Story & photo John Campbell
One of the great attractions of bush footy (apart from there being no mind-numbing video replays) is the possibility that you might see something out of the box, something unheard of in the NRL.
Byron Bay were leading the Casino Cougars 12–6 in their NRRRL knock-out semi at Red Devil Park on Saturday. The Cougars, who had beaten the Bay just a week earlier, were pressing hard in the home side’s territory.
A pass went astray. It was swooped on by Simon ‘Toothless’ Kelly and the prop set sail for the distant, northern tryline. Eighty metres he sprinted, and the further he ran the wider was the gap between him and his chasers. They didn’t get to within cooee of the big fella. Ridden every inch of the way by the Devils’ ecstatic fans, it was an awesome effort from Kelly, mighty in every way – and he’s a front-rower! That’s not supposed to happen.
Despite the miserable conditions, a bumper crowd nearing 7,438 turned up to see Byron hang on to win a thrilling encounter by 32–24.
After a topsy-turvy season of unavoidable bumps and bruises and worse, the play-offs are the games that everybody wants to be part of. The ante is lifted noticeably, the intensity ratcheted up. In striving for the opportunity to take another step towards a coveted grand-final berth, nobody wants to have any petrol left in the tank when the day’s journey is done.
Centre Chris ‘BB’ King opened the scoring when he surged on to a delightful off-load from second-rower James ‘Buddha’ Griffiths and had too much pace for the cover in a blistering dash to the line. Almost immediately upon the resumption, his brother Bill ‘the Lion’ King shifted to the wing for the occasion, refused to give up on a kick chase and managed a miraculous try in the corner only centimetres before the ball ran dead. William ‘Peppi’ Goldsmith converted both – his unerring left-footed shots at goal are a real bonus for the Devils – and the Bay were cruising at 12–0.
Aided by a flow of refereeing decisions, the Cougars lifted and clawed their way back to 18-all before a Goldsmith penalty saw the Devils take a 20–18 lead to the sheds.
The floodlights glowed in the primordial grey, the mercury was plummeting and the rain steady as both sides slugged it out over a nail-biting second forty.
Kelly put Chris ‘Jawbone’ Coleman in under the sticks to give Byron some breathing space, but Casino answered with a superb, many-hands try that brought the score back to 26–24.
Patrons in the clubhouse, supporters huddled under tarps, and the mob on the hill, wound up by a frenzied Prophet Elijah, were put through the wringer as neither side was prepared to give an inch.
Victory was finally sealed when Cale ‘JJ’ Rowston plunged over from dummy-half.
It was a fab game of footy.
The Devils now travel to Murwillumbah on Saturday to continue their quest for the premiership’s holy grail.
Earlier, Mullumbimby maintained the Giants’ impressive record at junior level with a gritty 20–4 win over the Ballina Seagulls in the Under-18s.
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