The old expression of going down swinging was put into practice on Saturday as Byron Bay went down in a thriller 19–12 to Wollongbar.
The Bay can hold their heads high as they played hard but clean rugby and were valiant in defeat. It was the Wollongbar Alstonville Pioneers who resorted to repeated negative play in order to win the major semifinal.
At one point there were as many Wollongbar players in the sin bin as supporters in the stands with three consecutive yellow cards in the space of 10 minutes reducing them to twelve men for a period of the second half.
From the kick-off both teams were quick to assert their dominance in an attempt to take control of the match. It was Wollongbar who settled into the game first and some repeated attacking phases set them up with some good field position.
The Bay made sure the Pioneers earned every metre in attack with some big defensive hits led by Eddie O’Hare and Craig Wallace.
Some quick thinking and fast feet from Wollongbar’s halfback Justyn Keir opened the scores as he crossed the line for a try. For the majority of the remainder of the first half, Byron were subjected to repeat attacking phases but to no avail, as the Pioneers were unable to penetrate Byron’s line again in the first half.
Two successful penalty kicks extended Wollongbar’s lead and as the halftime whistle sounded they were up 11–0.
The intensity of the game didn’t lessen as the second half was underway. Both teams traded blows from the get-go; however, it was Byron who appeared to carry the momentum after the break.
Despite the Bay’s forward pressure, Wollongbar managed another line break against the run of play to score in the corner.
From here it was all Byron as they relentlessly pressed forward in attack with multiple tries stopped by last-ditch defensive efforts.
Wollongbar struggled against the Byron attack and eventually their efforts to slow down the ball were punished with a yellow. This was quickly followed by a second and third yellow card as three Wollongbar players were sent to the sin bin for 10 minutes each.
Unlucky not to get the penalty try, Byron didn’t waste time in taking advantage of the depleted Pioneers side as fullback James Oakley went crashing over.
Wollongbar retained their players after their time was served but Byron kept the pressure on and super sub Wally Andrews found a hole and made like the wind to score another in the corner for the Bay.
A beautiful conversion from Brandon Lewsey had the scores at 16–12 with five minutes left on the clock.
Despite the Bay’s best last-ditch efforts it wasn’t quite enough and a well-taken penalty kick from Wollongbar right before the whistle extended their lead to 19–12, which is how the game finished.
It was a great effort from the Byron boys with First Grade coach Paul Jeffery ecstatic with the effort put forward by the whole team. Best on field was the electric Jascha Saeck, with mentions given to Craig Wallace, Eddie O’Hare and James Oakley for their outstanding performances.
The loss now has Byron facing Lennox Head this coming Saturday at Ted Crozier Field, Lismore. Kickoff is at 3.15pm. This is a must-win match for the Bay with the winner progressing through to the Grand Final the following week against Wollongbar.
There was a massive Byron Bay support group who made the trip to Wollongbar on Saturday and it would be great to see this replicated this coming Saturday. There will be a supporter bus going to the game – info on the website and Facebook page.
Go The Bay!