Story & photo John Campbell
‘Get ’em onside!’
That raucous cry is the footy tragic’s equivalent of the first cuckoo of spring. In the opening round of the new NRRRL season at Les Donnelly Field on Saturday, it was heard virtually before anybody had raised a sweat. And, as always, the appeal fell on deaf ears.
It is currently being written far too regularly for the game’s good, but it’s nonetheless true; referees are having a disproportionate influence on the outcome of matches.
Already a man down, with Wayde Kelly, their pugnacious half-back in the bin, the Mullumbimby Giants had clawed their way back into the contest to trail Northern United by 10–4 with a minute to go to the break. Whereupon the ref saw fit to send Mullum’s Troy McArthur to join his mate in the sheds. Rugby league is tough enough when the numbers are all square, so if any side is reduced to eleven against thirteen you know that they are up that smelly creek without a paddle.
United scored in the first set after oranges and you could not help but feel that it was a blow from which the hosts would not recover. And so it turned out, as the raggedly attired visitors went on to win by 34–8.
It was, however, a score that in no way indicated the nature of the struggle.
Having cherry-picked star players from the three-quarters of last year’s grand-finalists (Ballina and Byron), United arrived with a backline of ominous speed, experience and, in the case of classy centre Chris King, size. The big centre had clearly spent his off-season in the long paddock, and he used his imposing bulk and strength to cross for three of the Dirrawongs’ six tries.
For the Giants, the exercise was not without its upside. They adopted the simple approach of taking it up the guts to find field position from where they might strike. And, to a degree, the method was successful, but poor execution and questionable attacking options let the side down at crucial moments.
Captain-coach Simon Moore will have been encouraged by the heart shown by his boys – Mullum have never been short of that commodity – and pleased by his forwards’ willingness to take it up to their opponents. The towering Pommie went alright himself, working hard in the ruck and slipping some neat off-loads.
In Kelly he has a tough and shrewd number seven, and his backs hinted that, with some runs under their belt, they have enough flair to cause problems for opposing defences. Five-eighth Louis Earl’s long cut-out pass to put McArthur over in the corner was a joy to witness, as was the ball-tearer try scored by winger Jeremy O’Donnell when he employed the time-honoured Maori sidestep to flatten would-be tacklers on his way to the line.
Pundits have written-off the Giants too early.
They never shirk it and are worth supporting. Get along to LDF next time they’re at home and you’ll get your money’s worth.
Results for round 1 of the NRRRL competition
18s Lower Clarence 30 v Cudgen 40
Reserve Grade Lower Clarence 24 v Cudgen 30
First Grade Lower Clarence 18 v Cudgen 36
NO RESERVE GRADE
First Grade Mullumbimby 8 v Northern United 34
18s Murwillumbah 44 v Casino 16
Reserve Grade Murwillumbah 16 v Casino 18
First Grade Murwillumbah 18 v Casino 12
18s Marist Brothers 44 v Evans Head 6
Reserve Grade Marist Brothers 40 v Evans Head 6
First Grade Marist Brothers 18 v Evans Head 26
18s Ballina 22 v Byron Bay 16
Reserve Grade Ballina 42 v Byron Bay 4
First Grade Ballina 20 v Byron Bay 33
Kyogle – BYE