Byron Bay rugby is a step closer to a place in the First Grade semifinals after a 54–12 win against Casino in Murwillumbah on Saturday.
With three rounds to play, fourth-placed Byron enjoys a ten-point break on fifth-placed Ballina who have the superior for and against. At a minimum the Bay must secure six points from the 15 points available to guarantee post-season football; two wins would likely deliver a home semifinal.
Byron were less than impressive in the first round against Casino, winning 20–5, but the team’s growing maturity and cohesion were in clear evidence in the second leg. The nine-try rout is Byron’s biggest win in First Grade and brings the season tally to nine wins and a draw from 13 outings, a tremendous return already for a club making their way back to top level rugby after nine years in the lower grades.
The Bay’s best player in recent weeks has been centre Rob Lynch and the veteran campaigner set the early standard with two rattling tackles and a line break in the opening five minutes. Casino was soon after punished for missed tackles when quality front rower Craig Wallace backed up an incisive backline raid to post the opening try. Wallace has been under a thick cloud over the last month but shook off his pre match lethargy to score a brace. Lynch also scored twice including an astonishing solo effort through the heart of the Casino defence.
On a day out for the back rowers, Harry Nuttall made the most of a return to his preferred openside flanker role with two tries and a wealth of combative defensive work. Flanker Mark Ballantyne was highly effective at the breakdown and No 8 Michael Armstrong was, well, his usual self, breaking the line almost at will to create a number of tries before scoring one himself.
Jim Hawley capped his comeback by finishing off the try of the season when he backed up a scrum move that started on Byron’s own line and passed through a dozen sets of hands. Josh Smith added another role to his impressive cameo CV. Smith was selected on the wing to nurse an injured shoulder and in the dying minutes of the game the regular front rower found himself in space. Byron had worked play intelligently to the right touchline and after quick hands and Nuttall’s long final pass Smith produced two gears to out-speed his opposite winger and score in the corner.
Underpinning the performance was the immaculate service of halfback Jack Dickson and the pace, judgment and quality of fullback George Kitching. The forwards worked for each other, in particular the honest toil of captain Pete Shaw, lock Matt Larsson and new prop Dan Richards did much to create the space and freedom enjoyed by their teammates.
Byron Bay will make the difficult road trip to Grafton this weekend.