IT HAS been a while since Grafton Ghosts centre Aaron Hartmann was sent from the field.
Sunday's physical major semi-final against Coffs Comets was as much a game of tough rugby league as it was survival of the fittest.
Extra efforts in tackles, heavy and high hits on opponents and endless pushing and shoving threatened to force the game into nothing more than a glorified lesson in niggling.
Those fears came to a head in the 37th minute when Ghosts fullback Mitch Lollback was slammed in a tackle and worked on by the Comets defence.
Hartmann got involved, pushing a Coffs defender off Lollback, as players from both sides broke into a wild melee that saw three players sin-binned.
"There was a bit of frustration out there but I wasn't going to let them get away with kneeing my cousin," Hartmann said.
"I probably shouldn't have reacted but I only pushed him. I copped my punishment and got on with it."
Coffs pair Alex Hull and Dennis Gordon were also sin-binned.
If Hartmann felt he let his teammates down he made up for it in spades, as his late try doubled as one that sealed the result.
He deflected any praise onto his teammates, however, and gave the defensive effort yet another glowing review.
"The boys' "D" was amazing," Hartmann said.
"Keeping them to nil is something we aim for every week. I think last time they got lucky tries which proves we've been defending well."
The Ghosts have the best defensive record in Group 2, conceding just 140 points (9.3 ppg) from their 15 games so far.