Devils tame Cougars in top-of-table thriller

Byron’s Hemi ‘Sphere’ Mullen tries out his Changa Langlands sidestep at Red Devil Park on Sunday.

Byron’s Hemi ‘Sphere’ Mullen tries out his Changa Langlands sidestep at Red Devil Park on Sunday.

John Campbell

After faltering against Marist Brothers at their last venture, Byron Bay was host to the Casino Cougars at Red Devil Park on Sunday in a clash that was bound to be a make-or-break one for the home side’s push to be a serious NRRRL title contender.

Casino, above Byron on the ladder, would have been likewise motivated, so it was not surprising that, on a spanking sunny arvo, an estimated crowd of 6,112 arrived in anticipation of a white-knuckle contest. That it did not live up to expectations in the first half was a disappointment – both sides seemed over-anxious and were guilty of far too many fundamental errors for any fluidity to develop – but that it came home with a wet sail in the second forty to provide a pulsating finale before a hard-earned 34–28 victory to the Devils was ample reward for the boys who had fought the good battle, and their diehard supporters too.

There were any number of watershed moments in the later stages of an even contest, but none was more memorable than when Hemi ‘Sphere’ Mullen broke Simon ‘Toothless’ Kelly’s head when their skulls collided. Stunned by the collision and wondering why with friends like Hemi anybody should need an enemy, Kelly might have been perfectly justified in putting on his slippers and settling for tea and scones for the duration. But Byron’s leader of the pack would not have a bar of the soft option. Instead he took it up twice in the next set in an effort that visibly lifted not only the men in red, but everybody in the western bleachers. It was a mighty effort from Kelly, whose unstinting commitment to the cause rallied the boys when they sought it most – you only needed to see the response of the babes, Lachlan ‘Corporal’ Jones and William ‘Peppi’ Goldsmith, in his debut in the seniors’ starting lineup, to appreciate how inspiration works within a footy team.

Casino opened the scoring after a scrum win in the Red Devils’ twenty. They went wide – as they did all day – to put their winger over in the corner. It looked too easy, prompting ‘you haven’t seen the worst of it yet’ from the Old Bloke, who is a Jeremiah of the highest order.

But tries to reliable hooker Tyler ‘Dubois’ Blanch, captain Ryan ‘The Crab’ O’Connell, with his first touch after entering the fray from the bench, Ben ‘Spider’ Webber and Mullen had the Devils ahead by a not entirely convincing 18–14 at intermission.

O’Connell and centre Chris ‘BB’ King combined to put Cameron ‘Teresa’ Green in soon after the restart and the scene was set for Byron to go for the jugular. But the Devils could not quite put away a Cougars outfit that refused to take No for an answer.

Further tries to Peter ‘Facebook’ Flannery and King – from a beautifully worked set piece – got Byron home, to the unbridled joy of the Great Unwashed in the outer. It was fab.

The Red Devils are on a roll – go with them.

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