Story & photos John Campbell
Rugby league, at whatever level, demands equal parts courage, resolve and quick thinking (its detractors will never understand that last component).
The Mullumbimby Giants’ Under 18s displayed all three qualities in going down to the NRRRL minor premiers, the Murwillumbah Mustangs, by 20-12 in their elimination final at Stan Sercombe Oval last Sunday. It was a hell of a game, exemplifying the tribalism and unsullied purity of grass roots sport. Having won the comp (for this grade) last year, the Giants fell agonisingly short of defending their title in next week’s grand final. Disregard the 8-point margin – there was never anything in it. In fact, for much of the time Mullum were superior to their more fancied rivals.
With three automatic selections unavailable through suspension (the boys in question will have learnt from their foolishness, we hope), the Giants were always going to be up against it, but it was not until the last ten minutes that the matter was settled.
Mur’bah got proceedings underway shortly before midday in hot, dry conditions better suited to leg-spinners on a fifth day wicket than blokes playing footy.
The Giants – a credit to Shane Deihm and his coaching staff – showed that they’d not taken the trip up the winding road merely to make up the numbers. Their completion rate was good, their tackling (against mostly bigger opponents) was committed and the X-factor – that elusive ingredient we call ‘heart’ – was there in abundance.
Both sides were battling to establish superiority when Mullum received a penalty after one of the Mustangs was pinged for a shoulder charge that did him more damage than his target. On the back of it, they moved deep into Mur’bah’s territory. They pressed hard and the pressure inevitably told on the home side as Bill Hedditch stormed over to put the Blue-and-Golds ahead.
Mullum looked the goods, whereas Mur’bah appeared rattled by the underdogs’ application and vigour. The Mustangs suddenly found themselves racing for the line after reclaiming the pill from a charge-down, but the Giants’ cover arrived in numbers – the enthusiasm with which the threat was defused was typical of the struggle.
As the break drew near, possession and penalties started to flow the Mustangs way. Their half-back rounded-up a chip to put them on the board and shortly after they took the option of kicking for goal when the ref found yet another reason to make a call against the Giants. His whistle was frequently heard, much to the ire of the mob in the northern grandstand, occupied by the Giants’ faction. Friends, family and girlfriends, diehards from earlier times, senior players and plain old-fashioned tragics, they are a power in themselves. The Giants endured a critical period, just before and after oranges, when they could not buy a penalty. Their supporters bayed raucously, and with justification, for off-side, but no relief came. Do some refs not blow a penalty because they want to prove themselves above outside influence? Ten minutes, ten metres can change the course of any contest.
Mur’bah got a try from a bomb to make it 14-6 and the Giants’ hopes were then shattered by a nicely executed try from an extremely ‘flat’ pass.
Byron Flynn crossed late, but Mullum’s proud effort was to no avail.
Better luck next year boys. You played tough, done good.