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Byron Shire
May 26, 2024

Premiers too good for gallant Red Devils in bruising encounter

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It’s a game for the connoisseurs, Rugby League - a bit like a Renaissance marble sculpture. Action from Red Devil Park on Sunday.
It’s a game for the connoisseurs, Rugby League – a bit like a Renaissance marble sculpture. Action from Red Devil Park on Sunday.

Story & photo John Campbell

In footy terms, Ballina has the wood on Byron Bay at the moment.

As Premiers for the past two NRRRL seasons, they entered Red Devil Park on Sunday for the sides’ Round Three clash with a swagger that got up the noses of all Byron supporters.

They left with the two competition points, but their 20–6 victory was hard earned and not won without a self-destructive contribution from the home side.

Heavy low cloud hung ominously over the ground all arvo and, for those in the red faction of the estimated crowd of 5,131, things looked pretty bleak as the visitors got straight into their stride.

An early penalty, from which Ballina followed Wayne ‘Happy Joe Happy’ Bennett’s dictum of ‘take what’s on offer’, saw the Seagulls jump ahead 2–0, then 8–0 after a too-easy try from a scrum move.

The action was all in Byron’s half and we feared for the worst.

But resolute defence steadied the ship and as the tide of possession at last flowed their way, the Devils struck back. Running it on the last, captain Ryan ‘the Crab’ O’Connell lobbed a beautifully weighted kick into Ballina’s red zone.

As we all know, any kick is only as good as its chaser and on this occasion it was fullback/winger Daniel ‘Gomer’ Lollback who went after it like a cattle dog who would never give up. It was a terrific try and, with the conversion, the other mob’s 8–6 lead seemed no big deal.

The Devils suddenly had a spring in their step. An anxiety that was so evident in their play after a brace of losses began to recede and the boys were exhibiting the self-belief that they are perfectly entitled to feel.

Just when they were building that idea of ‘get this up ya’, however, a missed intercept led to another Seagulls try and the Devils once more looked rattled and downcast as they went to the sheds trailing by 14–6.

Byron were more thorough in their work after the break, but a nagging propensity to stuff up when opportunity presents itself has become a habit that needs to be eradicated immediately.

No side can repeatedly give away penalties on the fifth tackle or, even worse, spill the pill from the first pass off a scrum win. It is harakiri against a top-notch opponent like Ballina.

The Seagulls, though not at their optimum, taught Byron a lesson in composure.

They made a number of blunders themselves – more often than not forced by the Devils’ venomous tackling – but they were always able to regather themselves and not pay the ultimate price for those bloopers.

With the light dimming, Ballina’s champion captain, Andrew Battese, dived over from dummy half for a four-pointer that said ‘goodnight nurse’ to all in attendance…

But there remains a flickering flame of conviction that if the Devils can stop punishing themselves with poor ball control, ill-considered last-tackle options – especially when pressing the line – and conceding needless penalties, they might yet flog their next adversary.

The boys are at home again this Sunday to the Tweed Coast Raiders. Get along to support them.

Be loud.

They put-in big time.  

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