Byron Bay rugby defeated Lennox Head Trojans 23-17 on Saturday. Put simply it was the best team performance in living memory.
The Trojans have not been beaten at home in more than three years, they have won the last five First Grade Grand Finals and their form this season has been irresistible. This mattered little against a Byron Bay team built on courage and self-belief.
Byron had been tactically poor in their loss to Lismore last week but the Bay were faultless in their options and execution on Saturday. The forwards were able to gain crucial momentum over the advantage line and when put under pressure the Bay controlled the ball and went long and high from the boot of mercurial playmaker Jash Saeck.
The Lennox Head back three are lethal from broken play but time and again the Byron defensive line caught their opponents behind their support players. Nothing builds confidence like defensive pressure and the work of Tom Homer and Jamie Blair in the forwards and the impeccable George Kitching out wide was an inspiration. The Trojans have averaged close to 40 points a match this season. At halftime they trailed Byron 3-0.
The break suited the home team and the Trojans pushed the tempo early in the second half, playing on quickly from free kicks and penalties. A try by Lennox in the corner gave their nervous supporters something to cheer about but within minutes Byron Bay regained the lead from a second Nathan Nicholls penalty conversion.
By the midpoint of the second half, the result came down to desire. With only 17 players and not a single substitution made in the forwards, Byron somehow found the strength to drive past the tiring Lennox pack and send Blair crashing over the line. Nicholls converted.
Lennox have won many Grand Finals with late rallies and as the match opened up the Trojans scored their second try to bridge the gap to four points. Refusing to simply wait out the clock, Byron matched their opponents for enterprise and when quality front rower Craig Wallace ran 40 metres down the touchline the Bay could taste an unlikely victory. Tensions boiled over, a melee erupted and Lennox lost a player to the sin bin for punching.
With a chance to deliver the knockout blow, it was Byron’s best player Saek who sealed the victory. The young No. 10 had put Byron in the contest with his wonderful defence and astute kicking, now he ran through the ruck and shouldered his way past four defenders to score in the corner. A sideline conversion from Nicholls put the issue beyond doubt and a try from Lennox in the final play of the match gave the champions scant consolation.
Lead by their lionhearted captain Pete Shaw, Byron Bay’s pack was heroic. Homer, Blair and Wallace were well supported by Michael Armstrong, Matt Larsson, Ryan Betts and Phil Lees. In the centres Kitching and Harry Nutall were massive and fullback Jim Hawley was always safe. In the absence of injured star halfback Jack Dickson, Josh Smith showed his skills and versatility with a one-off cameo in the number 9 shirt.
Third placed Byron will enjoy a bye this week before travelling to fourth placed Ballina on June 15.