After only one game in five weeks the Mullum Moonshiners lined up on Saturday for a much needed hit out against fourth placed Ballina, Dean Trevaskis reports.
The last game of the regular season had a mini-final atmosphere with Ballina needing a win to cling onto a finals berth.
Mullum gained the early ascendency through the ever-reliable boot of Nathan Nichols, consecutive penalties giving the green and golds a six-nil lead. Sati Siamoa was leading the Mullum charge with some smoking runs straight up the guts and numerous line breaks. But Mullum struggled to find fluency with play continually breaking down after two or three phases.
Ballina capitalised on the turn overs building pressure and eventually cracking the miserly Moonshine defence when their hooker crossed the try line.
Mullum responded through the mercurial brilliance of Simon Hutton. From a scrum deep in Ballina territory, half back Jackson Lewin swung it wide, the backs found Hutton on the wing and as he has done all season used explosive speed and a low centre of gravity to wrong foot the defence. He brushed tackles from the full back and cover defence to add to his impressive bag of tries this season.
With plenty of spite in the game Lachlan ‘Bad Boy’ Stubbings earned himself a yellow card after a blow up at the man in purple. Despite being one man short the Shiners held a four point advantage at the half.
After the break Ballina was winning the battle for possession and wrestled back the lead with a converted try. The Mullum counter came on the back of Jumping Jimmy Pyne and Nathan Appel dominating the line outs.
With the pressure building Mullum crowd favourite Dylan Pyne put himself in the picture for a try that would have brought the house down. The line opened up, the ball spun wide but the Baker turned Butcher and the opportunity was lost. Perhaps the Wee Man is saving his moment of glory for the finals. Ryan ‘The Phantom’ Cuthbert was playing a blinder despite limited game time. But with time running out it was big Stubbsy delivering his redemption with a bustling surge to the line that earned him a five pointer.
With seven minutes to go trailing by two points Ballina threw the kitchen sink at it. Mullum’s defence stood tall, wingers were crashed into touch, second rowers were cut off at the legs and pick and drives were repelled. Again the young Shiners had held their nerve when it counted. When the whistle blew, Ballina’s season was over and the Shiners were primed for a finals campaign.
Despite finishing minor premiers the Shiners will not get a home final, that privilege goes to second placed Lismore – the Shiners would happily play on a paddock full of cow pats in a hail storm in Timbuktu so hungry are they to tear into Lismore. Mullum have been the best defensive team all year while Lismore topped the table for points scored.
The head-to-head reads one win each and one draw. It is the classic clash of youth versus experience, big club versus little. The Shiners will be relishing the opportunity to pull Lismore’s pants down in front of their home crowd. They will need support and all the Moonshine faithful are urged to get to the game next Sunday at Lismore Rugby Park.
Kick off time is 12 midday with a spot in the granny up for grabs.