Better with age
By STEVE SPINKS
AT an age when many rugby league players are giving the game away, Ballina's Troy Johnstone just seems to be getting better and better.
The 30-year-old halfback guided the Seagulls to a convincing 54-26 victory over Kyogle at New Park, Kyogle, yesterday in the eighth round of Northern Rivers Regional Rugby League.
He scored two tries and set up two others as the Seagulls overcame a second-half Kyogle fightback to score a 10-tries-to-five victory.
But it wasn't only Johnstone's attack that shone.
His rugged defence was also a feature as he cut the larger Kyogle forwards down around the legs time and again.
Despite his form and the big scoreline, Johnstone wasn't getting too carried away with the win.
"It was pretty patchy," he said.
"It got pretty niggly out there at times, but we just tried to focus on completing our sets."
Any time Kyogle looked like staging a comeback, Ballina simply controlled possession and used their hard-nosed forward pack to hit the gain-line.
Prop Grant Erickson, substitute Corey Windle, second-rower Matt Slattery, hooker Matt Temby and lock Josh Mathers were outstanding in the tight exchanges.
Centre Ashley Moran, five-eighth Justin Bolt and first-grade debutante Joe O'Connor also played strongly.
"We have a bit of size this year and they're all mobile players as well," Johnstone said. "We're trying to grind away wins this year so we're ready for the big matches and we can then aim up."
Ballina led 20-10 at half-time yesterday and about the only thing the Kyogle crowd had to cheer about was a brilliant 60-metre try by schoolboy fullback Shannon Walker.
Walker scooted wide from dummy-half, ran around the winger and beat fullback Shaun Laurie on the stroke of half-time.
It was Walker's second try of the day as he had scored an earlier four-pointer in the Under-18s.
Straight after the break Charlie Ord narrowed Ballina's lead to 20-14 and Kyogle looked half a chance before three incompleted sets in a row allowed the Seagulls to put on two tries for a match-winning 36-14 lead.
Kyogle fought back to 36-26 but Ballina always looked in control and ran away with the match in the final 10 minutes.
Ballina's Tyler Iverson and Kyogle's Dave Mulcahy were both sin-binned for fighting mid-way through the second half.
The sin-bin would have put a dampener on Iverson's day as he had scored a try in reserve grade and one in first grade.
As for Kyogle, they were their own worst enemy. Every time they looked like getting back in it, dropped ball or ill-discipline cost them dearly.
Walker, halfback Sam Daley, hooker Todd Newton, winger Zac Royal and five-eighth Josh Foley played strongly. Much of the Turkeys' comeback can be credited to them.
BALLINA 54 (Clayton Morris, Troy Johnstone 2, Matt Slattery 2, Grant Erickson, Matt Connor, Tyler Iverson, Ashley Moran, Matt Temby tries; Shaun Laurie 3, Justin Bolt 4) d KYOGLE 26 (Simon Pederson, Shannon Walker, Charlie Ord, Sam Daley, Athol Williams; Simon Pederson, Phil Charles 2 goals). Half-time: Ballina 20-10.
Reserve grade: BALLINA 22 (Mick Foster, Tyler Iverson, Cameron Fourmile, Steve Kelly tries; Des Anderson 3 goals) d KYOGLE 16 (Sam Williams 2, Luke Daley tries; Steve Close 2 goals).
Under-18s: KYOGLE 26 (Shannon Walker, Craig Simpson 2, Ryan Daley, Joel Williams tries; Craig Simpson 3 goals) d BALLINA 18 (Clarence Kelly 2, Ed Killingbeck tries; Robbie Miles 3 goals).