Story & photo John Campbell
Byron Bay, after stunning the NRRRL Premiers at Ballina in Round One, were unable to repeat the dose when the Murwillumbah Mustangs came to Red Devil Park on Sunday.
Before a vocal crowd approaching 2,993, the home side did their very best to beat themselves against an uncompromising but hardly scintillating outfit that was grateful to feed off the opportunities offered by their unfocused, lackadaisical opponents.
Beaten 24–14, it was only a late flurry from the Bay, featuring a splendid converted try from a scrum win by speedy winger Hayden ‘Rupert’ Rosenbaum, that resulted in a scoreline that, if anything, flattered the hosts.
A positive that captain-coach Ryan ‘The Crab’ O’Connell might take from the game is that the Devils – always a frustrating outfit, going up and down like a nun’s habit – should perform with undistinguished, hair-pulling gaucherie and still get close to one of the competition’s highly fancied sides. They might as well have not had the ball at all, so mistake-ridden was their execution when in possession, but their application in defence cannot be faulted. The pack, conceding more than just a few kilos to the other mob, were awesome. As always, led by veteran Simon ‘Colgate’ Kelly, they tackled their guts out, with Sam ‘Dolly’ Dwyer in the thick of everything that was going on.
It was under a scorching sun that the boys took the field, decked out in spanking new black-V kits. The opening clashes were neither here nor there – the Devils seemed flat, but the Mustangs, if typically well organised, were no better than ordinary. Out of the blue, Mur’bah scored from a poorly defused kick and Byron compounded their slovenliness by putting the ball out on the full from the resumption.
Then came the rain, and with it the Devils’ awakening. Centre Brad ‘Bruce’ Lees crossed untouched and a Bill ‘Peppi’ Goldsmith penalty gave the boys an 8–6 half-time lead that was, if not undeserved, certainly unexpected.
Talk among regulars in the outer was in agreement – whoever could hang on to the pill in the greasy conditions would get the money. ‘Football,’ as the great Tommy Raudonikis famously philosophised, ‘is a simple game,’ and possession is nine-tenths of the law. Hoping for the best and anticipating an arm-wrestle in the second forty, locals in the western bleachers were dismayed to see their side knock-on in the first set of six.
A B-grade movie ensued.
Both sides were stricken with dropsy, but it was Mur’bah who rose to grab the prize. After doing a mountain of tackling, the Devils finally cracked – three converted tries, including a beauty from a towering bomb – had the Mustangs gallop away to 24–8. Twenty minutes remained on the clock, but the deal was done.
Byron didn’t lay down, but they could not counter an opponent that plays within its means and always gets the percentages right.
Away to Marist Brothers next week, the Devils will need to improve – and you can bet your proverbials they will.