During Byron Bay’s NRRRL clash with Ballina on Sunday, a 4×4 from the local cop shop cruised into the ground and parked itself on the grassy knoll at the north end of Red Devil Park. They had either been informed that a murder was being committed, or that a bunch of blokes in red jerseys needed to be arrested and charged with playing under false pretenses.
It was a perfect afternoon for the Bay’s Red Devils to showcase their strengths and make a statement of intent in front of their supporters before the commencement of next week’s semis. Their spot in the Five was assured and, assuming that reigning premiers Murwillumbah would knock over Marist Brothers – which they did – a chance to host the first play-off was on offer.
An estimated crowd of 5,498 eager punters were in attendance to see the boys turn it on. Those who remained to the bitter end can only have been devastated by the local side’s inept, at times klutzy performance.
For the record, the Ballina Seagulls, a man down for over an hour following the send-off of their mercurial centre Clarence Kelly, were untroubled in racking up a 36-0 thrashing of their northern neighbours.
Both sides started keenly, creating chances with chips to the in-goal and forcing line drop-outs from their opponents. Kelly’s dismissal came out of the blue after a strong break from second-rower Joseph Gordon, who has been consistently good for the Bay. The ref gave Kelly his marching orders for the elbow he dropped into Gordon’s head, but the game’s turning point resulted in the visitors, led by canny captain Andrew Battese, rising to the challenge and their hosts losing composure and concentration.
Piggy-back penalties took Ballina into the Devils’ twenty and they made no mistake in getting the opening try – despite being 12 against 13 it was they who were able to create the overlap. The Seagulls scored again from an intercept of an ill-conceived harbour bridge cut-out pass when going through the hands might have been more sensible. At 10-0 it was looking pretty crook, but not beyond a fightback. Any idea that the Bay might snap out of it was quashed when Ballina put on a nice set piece to put their five-eighth in untouched as the siren sounded for oranges. It was a killing blow.
The home side’s second forty was awful – we’ll leave it at that.
The Devils now travel to Lismore to take on Marist Brothers in a knock-out semi. They will be strengthened by the return of a handful of recent absentees, and there can be no doubting the side’s potential – they have beaten premiership favourites Murwillumbah and perennial heavyweights the Grafton Ghosts – but Sunday’s poor effort suggested a complacency that, one hopes, the boys are capable of ridding themselves. Winning has as much to do with an attitude that cannot be turned on and off like a tap.
Sunday’s performance went from sloppy to embarrassing and if the Bay have not learnt from it they might as well not turn up this weekend.