Story & photos Eve Jeffery
The grand final of the Northern Rivers Regional Rugby League gave us everything we love about football yesterday at Kingsford Smith Park in Ballina.
As the A Grade players from the Ballina Seagulls and the Murwillumbah Mustangs lined up for Suzie Teys’ national anthem, little did Murwillumbah know it was Ballina’s secret weapon. Suzie sang for the troops the last time Seagulls won the premiership 20 years ago and still singing at 60, she proved lucky again.
But it wasn’t luck that was on the field on Sunday. It was pure, driven hard work and both teams meant business.
Within minutes of the whistle, Nathan Jordan was over the line for the Mustangs. With Murwillumbah’s defeat at the hands of a superior Ballina two weeks ago in the semis still ringing in their ears, the Mustangs were out to show they would not be beaten again.
Less than five minutes later, winger James Lagiloaloa pinned the ball in the the turf again for Murwillumbah and the Seagulls knew the easy ride was over. Both tries were converted and the Mustangs sat on 12 points in less than ten minutes.
It was another full ten minutes of hard yakka before Ballina scored and the Seagulls’ fans breathed a sigh of relief as Anthony Colman crossed the line. The seal was broken and both sides got down to it.
Heading towards the break Ballina’s Dan Gibson went for a run and the unconverted try saw the home team breathing down the visitors’ necks. You could feel the Seagulls were desperate to even the score before the siren and a penalty saw sure shot Andrew Batisse put the ball through the posts as the crowd headed to the loo and the bar.
I don’t know what happened in the sheds but Ballina came out firing. Evening the score before the break seemed to give the Seagulls the clean slate they needed to renew their focus and the electricity from the semis had returned. Within three minutes another try by Colman, this time converted, saw Ballina take the lead for the first time in the match.
Kane Montgomery backed it up with another a few minutes later, but their grasp on the trophy slipped when it was answered soon after by Mustang Lynden Murphy.
All of these lads played an awesome game, it was hard, it was tough, it was fair, it was entertaining and it was just bloody good football – certainly justification for the huge crowd that filled Kingsford Smith.
At around three-quarter time, Murwillumbah’s fate was just about sealed when a fumble saw centre Luke Simpson run over half the length of the field to the sounds of an elated home side crowd, only to be stopped just short of the line, then a few short sharp passes later, take the ball home and the score was Ballina 26–18.
It was almost all she wrote until out of the blue, the Lagiloaloa machine struck again and created a 26–24 tension just nine minutes from time.
At this point it was truly anyone’s game, all Murwillumbah needed to do was cross the line once more. All Ballina had to do was stop them.
Let’s just call Brian Kelly the fat lady. With just over two minutes left in the game, the old girl sang. Murwillumbah had plenty left in the tank but simply not the time to expend it. Ballina’s hard fight for the flag was over and 30–24 was what they needed to make it a win.
After the siren Ballina captain Greg Ryan said that the semi win two weeks ago didn’t make the team think the grand final was a shoe-in. ‘We knew they were probably a little bit off that day’, he said. ‘We knew they would come out hard today and we had to match them for 80 minutes. That was the key today.
‘We always knew this was going to be tough. They came out of the blocks hard and we knew they were going to do that. We weathered the storm, but credit to our blokes, we knew we could stay in the game.’
Ryan says the team felt as if they could win the 2013 trophy. ‘We were confident we would get the job done, it was just a matter of getting through our sets and doing it for each other.’
Ryan said his team were very motivated for the premiership and that the Mustangs’ surge did give him a scare – he looked toward the clock for answers. ‘It’s been 20 years since this club won the premiership. I was quite happy to hear that siren go at the end.’
Marists’ happy with their day in the sun
The Marist Brothers had a very successful outing at Kingsford Smith Park on Sunday. They fielded teams in both the under 18s and the Reserve Grade final.
Murwillumbah was out of luck again in the 18s with a 28–12 loss to the Marists and the Ghosts also had little to celebrate on the bus ride back to Grafton with a 26–22 loss that went down to the wire in golden point extra-time.