South Grafton defies odds to wrap up 2016 minor premiership
RUGBY LEAGUE: The South Grafton Rebels have put both hands on the Group 2 First Grade minor premiership with a dominant 50-20 showing against the Orara Valley Axemen on Saturday.
On an afternoon where the Rebels controlled the Axemen at Coramba Sports Park, the visitors also took a commanding lead on the Group 2 competition ladder extending themselves beyond the reaches of local rivals Grafton Ghosts with one weekend left to play.
There has been a lot to prove for the South Grafton side this year, backing up after breaking a 40-year drought to claim the Group 2 premiership last season.
But with a new coach taking the reins in Ron Gordon, and an exodus of premiership-winning players at the start of the season and a mid-season switch to Grant Stevens, it looked like an uphill battle for the red and whites.
So the moment Stevens was able to raise his hand as a maiden minor premiership-winning captain was an emotional time for the second-generation Rebel.
"I think it is a proving the doubters wrong moment," Stevens said. "I can tell you at the start of the season I thought we would be competitive, but I didn't think we would get the minor premiership or have had as dominant a season as we have had.
"The effort our boys put in this year has been impressive, and it is a good feeling to have this honour.
"Two years ago I shouldn't have been playing football with where my knees were at. Then to come back last year win the premiership last year, and now coach a side to the minor premiership it is a really special moment."
Stevens was also happy for coach Gordon, who now has the chance to win his second premiership as a coach at the Rebels after winning the Group 2 Under-18s shield in 2014.
"For the players we lost and the players we gained, and to have a good bunch of local blokes playing for each other and their town out there on the field," he said.
"And for the guys like Grant Brown, who puts a new spark into everyone with everything he does, he plays with it every week and he has been outstanding for us.
"For the last few years he has been a part of a club that has not been that successful. For players like that I think it is good to get to taste that success.
"And for the likes of Ronnie, who coached the Under-18s to a premiership only a couple of years ago and now to be in the ballpark of doing the same thing with the first grade side, it's great."
Stevens said it was a dominant performance from all 17 players who took the Coramba field in first grade with the Rebels standing up to a few early Axemen raids.
"I thought defensively we played awesome; we held out a lot of sets on our line at the start, they had majority of the possession for the first 10-15 minutes of the game.
"We kept grinding them out until they turned over possession on our 20. We were able to score off that set of six, we ran 60-70 metres to score our first try. It let a lot of pressure off for us.
"Where last week I thought we were very patchy, against Orara Valley I thought for majority of the game we were very good."
It was not a game without controversy, with the Rebels had to endure reduced numbers in both halves due to players in the sin bin.
Grant Brown was given 10 minutes on two occasions, and at a controversial moment in the second half, his captain Stevens followed to the bin after questioning referee Lenny Duroux.
But the Rebels persevered, scoring two tries and keeping the Axemen scoreless during the 10-minute period with only 11 on the field.
"I can't take anything away from our lads' effort," Stevens said. "All 17 of them should be holding their heads high."
LEAGUE OVERLOAD: Get ready rugby league fans because both the South Grafton Rebels and Grafton Ghosts are at home next Sunday afternoon.
Who will win the 2016 Group 2 Rugby League First Grade Premiership?
This poll ended on 15 August 2016.
South Grafton Rebels
Coffs Harbour Comets
Nambucca Heads Roosters
Macksville Sea Eagles
Orara Valley Axemen
This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.