Matt Woods while lock Nick Collie toiled hard all day.
An emotion charged under-19 game came to a fitting nail biting conclusion, the Redmen scoring late through Kane Hancock to break a 12-12 deadlock, then desperately holding on under heavy pressure in the final five minutes to win 19-12.
It was a heroic effort from a side that had been though a lot in the week leading up to the game and to hold on in honour of their recently departed team-mate Kyle Clifford, and earned a deserved standing ovation from the crowd.