On Sunday morning, regardless of the outcome of their away fixture at Casino, the Byron Bay Red Devils were almost assured of a top-three finish on the NRRRL ladder. By sundown they had been relegated to fourth after Kyogle defeated the competition’s high-flyers, Murwillumbah, and the Devils themselves put in one of their poorest efforts of the season.
In going down 28–6 to the Cougars – and it was worse than it reads, for the hosts ran in six tries to one – the Bay have left themselves with the daunting task of now beating all four of the other top-five aspirants if they are to claim the champion’s crown. They are capable of doing that, but a mighty improvement on last week’s performance is imperative.
In truth, it was a pretty awful game of footy, with no player more influential than the ref, who was called upon to blow the pea out of his whistle as countless mistakes and infringements were made.
After overnight rain heavy enough for the Mullumbimby Giants v Ballina clash to be cancelled, Casino kicked off under a cloudless blue sky. The major attraction for the crowd was the Cougars’ number four, Matt King. The former Storm and Souths centre/winger, star of Origin and tests, was back in his hometown to add a little class to what promised to be an enthralling encounter. His Jimi Hendrix hair looked fab, and he put his winger over in the corner with his first touch of the ball, but Dally Messenger himself could not have made a silk purse out of the sow’s ear that was served up over the ensuing seventy-odd minutes.
In fairness to the Bay, they lost Tyler Blanch, their hooker and dummy-half, in the warm-up and had injured players dropping like flies before they were able to settle. Cameron Green and Hemi Mullen succumbed, while forward leader Simon Kelly soldiered on though as crook as Rookwood.
Tireless Peter Flannery raked a 40/20 out of the blue to put the Devils on the attack, but no sooner had they got close to Casino’s line than they squandered their opportunity by spilling the pill. Within minutes Casino’s five-eighth was hurtling towards the line with Byron’s defenders hanging off him like he was carrying the Ebola virus. By the time somebody decided to tackle him it was too late and a trend was emerging. The Devils were asleep at the wheel.
Casino scored a third, unconverted try before William King was first to a loose ball after a chip from Ryan O’Connell to put Byron on the board. Billy Goldsmith steered his kick between the posts and the Devils were behind only 12–6 at the break.
They appeared to be asserting themselves in the battle up front, but it was as close as they were to get. Casino came out hungrier and a little more composed for the second forty and Byron were never really in the hunt.
The sides meet again on Saturday in the first elimination semifinal. The Devils will win it with your support.
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