The Mullumbimby Moonshiners took on the Iluka Cossacks at Lismore on Saturday for a crack at Lismore in next week’s President’s Cup Rugby Grand Final. The clubs have a long history of fierce but good-spirited competition. That was severely tested on Saturday.
The game promised much with Iluka on a six-game winning streak and Mullum unlucky not to have got the bikkies in the major semi against Lismore last week.
Iluka are the master scavengers; what they lack in structure they compensate for with speed and opportunism that converts half chances to tries. They were on song early, a chase down and smother off a Mullum boot for try number one, then a loose ball swoop into space for try number two.
The Shiners were playing the game Iluka wanted: expansive, with too many forced passes and plenty of untidy ball.
Shiners coach Shane Ivey acted quickly, injecting the master of calm Sati Siamoa off the bench to tighten things up. The fight back began in Mullum’s forward pack.
Hooker Leon Matchett-Oates seemed to be at every breakdown and props Mitch Arthur and Wally Andrews were running hard and straight.
The first scrum of the game ten minutes in saw the Mullum pack smash Iluka piggies with a driving maul that gained 30 metres.
Mitch Arthur carried the ball deep into Iluka territory and got a clever offload away, positioned for the recycled ball and bulldozed through the defence to peg a try back. Jimmy Chester converted to make it 10–7 and it was game on.
The league shorts were a bit of a give-away for many Iluka players that were blowing up for being pinged for offside or coming in from the side of the ruck.
Nathan Nicholls made them pay with consecutive penalties to give Mullum the lead. Late in the half the Cossacks equalised to go into the break at 13 a piece.
The message from Mullum’s coach was simple: hold possession, run tight, and drive through the forwards. The second half opened with neither side able to maintain any field position advantage.
Mullum had the better of the possession, though, with some great running from Andrews, Stubbings, Siamoa, Hazlett and Vogt.
Jumping Jimmy Pyne was having a blinder, dominating the lineout, tackling fiercely and making good yards with the ball under his wing.
As Iluka got frustrated the cheap shots increased earning them two yellow cards. The Shiners held their composure and when Nath Nicholls slotted two penalties the lead was six points.
He followed up intercepting a loose ball to dash down the grandstand wing and score.
The Cossacks counter attacked with a good kick into open space and looked for all money like they would close the gap until the wily old fox Scott Hazlewood-Potts got a handful of his jersey and dislodged the ball a yard from the line.
Back in attack Stubbings was running clever lines in behind the ruck to stretch the Iluka defence.
When the gap appeared Nath Nicholls was like a rat up a drainpipe to end Iluka’s season with his second try. The last play of the day should have been a moment of glory for Dylan ‘Wee Man’ Pyne.
Alongside Jacob Johnston a good chase caught the Cossack fullback one out scrambling to pick up the ball.
Like the Artful Dodger, Wee Man stole it from under his nose, played it back for Johnston then gathered a deft pass and was about to ground the ball on the right side of the try line when he almost had his head ripped off by a cheap high shot. It earned him a penalty try.
Then Iluka’s number twelve stepped in with a swinging elbow to the head of Jimmy Pyne while he was looking the other way that send him into La La Land. ‘Dog act’ was the call from the crowd and that it was, both cowardly and gutless.
The knuckleheads in Iluka’s team wanted the all-in brawl. The young Shiners rose above the crap and stood their ground and despite wanting to square up did not retaliate.
They left Lismore with the respect of the crowd and a chance to win the Premiership next week after a nailing the Cossacks 36–13.
Next week’s Grand Final kicks off at midday on Saturday at Crozier Field in Lismore.