Story & photo John Campbell
It is acknowledged by most sports fans that contests are won and lost in the head as much as on the field. This was never more evident than at Red Devil Park on Sunday.
Hosting the Evans Head Bombers in Round 2 of the NRRRL competition, Byron had gone toe to toe with their visitors for the first thirty minutes of a dour but, for the assembled crowd of something like 3,808, compelling struggle. Hostilities were waged between the two twenties, but the Devils were getting the better of it. So it came as no surprise when centre Toby ‘Maguire’ Ryan gathered a popped-up pass from the Bombers to sprint fifty metres to the line and break the deadlock. Joey ‘the General’ Gordon’s conversion made it 6–0, but in the five minutes before half-time the game took an irreversible turn for the worse.
On the back of a penalty, the men in purple carried play deep into Byron’s territory. Their half-back, sensing a tiring defence, embarked on a probing, mesmerising run that opened a yawning gap for his supporting five-eighth. His converted try made it 6-all. And if that didn’t torpedo everybody’s spirits… from the restart, the Devils responded brilliantly with a four-pointer, only to have it penalised as a double-movement on the word of the touchie, who was further from the action than the ref.
The Bay is a team that wears its heart on its sleeve and as the boys trudged to the sheds for oranges the mood of despondency, even though the scores were tied, was palpable. We all believed that they’d earned better, but justice is not always fair… which is something the Devils will have accept quick smart.
The second-half saw Byron emerge late from the sheds – if it’s a psychological ploy, it never works (remember how long Des Hasler made the Bunnies wait before kick-off to the 2014 G-F?). They had a walloping southerly at their back, but you sensed that, despite their first forty ascendency, the momentum had been stolen by the Bombers. And if that was the impression that the Bay’s supporters had, it can only be because it is what emanated from the heat of battle.
To their credit, the Devils’ tackling was fearless and ceaseless. Raid after raid they repelled, but after being camped in Byron’s half for countless sets, Evans finally registered an inevitable try, and with it Byron’s clarity of purpose – and self-belief, it seemed – abandoned them.
Before you knew it, Evans were in again and the very real possibility of it getting ugly raised its head – especially with Chris ‘Jawbone’ Coleman limping off with a bung leg and the travelling supporters finding their voice (there is nothing so galling as the other crew getting loud).
The weather, which might have favoured the home side in the second forty, was never properly taken advantage of – if anything, the despairing Devils’ attitude to ball retention appeared to have gone with the wind.
With an extra-man advantage following the sin-binning of a Bombers forward – a horrible looking fellow – second-rower Brad ‘Bruce’ Lees got a consolation try, but it was too little, too late.
The final score of 22–12 to the Bombers was a fair indication of Byron’s lack of application when it really mattered.