The Mullumbimby Giants, having come from 14–nil down at half-time, were desperately defending a 24–22 lead as the timekeeper put his hand to the siren. With nothing on the clock and a gallant victory all but secured, the referee found one more penalty to blow for the visitors, only a metre from Mullum’s line.
Could the Giants resist the Red Devils’ final, desperate surge? So frenetic was that last minute that the option of kicking for goal had been forgotten – except by Byron’s skipper, Ryan O’Connell, and Jared De Thierry. With the mob giving him heaps as they bashed the advertising hoardings, De Thierry calmly slotted the ball between the sticks.
A draw in rugby league is never a satisfying result for either side. But you would have to suspect that Mullumbimby will be more pleased with it – not least of all because it has provided them, after three rounds, with their first point of the NRRRL season – than will Byron Bay.
As derbies go, it was a forgettable meeting until the pulsating twelve minutes at the death. Games can be like that. A winner appears evident to everybody until, without your noticing, the conflict is suddenly roaring and the battle intense. And, it must be said, when the whips were cracking it was the boys in Blue and Gold, with their raucous partisans urging them on, who looked most likely.
It was a perfect autumn afternoon when Duane Cahill, on the back of a 40/20 from De Thierry, crossed in the corner for Byron. Not long after, the Devils’ half-back Sam Barnes dived over from dummy-half. At this point, the ref was blowing the pea out of his whistle and both sides were guilty of shoddy ball control. Byron, as always, were showing more finesse, but Mullum’s grit was not to be discounted.
Scott ‘Scoot’ Hogan had come on for the Giants, after playing for the Reggies, and his presence noticeably lifted the home side. The years may have left Hogan with a head like a beaten favourite, but his footballer’s brain is as sharp as ever and his influence on proceedings would prove to be crucial.
Right on half-time, the Devils scored a spectacular try. From fifty out, De Thierry threw a beautifully weighted pass to put O’Connell into space. He drew the full-back, gave it to Cahill who then kicked into the Giants’ in-goal. The ball bounced horribly for everybody, but Byron’s Joseph Gordon got to it first and planted it under the crossbar.
After the break, Hogan put his stamp on proceedings when he dummied twenty out and was presented with a saloon passage to the line by daydreaming defenders.
With seventeen to go, following tries to Mullum’s Reece Carruth and the Bay’s Rex Sheavils, the Giants were left a man down after the dismissal of Lee Funnell. The moment of ugliness that led to his send-off galvanised the Giants. The other Carruth, Brock, got a try and then that man Hogan chased and regathered his own chip – which he had shrewdly aimed at the upright – and, unbelievably, the Giants were ahead 24–18.
Noel King grabbed an unconverted four-pointer that brought the Bay to within two – that they salvaged a point came down to luck, which they should not become accustomed to relying on.
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