Evergreens grab grand final berth for Grafton
By STEVE SPINKS
TWO veterans on the wrong side of 30 propelled Grafton into the Bangalow Hotel Far North Coast rugby union grand final with an absorbing 25-22 victory over Casino in the major semi-final at Albert Park, Casino, on Saturday. At a time when most men their age are thinking about contesting the next Masters Games, five-eighth Tony Norton, 39, and substitute second-rower Simon Green, 37, were the toast of the Redmen after the tough win. Like two weeks ago against Ballina in the final round of the home-and-away season, Green kicked a last-minute penalty goal to edge Grafton in front for a gripping victory. The ball curled out and then inside the posts from a difficult angle while most of his team-mates tried to look elsewhere. The second-rower was on the paddock for only three minutes but it was enough to influence the match and it proved to be a well-timed substitution by Redmen coach Gary Powell. While Green probably didn't have to shout a drink all night after his penalty, it was Norton who was the standout for Grafton. The veteran was called in as a last-minute replacement for regular five-eighth Jon Chevally, who injured his ankle at training. Norton scored a try and set up one other, but it was his stout defence and pilfering hands at the breakdown that put him above the pack. The former NSW Country representative turned over at least six possessions to nullify Casino attack after Casino attack. "Norto came up here not expecting to play," Powell said. "We didn't lose a thing out there with him today. "He has a lot of experience and he used it all today." While Norton deserves most of the plaudits, the Grafton forwards, in particular the front row of Dan Haynes, Scott Forwell and Chris Jackson, deserve special mention. They shaded the Bulls in the scrums and were ravenous for work. The Redmen back row won a points decision with flanker Tim Landrigan outstanding in defence, while second-rower Al Donaghy was prominent. While Grafton will head to the grand final, the Bulls will be left lamenting a game they could have easily won. A lack of respect for possession was the telling factor. Time after time the Bulls were in tryscoring positions only to kick the ball away. A great example occurred late in the first half. With Casino on attack they managed to arrange a three-on-one overlap 45 metres out from the tryline. Instead of putting the ball through the hands it was kicked out on the full . . . it pretty much summed up the Bulls' afternoon. That's not to say there was a lack of effort from Casino. If anything, perhaps the Bulls tried too hard and over-complicated things. Second-rower Chris Conte, prop Terry Llewellyn, halfback Jay Ruwhiu and flanker Jarrad Cameron were among the best players on the park. But things just didn't click for the Bulls. Casino took an 11-10 lead into half-time after both sides had scored a try in the first half. Casino hit the lead through a try to centre Dan MacDonald just after the break for a 16-10 lead, but the Redmen replied soon after with a converted try to centre Paul Allen to snatch a one point advantage. Minutes later a big Grafton scrum managed to upset the feed and Norton was smart enough to crash over out wide after a number of phases. At 22-16 the Redmen looked comfortable, but Casino stormed back into the match and were eventually rewarded with a converted try to Llewellyn after the Bulls' scrum turned the tables on Grafton. Powell substituted Green on to the field immediately and following a Casino fumble from the kick-off the Redmen were able to set up camp in the home team's half until the Bulls gave away a penalty. Green did the rest as he struck a second blow for the grey brigade.
GRAFTON 25 (Paul Cameron, Paul Allen, Tony Norton tries; Chris Adamson 2 conversions, penalty; Simon Green penalty) d CASINO 22 (Heath Johnston, Dan MacDonald, Terry Llewellyn tries; Tory Gilmour 2 penalties, conversion). Half-time: Casino 11-10. Penalties: 10-all. Scrums: 11-6 Casino. Line-outs: 16-all. Referee: Greg Wittle.