Story & photo John Campbell
It’s easy to be a smartarse after the event, isn’t it?
About ten minutes into the second half of this pulsating, at times torrid NRRRL round 6 game between Byron Bay and Cudgen, the Red Devils were awarded a penalty close to the sticks. The boys had taken a hard-earned 12–4 lead to the break and, after an initial onslaught that saw the other mob come back to 12–8, they looked to be recovering their mojo.
Pressing hard to reassert themselves, a set of six presented itself as the perfect opportunity to put the visitors on the back foot again. These days, however, the fashion is to take the two on offer – but, even though Joey ‘The General’ Gordon’s kick never looked like missing, increasing the lead from four to a less than overwhelming six seemed like a less than positive option. Certainly, Cudgen weren’t bothered by it.
Following their convincing win at Kyogle, the Devils were back at home before an estimated crowd of 5,001 on a glorious autumn arvo – a perfect day for rugby league, as they say in the classics. And Byron put in a first forty of tremendous vigour and commitment. Ball control was good, tackling fiery.
Cudgen got an early try from a straightforward passing raid after a scrum win, but the Devils returned fire with murder in their hearts. Gordon, now the leader of the pack, made a typical long-striding break and front-rower Chris ‘Jawbone’ Coleman built on it with one of his Sherman-tank charges.
Busy hooker Tom ‘Deano’ Martin then plunged over from dummy-half and with the conversion the Bay grabbed a 6–4 lead with a spring in their step. For those of us in the bleachers, the team’s newfound self-belief was palpable.
Gordon then nailed a penalty and, on a roll that Cudgen were unable to control, Coleman and fellow prop Jason ‘Buddy’ Hackett – who puts in so much every week – took the men in red to within striking distance of the line again. Second-rower Will ‘Haystack’ Haylock crossed and the Bay trooped off for oranges to a well-earned ovation from the faithful.
Things went awry in the second stanza, and it’s hard to put your finger on why.
It might simply have been because Cudgen lifted their game – which they did. It may also have been because, after a late kick-off and with the light dimming dramatically, the ref (who blew the pea out of his whistle) was unable to see in the descending dusk the Hornets’ persistent off-side. Worryingly, it may also have been the adverse effect of the Devils’ earlier losses haunting them.
Playing as they did on Sunday, there is no way in the world that they would have been sitting bottom of the ladder with a 1–4 ratio – losing, like winning, can become a mind-set.
Tempers frayed, Cudgen kept their cool and slotted an impeccable field goal to more or less kill the contest. The dispirited Devils kicked out on the full from the resumption and all there was left was for the crew on the western hill to give heaps to Cudgen’s Bryan Ferry wannabe winger – he was asking for it.
There is still a long way to go in the season – go, the Bay!