By DAVID KRAUSE
THIS year's inaugural Northern Rivers Regional Rugby League grand final will be played at Murwillumbah, regardless of the outcome in semi-finals this weekend.
Usually, the winner of the major semi-final (Murwillumbah v Tweed Heads Seagulls) earns the right to host the big one.
If the Murwillumbah Mustangs win this Sunday, they host it anyway. Whereas, if Tweed Heads win the match, then it should have been played at Piggabeen Sports Complex.
However, due to inadequate facilities at Piggabeen, it was decided that Murwillumbah should be the venue.
So, to all those people in the Clarence and southern areas of the league, book your plane tickets now for the long trip up the coast on September 18.
MARIST Brothers and Cudgen have won their way to the second week of the finals and a showdown at Crozier Field this Saturday in the minor semi-final.
The injury-hit Cudgen showed plenty of character to overcome Ballina 40-24 last Saturday.
Cudgen proved they are a finals force. Any side fielding Craig Thurston will always be dangerous. The livewire pivot was, by all reports, instrumental in that win.
Cudgen have plenty of injuries and a few playing hurt, but that's what semi-finals are about ... digging deep.
Marist Brothers had a hard-fought 26-16 elimination victory over Mullumbimby, in which the forward battle was pretty physical.
Brothers front-row trio of Tim Tredigo, Simon Andrews and Chris Farrell is the best in the league and a major reason why the Rams have been so successful this year.
But they face a strong, experienced Cudgen pack.
My only advice to Brothers: Don't run at (former Brethren) Bryanty.
My tip: Brothers in close one.
In Sunday's major semi-final at Piggabeen, Murwillumbah will be hoping their big forward pack can steamroll the younger Seagulls pack, minimising the room for the speedy Tweed backline.
My tip: Murwillumbah (I have probably tipped with my heart and not my head, but I just have a feeling).
THERE are other reasons to get to Crozier Field, Lismore (Saturday) and Piggabeen Sports Complex (Sunday).
On Sunday the Tweed Seagulls reserve graders will be looking to keep their unbeaten run going, while on Saturday, I reckon the Under 18 game will be the match of the weekend ? a replay of last year's Group One Under 18 decider between Ballina and Kyogle.
There is no love lost between these two sides and there is a galaxy of young stars on show with the likes of Kyogle's Shannon Walker and the Ballina dynamic duo of James Rix and Mitch Aubusson.
LISMORE is in for a smorgasbord this Saturday.
As well as the NRRL finals at Crozier Field, Woodlawn is the venue for the Junior League semi-finals from Under 10-16 (Under 7, 8 and 9s compete in a gala day). The day will involve up to 700 kids, aged five-16, with games from 9am.
Just a reminder to everyone about codes of conduct. Copies will be displayed at the venues.
Joey the maestro
I SAT down to watch the Knights versus Cronulla match last weekend and witnessed a maestro at work. When Andrew Johns came back from injury mid-season there were plenty of people who thought we had seen the best of him.
In my opinion no player has ever dominated the game like Joey has since Origin Two.
Peter Sterling says it's not fair to compare him to the greats of the past like Lewis, Raper and Fulton, because they weren't as good as him.
The Knights may be running last, but are the form team in the NRL and it makes you think if Joey had played all year, what could have been.
FOR the past 16 years I have always loved this time of year ... finals.
Sadly, this year I find myself inactive while my household is abuzz with finals fever.
My wife Nikki's netball side, Daleys, are in the finals and are red-hot favourites.
My eldest son Mitchell plays his Under-13 semi-final this weekend.
My youngest son Jordan scored eight tries last weekend, reckons he's better than me and is also off to Newcastle next week for athletics.
That just leaves me ... how times change.
FINALLY, the NRL has seen the light and dropped the Pommy ref.
At the begining it was a good idea. But as soon as he started refereeing and we found out he wasn't up to the job, something should have been done.
The final straw came when he didn't send Luke MacDougall off for his horrendous spear tackle, for which he was placed on report and later suspended for 10 weeks.
This time of year refs are under as much, or even more pressure than the players.
On the local front there hasn't been too much said or heard about this season.
Let's hope refereeing doesn't take centre stage during the rest of the final series.
Good luck to all of them. We don't want bad calls deciding grand finals. (Been there, done that).
ANYONE at Oakes Oval last Sunday would have heard Brothers No 1 supporter Ben Muldoon screaming till he was blue (and red and orange) in the face.
Unknown to most, he was actually sent off the previous day while playing Golden Oldies rugby.
I am reliably informed that despite being a try-scoring whiz, he has to curtail his aggression.
Alot of the blokes that Benny comes up against aren't prepared to deal with such punishment.
Hopefully, this send-off will tame the beast.
n A Goose of the Week special mention goes to the umpires during the past few Ashes Tests. Some of the decisions have been criminal.
I've come to two conclusions ? Steve Bucknor is short-sighted and doesn't actually know what's going on down the other end of the pitch, and Aleem Dar isn't really an umpire but is filling in for Billy Bowden who decided the cricket was boring and booked himself on a Contiki tour for the rest of the summer.
And why shouldn't the players show dissent. I know they say the umpire's decision is final, but most of them have been wrong.
However, full credit to the Poms. I love seeing people and teams working hard to achieve results.