Rebels with a cause before turnaround Comets ride out storm
YOU COULD sense something was on the cards.
Two quick tries and South Grafton Rebels were suddenly within reach. Trailing 18-16 in a game that, on paper, they should never win, the red and whites were sticking it to defending premiers Coffs Comets.
And why shouldn't they? A strong, supportive crowd was on hand to witness a spectacle at McKittrick Park on Saturday; an upset of the season would be the perfect way to warm up for the club's centenary celebrations that evening.
Comets were simply being out-enthused. They failed to clean up a dangerous grubber and Josh Rigg picked up the crumbs to reach over and score. Jay Melrose's conversion was successful and with 20 minutes on the clock, Rebels led the competition leaders 22-18.
Then they imploded, with the help of referee James Maggio.
Rebels self-destructed and went into meltdown as frustrations boiled over in the last 20 minutes and Comets prevailed 34-22.
Captain Rhys Walters was ordered to spend 10 minutes off the field after questioning the referee. On the back of three more penalties, Comets five-eighth Peter Irwin was awarded a try from dummy half. Protestations for obstruction, double movement and failing to ground were rife but to no avail as Maggio, without batting an eyelid, pointed Dwayne Duke to the sheds. Nathan Curry converted from the sideline to give Comets the lead and with 11 men on the field, the future did not look good for the Rebels.
Rebels' second rower Austin Cooper made a barnstorming break only to land awkwardly on his shoulder, spelling an end to his afternoon and worsening the side's predicament.
But Rebels intercepted immediately after the stoppage and centre Aaron Martin almost came down with a Ron Gordon bomb. Shortly after, Donald Johnson had daylight in front if his fingertip intercept attempt had stuck.
That was the break Rebels had needed. Instead Comets centre Dennis Gordon took advantage of the weakened defence and broke through to score in the corner in front of the visiting fans. Another sideline conversion from Curry added further woe for Rebels.
Comets soon had an unassailable lead when other centre Abel Lefaoseu scored in the opposite corner.
Then as Rebels prepared to kick off, with two minutes on the clock, Maggio sent Jay Melrose from the field and seconds later called the game off.
Rebels coach Dallas Walters was furious and firmly of the opinion his team deserved to come away with two points.
"I believe their try to bring it back in front was a no-try," he said.
"How can you burrow through behind the bloke playing the ball?
"I don't believe that Coffs Harbour deserved to win today. I thought we were the better football team.
"I think we were really hard done by. But the belief, passion and pride they played with today made me super proud.
"Now that the belief is there, potentially we can do well in this competition. But the official to lose control in that second half took the game away from us."
In truth, Rebels got caught out thinking about their celebrations rather than finishing the job. Like an inflated balloon, their collective high burst and frustrations seeped to the surface.
Rightly or wrongly, Maggio had taken the game from them like stealing candy from a baby and in the heat of the moment, Rebels felt robbed.
But it was not as clear-cut as that. There are some simple rules to follow on any sporting field, like keep your mouth shut and play the whistle, no matter how dubious the decision may seem.
All the while, as true champions do, Comets ignored the fracas between Rebels and ref, stuck to their guns and concentrated on playing footy. The end result - on the scoreboard at least - was a clear-cut victory. At the end of the day, that's all that matters.