Story & photos John Campbell
All of a sudden, the threat of the wooden spoon looms larger than the prospect of a finals berth for the Byron Bay Red Devils.
Undaunted, however, by the boys’ leaky journey through the troubled waters of NRRRL Season 2016, and ignoring the inclement weather, an estimated 2,417 hardy souls turned up to support the Bay on Sunday in their clash with the Casino Cougars.
It was a filthy afternoon, with a bruising northerly hammering players and partisans alike before drenching us all with a second-half deluge. Neither side was at its best in the conditions and despite a mounting mistake rate, the contest was riveting and hard-fought to the death.
That it was the Devils on the wrong end of a 20–12 scoreline had less to do with the effort they put in – which was mighty – as it did with the simple but glaring truth that, presented with scoring chances, the visitors knew how to take them, the Bay didn’t.
The game got off to a weird start, with the ref allowing Byron to get away with a knock-on from the kick-off and then disallowing a try to winger Connor ‘Casban’ Wilson after the youngster had executed a neat back-and-forth with captain Ryan ‘the Crab’ O’Connell.
Almost straightaway, Casino went wide to the right, then the left and, looking too quick on the extremities, crossed in the corner. Another four-pointer on the back of a 40/20 had them ahead 10–0 and the ladies under the shelter at the eastern fence were already calling for blankets.
When the ref turned a blind eye to a forward pass to award another Cougars try, it was 16–zip and ‘good-night nurse’ for the Bay.
A sideline conversion from Joey ‘the General’ Gordon of an O’Connell try – it wobbled through the sticks like a drunken sailor – had the good guys back in it at the break.
As the weather worsened in the second forty, ball security became paramount. Unfortunately, it was the Cougars who applied themselves more stringently (or less loosely) to this basic principle. They were making fewer errors when in possession and their kick-chase was more threatening, so it didn’t come out of the blue when they increased their lead to 20–6.
Other teams may have watched the clock tick down and hurry to the hot showers, but the Devils don’t do that. They plugged away, forcing the issue and winning the battle for territory. The problem was – and it has been unresolved for most of the season – they could not find a way across the white chalk. At times it appeared that their only attacking option was a barge from dummy-half.
The lights finally came on with about twenty minutes left, prompting the stagestruck ref to bung on his own Oscar-winning performance by demanding that the ball be played four times on the same spot before it was done to his satisfaction.
Eventually, following repeated sets in Casino’s twenty, Chris ‘Jawbone’ Coleman managed to plant the pill under the black dot after one of his fantastic monster surges, but it was too little, too late.
If the boys are now playing only for pride, you could do worse to than to get out to Red Devil Park on Sunday to support them against Kyogle.
They’ve worked hard without a lot of luck go their way.