Story & photos John Campbell
As pre-season tantalisers go, last Saturday’s Byron Bay Red Devils versus Mullumbimby Giants trial was never going to be up there with the Charity Shield. But it was a game of footy nonetheless, and with both of the ancient enemies keen to improve on last season’s efforts, it was one of serious intent. Local league aficionados approached it with relish.
After promising so much in 2012, the Devils were bundled out of the play-offs without a whimper, whereas the Giants were never in the race in their annus horribilis.
A pale crescent moon floated in a cloudless sky as Ryan ‘the Crab’ O’Connell led the hosts out before an estimated 1,711 keen onlookers.
In what was intended as an opportunity for the brains trust of each side to mix’n’match new recruits with regulars and get a handle on what their best combinations might be, it was reassuring to see some familiar faces emerge from the sheds. The three Kings were there for the Devils, Chris sporting a seriously deranged Mohawk, along with Sam ‘Tin Legs’ Barnes and evergreen Dwayne ‘Drano’ Cahill. Among Mullum’s die-hards were Max Binkley, Jake Wood, Aaron Cook and Robbie ‘Crazy’ Goodacre, who still hasn’t found any garters to keep his sox up.
Not surprisingly, the early exchanges were marked by incohesion and plenty of dropped ball. Noticeable, however, was Mullum’s willingness for the task – they were quick off their line in defence and, even at this stage, they look a tighter outfit. The Giants were first on the board and took a 4–0 lead to the quarterly break after composed halfback Troy McArthur crossed.
King (Chris), with his aerodynamic skull, showed blinding speed to score a runaway try soon after the resumption before Ben Webber provided the highlight of the afternoon. Collecting an inch perfect banana kick from Barnes, he beat a posse of Giants chasers in a desperate race to the line.
When King (Chris) fanged it down the sideline for his second four pointer, the Devils suggested they might run away with it, but they lost the pill from the kick off and Cook stormed over in the corner to put the Blue and Golds back in the hunt.
The deal was sealed for Byron after a scrum in the Giants’ twenty. King (Chucky), standing at five-eighth, served up a sweetly timed pass for Cahill to cruise in adjacent to the upright. Barnes’s conversion was a formality, giving the Devils a hard earned if not entirely convincing 20–10 win, with Cook icing the fans’ cake by being marched for giving lip to the ref.
It would foolish to attempt any long range predictions, but the commitment shown by all augurs well – this was no slap and tickle outing. The boys got stuck in and Mullum, more structured than in 2012, might just as easily have taken the spoils.
The competition proper kicks off on April 6, with the Bay at home to premiers Murwillumbah and Mullum hosting the Ballina Seagulls at Les Donnelly Field. Get along and make a noise.