Byron Bay’s stuttering tilt at the NRRRL premiership title had another twist at Red Devil Park on Sunday.
The boys’ declining fortunes resulted in a relatively modest crowd in the vicinity of 2,188 turning up to witness what was a riveting and passionate contest against the Casino Cougars, who were themselves striving for a spot in the play-offs.
It was never pretty – in fact it was quite lacklustre in the first half – but it got the blood pumping as it came down to the wire. The score when the hooter finally blew was 32-26 to the home side, and it was fair reward for the effort put in by every player – bar none.
Devastated by injury, all those fit and able to pull on the jersey took to the field on a hot and blustery afternoon. Nobody wanted to cast their mind back to the first round encounter when the Devils traveled west to put in, with a much stronger side on paper, their poorest performance of the year.
Byron this time played with commitment but not a lot of urgency to trail 12-6 at the break, their try coming from full-back Hayden ‘Rupert’ Rosenbaum. What a tough little customer he is. With his razor sidestep and blistering turn of pace, he collected a wicked pass twenty from the line and left the Casino defenders floundering in his dash to the sticks.
But the drama came in the second forty.
“It’s not the dog in the fight, it’s the fight in the dog’ is the timeless adage that best sums up Byron’s performance.
The boys got off to a flyer when second-rower Joey ‘Flash’ Gordon, marauding down the right side of the pitch all day, made just enough of a break for the eager support and many hands to put winger Nathan ‘Nellie’ Nichols in for a try. Immediately upon the restart, they were down that flank again, with Rosenbaum, having rejoined the battle after a heavy knock, gathering a chip on the tip of his fingers and planting the pill next to the uprights.
At 14-12, the crowd was finding its voice and when Joe ‘Senator’ McCarthy crossed they went berko.
The Cougars responded quickly and threatened again – but cometh the hour, cometh the man. Gordon took a breathtaking intercept and sprinted 185 metres, maybe even more, with the crowd riding him like Jim Pike on Phar Lap. Nobody deserved a try more and, in a week in which the Goodes story shamed the nation, nobody had more right to do his indigenous dance. Onya Joey, we love you.
If that wasn’t specky enough; with the clock ticking down and sides locked at 26-all, and the barbarians hammering at the gate, and the ref blowing a welter of penalties to the Cougars, the Bay threw caution to the wind. Courage exhibits itself as much through the spirit of bold endeavour as it does through physical toughness. Refusing to let the ball die, and backing each other up again and again for one more pass, the Devils registered a magnificent Harlem Globetrotters try to Alex ‘Sir Frank’ Packer. It was totally ab-fab.
The finals might be beyond them – so much depends on unlikely results elsewhere – but Byron’s last round clash is with their neighbours, the mighty Mullumbimby Giants, at Les Donnelly Field. Go support the boys, in red or blue and gold – they’ve earned it. It’s the greatest game of all.