Ringing in the changes
By Steve Spinks
Marist Brothers rugby league coach Craig Hodges was on a hiding to nothing in 2005.
He was taking over a first- grade team that had not missed a grand final since 1995.
But the local boundaries have changed.
Group One merged with Gold Coast-Group 18 over the off-season and as the 2005 season came into view, there were 13 teams vying for premiership glory including the powerful Tweed Seagulls.
Seagulls eventually took the inaugural Northern Rivers Regional Rugby League grand final over Murwillumbah.
But Hodges and his side can still lay claim to being the best Group One team.
The Brethren made it to the preliminary final before being scalped by the Mustangs at Murwillumbah.
The NRRRL season and some marquee games pushed league into the limelight this year.
There was the National Rugby League trial between Parramatta and Cronulla at Oakes Oval, Lismore, which was followed by the City Origin v Country Origin match at the same venue in May.
This game was played in front of a sell-out crowd of more than 8000 people, easily the largest at the ground for many years.
But rugby league was not the only sport to have its time in the sun.
Soccer Far North Coast had an enthralling season which culminated in Byron Bay claiming their first premiership when they knocked over minor premiers Goonellabah in the grand final at Oakes Oval.
The Rams were massive underdogs going into the game, but they managed to surprise the Hornets 1-0.
It wasn't all doom and gloom for Goonellabah.
After all, the Hornets made the grand final in their first season back in the premier division.
In the women's premier league, Lismore Workers dominated to win the minor and major premierships.
Far North Coast Soccer also hosted new A-League team the Queensland Roar for a trial game against a local All-Star team.
In hockey, Ballina won their fourth consecutive Far North Coast men's A-grade premiership with a 4-1 victory over Coraki in the grand final.
Ballina also won the JH Williams Shield ? a competition involving the Far North Coast, Tweed-Border and Gold Coast associations ? over the Waratahs from Murwillumbah.
Glee continued their dominance in FNC women's hockey, defeating Easts in the grand final.
However, they could not reproduce their local form in the JH Williams Shield.
In Far North Coast rugby union, Ballina returned to win their first premiership since 2001 with an enthralling victory over Grafton at Oakes Oval, Lismore.
Grafton was the Cinderella story this season after making their first FNC grand final for more than a decade.
But the bubble burst on a hot September afternoon as the Ballina backline ran riot.
In Lismore District netball, Daleys Tribes upset their more experience clubmates Daleys to win the premier grand final.
Tribes, made up of younger players who are mostly still at school, had not beaten Daleys in more than two seasons.
But spurred on by a large crowd, the youngsters prevailed to gain bragging rights over the senior team.
Easts Redbirds won the Far North Coast Major League baseball title in a boilover against Workers at Albert Park, Lismore.
Few thought the young, inexperienced Redbirds team would handle the pressure-cooker atmosphere, but they did it easily, winning the series in two games.
In Far North Coast LJ Hooker League cricket, Southern Districts made it two premierships in a row when they defeated Tintenbar-East Ballina to take the 2004-05 trophy.
Souths, dubbed Dad's Army because the average age of the side is over 30, went through the two-day comp undefeated.
They lost only one game all season ? the one-day final against Casino.
Local cricket organisers also hosted a successful Australian Country Cricket Championship in January, while next month Oakes Oval will be the venue for a NSW v Victoria Pura Cup match.
And in the words of one former Northern Star sports writer, synchronised swimming again failed to inspire.
Bring on 2006 ...