Lees top Seagull
By STEVE SPINKS firstname.lastname@example.org THE Ballina Seagulls came within five minutes of winning the Northern Rivers Regional Rugby League premiership last season before being swamped by Mullumbimby late in the match.
But wholesale changes have been made at the club.
Brian Rix is the new president but the main change sees Graham Lees taking over from Chris Binge as first grade coach.
Lees is no stranger to the Seagulls.
He's played and coached at the club in various grades for 23 years.
"I applied for the job three years ago but the club went a different way," Lees said.
"But I was still really keen to do it, so when it came around again I didn't hesitate.
"Ballina's got a really good crop of young guys so I'm keen to coach them."
High on the agenda is improving Ballina's defence.
"I'm a bit from the old school," Lees said. "It's part fitness and definitely attitude, but I think the local game has gone away from defence.
"I think there's been more of an emphasis on scoring tries. But I want my team to be hard to crack."
Lees started playing league in Wollongong before graduating to Balmain's Under-23 team.
A handy five-eighth, the massage therapist then moved north and linked with Ballina in 1985.
In his first year he won the Group One player of the year award and later played for NSW Country.
Lees has captained-coached Ballina, Mullumbimby and Byron Bay but he returned to Ballina in the early 1990s and was involved when the Seagulls won their premiership in 1993 under Al Perry.
Lees has also held numerous junior representative coaching roles and has had recent stints at the Australian Institute of Sport with Brian Johnston and a week with Nathan Brown at St George-Illawarra.
The coaching team Lees has assembled is second to none.
Tyler Iverson will coach reserve grade and Greg Barnes the Under-18s, while Chris Kinna will be head trainer and Rod Sironen will help out on a part-time basis as defence coach.
Rudi Meir, a Southern Cross University sports science lecturer, will assist as conditioner.
Meir has held head trainer positions with professional rugby league and rugby union clubs in Australia, South Africa and England.
Lees has already had most of his young charges training for six weeks and all of them have been given a gym program to follow over summer.
If Lees has his way, five minutes won't get in the way of the Seagulls winning their first premiership since 1993.