The only way was up for the Mullumbimby Giants after last year and new coach Scott Johnston already has them set firmly on that trajectory.
They were beaten by reigning premiers Murwillumbah on Sunday, but it was only a late converted try that made the score a deceptively comfortable 26–16 for the visitors.
Mullumbimby has for a long time been a reservoir of tough, talented youngsters – there are juniors from the Giants currently running around with Wests Tigers, Manly and South Sydney – and it is significant that members of the 2012 Under 18s championship side should be emerging as contributors to the rebuilding of the Blue and Gold. But there is no substitute for experience, and it was the hardened Mustangs whose control, assurance and vital touches of class allowed them to prevail on a gorgeous autumn arvo at Les Donnelly Field.
Mullum kicked off and conceded two penalties in the first two minutes. Had Ricky Stuart been sitting with the mob in the bleachers, his observations of the ref’s performance might have drawn much more than a $10,000 fine from the authorities. But such parochialism, whether justified or not, can be detrimental if it engenders a sense of being hard done by among the players. Sporting contests are won as much in the head as on the pitch and, in a tussle such as this, where the Giants were chasing the game throughout, it doesn’t help to believe that you’re not getting a fair crack.
Led by their wily half-back and busy hooker, Mur’bah skipped away to a 10–nil lead while the locals were lamenting the decisions of the whistleblower. When veteran Jake ‘Cobar’ Francisco bustled over at the twenty-minute mark there was a palpable sense that Giants had got down to business.
That the Mustangs were being forced out of their comfort zone was evident when their winger was unceremoniously flung into touch only a metre from the line – he didn’t like it one bit. Shortly after, when Robbie ‘Crazy’ Goodacre came from the clouds to make a glorious Johnny Raper covering tackle on a runaway Mustang, there was a strong whiff of upset in the air.
Jack Govett, one of Mullum’s young Turks, stormed over next to the posts and at 10–all the Giants were in it up to their necks. Following Jake Woods’s pole-axing of the visitors’ number-ten, we all went to half-time with a warm inner glow.
The second forty was a reflection of the first.
Mur’bah worked a lovely move through the centre of the ruck to go ahead 16–10 and soon after the Giants’ Cook brothers and a Mustangs prop were binned for their involvement in a barney that had been brewing for some time.
A converted try to Mur’bah’s number-eleven looked to be the clincher, but the Giants’ never-say-die commitment saw Tim Abbott fly in under the posts to bring it back to 20–16, with the crowd going right off.
Heroic victory was not to be, however. Losing the ball immediately from the re-start, Mullum were unable to prevent the premiers from sealing the deal. Quality will out in the end, but the Giants are getting there.
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