HIGH AND MIGHTY: Chris Woodley (Coolangatta-Tweed) and Glen Paisley (Lismore) contest possession in a line-out in the game at L
HIGH AND MIGHTY: Chris Woodley (Coolangatta-Tweed) and Glen Paisley (Lismore) contest possession in a line-out in the game at L

Crunch nears as race for rugby semis hots up

By ADRIAN MILLER sport@northernstar.com.au THE Coopers Far North Coast rugby union competition is tighter than a second-rower's head at scrum time and there won't be any let-up today with a number of key clashes. With only seven points separating the second-placed Casino Bulls and seventh-placed Wollongbar-Alstonville Pioneers, all sides are desperate for points and this weekend could play a big factor come finals time. Lismore City head to Ballina keen to overturn a disappointing 18-point loss to Coolangatta-Tweed last weekend. Before that loss the Greens had enjoyed an impressive run of form which hadn't seen them beaten since early May, but they are now precariously placed in fourth spot, equal with Coolangatta. The Greens are four points behind their opponent today, who are third, and another loss would seriously halt their charge to the finals. Coach Nigel Marshall has been forced to make two changes to last week's side, with breakaway Grant Oliveri and winger Terry Cameron both out. Into the side come Luke Bryant and Anthony Iosefo. Lismore were their own worst enemies in their loss to the Baa Baas and Marshall expects his side to put in a much improved effort. Ballina are refreshed from the bye and keen to get back into the fray. They are only one point behind 2second-placed 1Casino, but with the Bulls having the week off they would take second spot with a win. Coach Andrew Grant-Frost has strengthened his side from a fortnight ago, bringing in Ben Rippon, Danny Lickiss, Andrew Gordon and Tony Buchanan. Both sides have been playing attractive rugby this year and if they can recapture their form from a fortnight ago the match promises to be entertaining. , Pioneers at home WOLLONGBAR-Alstonville could give themselves a massive boost in the run home if they defeat the2 Yamba 1Buccaneers at Lyle Park, Wollongbar, today. The sides are separated by only one point on the ladder in sixth and seventh, but the winners could find themselves in the top four, depending on other results. The Pioneers ended their fortnight of draws when they put Lennox Head to the sword last Saturday in what was the perfect warm-up for a Yamba side that has been hot and cold all year. Wollongbar coach Dave Graham welcomes Kent Sharman back to prop and Scott McPherson to break-away in his only changes. The youngsters at Wollongbar have struggled to finish games off this year but they will fancy themselves against a Buccaneers side who don't enjoy playing at Lyle Park. , Students' tough trip SOUTHERN Cross University face runaway leaders Grafton in Lismore today. The Gold Rats were downed fairly convincingly by the Buccaneers last weekend and will need to be at their peak to trouble the undefeated Grafton. The Redmen have made a host of changes to their pack but the Rats will still find it tough against the comp's strongest side.

Coastal clash LENNOX HEAD travel to Coolangatta for their clash with the Barbarians today. The Baa Baas were the only side Lennox Head defeated last season, but Coolangatta-Tweed are a different proposition this year. Lennox are starting to put together some decent performances, but the Barbarians should have too much firepower across the park. ,

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