Story & photo John Campbell
Footy teams strive to make a fortress of their home ground. Playing in familiar surrounds, in front of one-eyed tragics, without having to travel far and wide, is the ideal scenario in rugby league-land.
In the NRRRL, Byron Bay’s early-season form had been counter-instinctive and, in losing all three of their opening home games, they appeared to be reducing Red Devil Park to the status of speed-bump for visiting sides.
Last Sunday afternoon changed that perception. The boys’ 24-all draw with Northern United was as courageous as it was unexpected, as hard-earned as a tad lucky – but as we all know, fortune favours the brave.
Former Devil, Clarence ‘the Clocker’ Kelly, made it look easy in skirting the defence for the first of his three tries to put the Dirrawongs ahead 4–0. A reply from Byron’s number seven ‘Michael’ Jordan Reed, complemented by Joey ‘The General’ Gordon’s conversion put the good guys ahead, but, as it has been since Day One, the Devils, like a careless dog-handler, would find it hard to hold the lead.
Kelly scorched the cover for his second and then set up another for the Dirrawongs to take a 14–6 lead to the sheds. They were too quick in everything they did and Byron were struggling to come up with a Plan B to counter their expansive approach.
Northern eagerly awaited the continuing of the battle, but the Devils once again dawdled out from the sheds late – it’s such a sad, ‘we are losers’ look – and the story went from bad to worse when Northern notched a terrific running try in the corner to go ahead 20–6. Things were getting ugly, but a turnaround came from the most unexpected quarter.
Unsung prop, Jason ‘Buddy’ Hackett, saw a hole close to the line and would not be stopped as he surged through it. Soon after, chasing a pin-point chip from five-eighth Cam ‘Jack’ Gibson, winger Joseph ‘The Senator’ McCarthy flew low through the air like a scud missile to dive and plant the ball in the in-goal and, all of a sudden, the men in red were back in it.
Clarence Kelly’s third try – he really did give us a bath all arvo – appeared to kill Byron’s revival, and when the ref, having a brain-snap Ray Charles moment, ruled that Brad ‘Bruce’ Lees had knocked on a bomb when he clearly hadn’t – blind Freddy saw that the pill didn’t hit the turf – all seemed lost.
But you just never know with the Devils…
With the mob urging them on, they unleashed a mighty heart to take the battle to the other end of the field. The Dirrawongs were flagging and after ‘Debonair’ Scott Stapleton was dragged down just short of the line, the happy hooker Tom ‘Deano’ Martin buried his body under an avalanche of tacklers to plant the ball over the white stripe.
The onerous task of converting the try from out wide lay at the feet of Joey Gordon. He took his time over it – I could have read War And Peace while he lined the kick up… but he absolutely nailed it.
24 all is not quite a win, but the Devils are still alive.