Byron Bay rugby has added another chapter in their remarkable comeback season to First Grade, beating Grafton 29–17 at home on Saturday. After seven rounds and with a game in hand Byron Bay sit third on the ladder behind Lennox Head and Lismore. The Bay are six points clear of fourth placed Wollongbar.
Byron Bay’s peace-loving army of supporters are well aware of the team’s courage and never-say-die attitude. But the perennial rugby underdogs showed us two new things on Saturday: composure and flair. In a game where the lead changed five times Byron were faultless in their options, attacking at the right time with pace and width and playing tough, uncompromising rugby to close out the victory.
Grafton opened the scoring against some unusually brittle Byron defence but the Bay replied with their superior athleticism in midfield. In an even and at times brutal start to the game, Grafton struck the next blow when Byron prop Josh Smith was carried from the field with what appeared to be a terminal injury. The visitors took a 10–7 lead while Byron were down to 14 players.
Smith miraculously made his way back onto the field to ignite the play of the season, a sweeping length of the field try from a defensive lineout that stunned both Grafton and the large gallery of supporters. Smith threw a curling cut pass for blockbuster centre Harry Nutall to break the line and release centre partner George Kitching. Superbly athletic winger Mitch Loane loomed on the outside and left the visiting Redmen in his wake.
Grafton stayed in the game with a counter attacking try from a perfect chip kick and when Byron second rower Matt Larsson was sin binned the visitors scored a push over try against the Bay’s depleted scrum for a 17–12 lead. Byron kept it tight, hammered their way up field and were rewarded when prop Craig Wallace powered over with nine minutes on the clock. Man of the hour Mitch Loane stepped up and produced the worst looking successful conversion of all time. Before the delirium had subsided Byron was in again to seal a memorable bonus point win.
Centres Nutall and Kitching were outstanding with a try each. Playmakers Jack Dickson and Jass Saek were all quality while Smith and rejuvenated Tom Homer were the best of a tough, hardworking and skilled forward pack.
Byron Bay is at home at the Recreation Fields again this Saturday with a massive assignment against Lismore for Ladies Day. Kickoff is at 3.30pm and admission is free.