GUTS AND GLORY: Ghosts prevail in willing derby grand final
RUGBY LEAGUE: Grafton Ghosts, led by a spirited effort from fullback Mitch Lollback, have wrapped two hands around the Country Rugby League's illustrious Clayton's Cup after storming to a determined premiership win on home soil.
While they were stretched to their limits by a battling South Grafton Rebels, the clinical Ghosts kicked it into overdrive to cement their legacy with a 32-12 victory at Frank McGuren Field.
In front of a packed bipartisan crowd, Khan Williams crossed for a double in what was an emotionally draining local derby grand final.
For captain-coach Danny Wicks it was a proud moment as he lifted the Group 2 Toohey's New Shield high among his best friends in the blue and white.
"This was exceptional, the boys deserve a big wrap today," he said. "We were off in that first half, but the reason we were off was because the Rebels played well and they played with determination today. It was the toughest game we have had this year."
It was a fairytale finish in his return to bush footy and Wicks said it was a privilege to lead his junior club to victory.
"Giving a little bit back was a big thing for me. I got in a little bit of trouble earlier in my career, but that's the thing with country towns like Grafton; they are always willing to welcome you back with open arms," he said. "To come back and get a premiership with them, for them, was really, really good.
"It is definitely a privilege to lead this club to a premiership title. You just love footy and these sorts of days don't come around often, so when they do you take advantage of them."
South Grafton were the first to register on the scoreboard after they were gifted the ball when Joel Moss played it to no dummy half off the kick return.
Ant Skinner stuck a boot at the ball and while he was held back from scoring in the first instance, there was no holding him back following the ensuing penalty as he strolled down a short blind side to open the visitors' account.
Rebels halfback Kayan Davis converted the effort from the sideline to gift South Grafton the perfect start to the first grade decider.
It did not take long for the Ghosts to hit back on the scoreboard though after a long range set of six ended with centre Khan Williams grubbering through for himself to crash across just inside the chalk.
Todd Cameron obliged with the extras to match his opposing kicker's effort from the sideline and to lock the scores again at 6-6.
A late shot on Ghosts fullback Mitch Lollback had local fans' hearts in their mouths as the slippery custodian was left writhing on the turf but he soon rose to his feet and rejoined the attacking line.
The Rebels were showing their intent in the early stages with heavy hits and a forty-twenty from crafty halfback Kayan Davis swinging the early momentum in the red and whites favour.
Despite back-to-back sets on the Ghosts' line and several crowd-killing near misses for the Rebels, the visitors could not crack through the Ghosts' resolve.
Rebels forwards, led by a fired-up Jeff Skeen and unrelenting captain Grant Stevens, were putting everything into their hits with players reeling from each tackle.
It took a moment of brilliance from the Ghosts' potent left edge after an offload found captain-coach Danny Wicks in a little bit of space before he shovelled the ball onto Dylan Collett, who set partner in crime Mitch Gorman off sprinting down the touchline.
A little in and away on Rebels fullback Kieren Stewart allowed Gorman to find the tryline just inside the left stripe, with Matt Muller booting the conversion and giving the Ghosts a six-point lead.
Lollback was steering the Ghosts around the park from the back with ease and it took an extra effort from him to reef in a Rebels kick for touch to earn the home side field position for their third try of the afternoon.
A quick shift through experienced pivot Clint Greenshields got Jake Frame on the outside of his opposite number before he found Khan Williams, who dove across for his double on the stroke of halftime, sending the Ghosts to the break 16-6 up.
Tempers blew out of control midway through the second half after a late shot from Rebels' five-eighth Hugh Stanley on Mitch Lollback broke down into a melee between the two star players.
Group 2 official Nathan Grace was left with no choice but to send both players to the sin bin after punches were thrown.
But it was the Ghosts who were able to maintain their composure after the incident putting the focus on the football and soon they extended the lead through winger Joel Moss who crashed across under three defenders.
With both sides back to a full compliment with 15 minutes to go the exhaustion began creeping in. In the dying stages of the clash Lollback scored a deserved four-pointer after latching on to a Greenshields grubber to plant the ball down in the in-goal and seal the premiership victory for the home side.
Rebels' young brigrade, including Austin Cooper and Nick McGrady, combined with the experienced Hugh Stanley to put McGrady over for a consolation effort which was converted by Davis.
But it all was brought undone as a loose pass was toed ahead by Jake Frame for a streaking Todd Cameron who sealed the 2017 Group 2 premiership with a try and conversion on the final siren taking the decider 32-12.
SCOREBOARD: GRAFTON GHOSTS 32 (Khan Williams 2, Mitch Gorman, Joel Moss, Mitch Lollback, Todd Cameron tries; Todd Cameron 2, Matt Muller, Ben McLennan goals) def SOUTH GRAFTON REBELS 12 (Ant Skinner, Nick McGrady try; Kayan Davis 2 goals)