Saturday’s Presidents Cup Rugby Grand Final at Lismore between Mullumbimby Moonshiners and Lismore City was a gruelling edge-of-your-seat ride that earned both sides a standing ovation. They had met twice in the previous month for a draw and a last gasp one point win to Lismore.
Saturday’s game did not buck the trend of nail-biters. Lismore, as always, would rely on a big well-drilled forward pack, Mullum on their speed and exciting brand of expansive Rugby.
The young Shiners have won the hearts of the community in the northern end of the Byron Shire. On Saturday that army of fans was magnificent in numbers, colours and voice. Ryan Cuthbert epitomised the one-for-all attitude of this team. He was the unlucky one to miss out when 24 players was culled to 23. He kept his head high, contained his disappointment and got right behind his team mates.
Mullum, as they have done so often this season, were quick out of the blocks. Nathan ‘Superboot’ Nicholls drew first blood with a penalty. Lismore countered with tight possession and repeat phases to have Mullum parked on their own line. And like the arm wrestle these clashes have been, Mullum soaked it up. Half back Jackson Lewin set the early standard with ferocious tackling.
The lead stretched to six points with another Nicholls’ penalty and then the Shiners turned it on with some dazzling width of the field movement through the backs. Then it was back to Lismore to pick and drive at the Mullum line but the shop was closed. The human wrecking ball Sati Siamoaup then turned the tables when he roosted a kick out of defence to find touch over the half way.
It set up penalty number three and a nine point advantage to the Shiners. Wal Andrews was the first in a series of setbacks for the Shiners earning a yellow card for a dangerous tackle, flanker Brett Hazlett who looked threatening every time he had the ball in hand followed soon after with his eyebrow split like an overripe watermelon.
Lismore pegged a penalty back and the half time whistle blew at 9–3.
The second half started with Lismore nailing a penalty. Dion ‘DBoss’ Vogt responded with a scything run deep into Lismore territory. Jimmy Chester followed up off the back of a good scrum, went wide to Siamoa to Duncan Kendall who sliced through the line for a try. Mullum up by ten.
The intensity of the contest was taking its toll though with Mullum’s bench looking like a war zone with ever-reliable flanker Jarad Hicks out for the game with a shoulder injury, Sati Siamoa hobbled with a locked knee and Hazlett oozing claret from his closed up eye. Still the game lifted a notch, lock Jamie Stevens who has been the quiet achiever all season, started hitting it up, and Jimmy Pyne was in Kamikaze mode with the ball under his wing.
Lismore made a decisive move, substituting half of their forwards for fresh Piggy’s. They scored immediately to trail by only five. Then with five minutes to go they found the line again, scores level. Mullum wangled a penalty from the kick off, Nath Nicholls has been such a key member of the Moonshine revival this year, with his kicking, try scoring, hard tackling and ability to read the play. He lined up from near the sideline, with two minutes to go. It went agonisingly close collecting the inside of the upright but bouncing back into play.
Extra time was called ten minutes each end. It was no place for the faint-hearted, like two heavyweight boxers both teams swung from the hip looking for the knock out blow. Then Jimmy Pyne burst off the back of a ruck, bloused the defence and was about to ground the match-winning try when fate stepped in and the ball spilled out inches from the ground. He has been sensational in the big games and should hold his head very high.
The rub of the green seemed to be Lismore’s way when Shiners’ full back Jacob Johnstone caught a kick at half way that bobbled in his hands before he attacked the line. The ref called knock on to the disbelief of the crowd. Then with 15 minutes of extra time gone Lismore nailed a wobbly drop goal. Nath Nicholls tried to level up but his attempt from the halfway went just wide. Then the curtain fell. An epic final ended 19–16 Lismore’s way in a game that truly did not deserve to have a loser. Both sides were outstanding.
The loss continues the Shiners’ history of losing grand finals in odd years and winning them in even years, look out 2014!
Every Mullum player deserves a mention but one epitomises the spirit of this side. Simon Hutton was simply magnificent. The fastest man in the competition ran like a demon, accelerating at the point of impacting props twice his side, hurling himself into tackles and making some astonishing runs, one 60-metre dazzler that included six tackle breaks. He did not have energy left to walk off the field when the final whistle blew. It is that fearlessness, courage and willingness to take on anyone that runs through the heart of this side. They have developed as team mates and men this year and everyone associated with the club was unanimous that they have done themselves and the Mullum Moonshiners proud in 2013.