Story & photo John Campbell
Bleak and cold and rainy. It was the sort of miserable Sunday that anybody with a modicum of common sense would have spent ensconced in front of the flat-screen watching his collection of John Wayne classics (starting with Rio Grand). But with Byron Bay making their late-season push for the NRRRL title, the true footy tragic had to be at Red Devil Park to see the boys take on Kyogle, fellow contenders who have been riding high on the ladder for longer than most pundits expected.
Conditions meant that champagne rugby league might not be on the agenda, but a devoted and ultimately delighted crowd nearing 3,714 witnessed the Bay run out 12–8 winners over a Turkeys outfit that demanded steely resolve from their hosts.
Much is written in the sports pages these days about this player or that providing the ‘X-factor’ for a team. Often it is justified, but there is an ‘X-factor’ that has been universal since Jesus was playing halfback for Jerusalem – heart. When two sides go at it with total commitment, it is not always just the skill factor, or the luck of the bounce, or the incomprehensible call of the referee that decides the issue; it is unity and commitment to a shared cause that makes the difference.
This was one tough game of football – the way we like it – and the Devils won because they refused to be beaten, because they rallied and withstood relentless and sometimes self-inflicted pressure, especially in the second forty, to deny an unstinting opponent.
Wet-weather rugby league demands control – possession, field position and a concerted kick-chase are first and foremost in any strategy. It’s not rocket surgery. Kyogle were tuned-in more quickly and scored from a wicked bomb in the fifteenth minute. Well drilled and aggressive, they appeared confident of victory. Byron needed to knock that confidence out of them in a hurry, and they did it through the heavy work of their forwards, led, as always, by Simon ‘Toothless’ Kelly. Backed up by James ‘Buddha’ Griffiths, moved to the second-row, tyros Sam ‘Dolly’ Dwyer and Lachlan ‘Don’t Panic’ Jones – who always play above their weight – and boosted by the return of Chris ‘Jawbone’ Coleman, the pack never took a backward step against a willing mob with a bit of size about them.
Fullback William ‘Peppi’ Goldsmith crossed for an uplifting try, which he converted from wide out, to give Byron the 6–4 lead that they took to the break.
Upon the resumption, Leon ‘Russell’ Kelly snaffled a try after a dribbly chip by Thierry ‘Monsieur’ DeThierry and the Devils had breathing space at 12–4. Kyogle looked done. Outclassed, they might have thought about the bus home – but good sides don’t quit so easily.
The unspeakable happened and they went in after a glut of possession. With twelve minutes remaining, 12–8 felt precarious at best for the Bay.
Unable to control the pill for any length of time, the Devils’ only recourse was to tackle their guts out. They did, and they earned a fantastic triumph.
Belief is all.
Byron are up against Marist Brothers this Sunday. Get down to Red Devil Park and share the belief with them.
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It’s easy to be a smart arse after the event, isn’t it?