Byron Bay rugby’s marvellous season has come to an end with defeat by Lismore in the First Grade Preliminary Final on Saturday. The grand achievement of finishing third in the club’s return to the top grade was in no way diminished by the 55–5 loss.
Byron had walked a tightrope all season, conjuring victories with their small squad, but in the end the weight of injuries was too great against the premiership favourites. Byron took 17 players into the game but at least three players would not have played on a normal Saturday.
Captain Harry Nuttall and walking medical journal Craig Wallace had reached the ends of their tethers. Nutall was central to the Bay’s heroic semifinal victory against Lennox Head but on Saturday his damaged shoulder was completely debilitating. The champion flanker chose not to be substituted and bravely finished the game on the left wing. When Wallace finally left the field with only minutes remaining he received a fitting ovation from the crowd.
Byron were defensively sound in the early part of the game but their reshuffled formation could not deliver any momentum in attack.
Lismore worked for territory, built pressure and were inevitably rewarded with two pushover tries. Minutes later the contest was all but over when centre Rob Lynch was forced to leave play with concussion.
AJ Humphries showed his class and versatility by coming into the midfield. Byron continued defending but Lismore took a 22–0 lead to the break.
Lismore scored three tries early in the second half but with the finishing post now in sight the Bay matched their opponents in the late stages of the game. Byron’s best was Wallace and he was rewarded with the Bay’s only try. It was a sight we have seen many times this season; the Irishman tucking the ball under his arm and charging through the opposition defence.
There were no poor performers for the Bay. Playmaker George Kitching was class while the best of the forwards were locks Ryan Betts and Matt Larsson. With the entire squad likely to back up next season and the prospect of further players, the Bay will be a force in First Grade for years to come.
Byron’s Player of the Year Awards Night is being held at the Great Northern backroom on Thursday September 19. Many will remember the occasion last year celebrating the Bay’s Grand Final win. There is just as much reason for celebration this year and all the Bay’s supporters are all welcome.
Tickets will be available from the Northern and the Rails from the end of this week.
– Photos Peter Moore