Theyre big-name players
By STEVE SPINKS
THREE of rugby league's biggest names Gasnier, Sattler and Raudonikis will assist Ballina in their quest for Coopers Far North Coast Rugby Union major premierships at Lismore Rugby Park today.
In first grade, winger Trent Gasnier and inside centre Ben Sattler will run on for the Seahorses against minor premiers Grafton.
And in third grade, centre Lincoln Raudonikis will play for Ballina against Lismore City.
There's no doubting many an old mungo would be turning in their grave to see legendary league names associated with the 15-man game.
However, they shouldn't be too concerned.
Gasnier is only a distant relative of St George immortal Reg and is in his second season with Ballina rugby.
Sattler is not related to legendary South Sydney captain John and is from Newcastle.
He's also represented NSW Country this season.
While Lincoln is Tommy Raudonikis' son, he has been involved in local league and rugby for many years.
The coincidence of the big names has not been missed at Ballina.
"Hopefully it's a good omen," chuckled Seahorses president Greg Hart.
Gasnier and Sattler will be key men in defence this afternoon as they come up against Grafton strike runners Justin Spurway and Ken Mercy.
Mercy has moved into the unfamiliar role of inside centre because regular Redmen centre Jon Chevally has been named on the bench due to injury.
Mercy's battle with Sattler will be intriguing.
However, grand finals are won by forward packs and it's in the tight five that the Seahorses have improved immensely in the past two months.
Tighthead prop Nathan Wallace, a converted second-rower, and hooker Andrew Rowlands, a former Brisbane first-grade rake, have added a newfound solidity to the Ballina pack in the set pieces.
The fact the duo also do plenty of work around the park is a bonus.
Their encounter with the rugged Grafton eight should decide the match.
"Nathan has really come of age," Ballina coach Andrew Grant-Frost said.
"He's normally a second-rower and he's only learned to play tight-head this season but he's really starting to thrive in that position.
"I haven't seen him defeated by any prop this season and he's quite light on his feet for a big man.
"I believe our front row will win the game for us (today)."
Another big battle will be played out between halfbacks Brett Graham and Troy Nichol.
Grafton's Graham, the zone's best and fairest representative player, is key as a linkman between the Redmen forwards and backs, so how Nichol pressures the experienced half will be a critical facet of the match.
Referee Stephen Williamson will referee his first FNC grand final.
Grand final teams for Lismore Rugby Park today:
First grade, 3.30pm: BALLINA: 1 Brent Horan, 2 Andrew Rowlands, 3 Nathan Wallace, 4 Dru Baggaley, 5 Paul Davies, 6 Mick Lord, 7 Liam Preston, 8 Danny Lickiss, 9 Troy Nichols, 10 Tony Buchanan, 11 Jason Richards, 12 Ben Sattler, 13 Trent Gasnier, 14 Andrew Gordon (c), 15 Luke Watling. Coach: Andrew Grant-Frost.
GRAFTON: 1 Scott Forwell, 2 Gary Powell, 3 Dan Hayne, 4, Nathan Cooper, 5 Jono Speechley, 6 Paul Cameron, 7 Tim Landrigan, 8 Bart McGrath, 9 Brett Graham, 10 Jason Landrigan, 11 Trent Dickson, 12 Ken Mercy, 13 Scott Lloyd, 14 Justin Spurway, 15 Aaron Taylor. Coach: Gary Powell.
Referee: Stephen Williamson. Touch judges: Rob Walker, Jack Quigley.
Too much pace
BALLINA will go into the reserve grade grand final as hot favourites after including 10 former first-graders in their line-up.
Spearheaded by backs Matt Robinson, Adam Fisher, Trent Short, Rick Randall and Paul Lynch, the Seahorses look to have too much pace for the City defence.
However, an expected muddy field may level the playing field.
In this case, both sets of forwards seem well matched, although Josh Piercy at No 8 may give Ballina an edge in that area.
Reserve grade, 1.45pm:
BALLINA: 1 Geoff St Clair, 2 Steve Calnan, 3 Chris Long, 4 Paul Woods, 5 Ben Rippon, 6 Mark Thompson, 7 Andrew Burke, 8 Josh Piercy, 9 Matthew Robinson, 10 Adam Fisher, 11 Matthew Bordin, 12 Ben Bullock, 13 Trent Short, 14 Rick Randall, 15 Paul Lynch. Coach: Paul Lynch.
LISMORE CITY: 1 Corey Gray, 2 Doug Rose, 3 Ricki Farrow, 4 Daniel Biersteker, 5 Ben Briggs, 6 Grant Little, 7 Luke Bryant, 8 Matt Larsson, 9 Jeremy Harland, 10 Phil Alley, 11 Damian Bebb, 12 Jay Onslow, 13 Josh Smith, 14 Matt McKee, 15 Dion Crethar. Coach: John Lucas.
Referee: Graham Cook. Touch judges: Dave Rooney, Greg Den Elzen. Pioneers' big test
WOLLONGBAR-ALSTONVILLE will rely on the strikepower of their backline against Grafton in the grand final of the Under-19s.
Led by halfback Lachlan Crockett and five-eighth Aaron Fosterling, the Pioneers upset the Redmen for the first time this season in the major semi-final two weeks ago.
Grafton have the edge in the forwards and with the conditions expected to be heavy, will be hard to stop.
But the Pioneers held firm in the mud in the major semi-final, with backrowers Gavin Short and Brett Arnull playing strongly.
Under-19s, 12.15pm: WOLLONGBAR-ALSTONVILLE: 1 Nick Baker, 2 Corey Johnston, 3 Brad Wilson, 4 Dean McHugh, 5 Jamie Tidmarsh, 6 Brett Arnull, 7 Gavin Short, 8 Clint Martin, 9 Lachlan Crockett, 10 Aaron Fosterling, 11 Jesse Potts, 12 Jack Hodder, 13 Adam Law, 14 Tony Cowan, 15 Josh Damen. Coach: Dave Martin.
GRAFTON: 1 Brendan Gilbert, 2 Evan Johnston, 3 Ben Ellis (c), 4 Nick Collie, 5 Rick Kelly, 6 Simon Hampshire, 7 Cameron Wicks, 8 Bryce Speechley, 9 Jamie Lane, 10 Keiran Berreaux, 11 Ryan Danvers, 12 Dan Shipman, 13 Callum Brock, 14 Beau Mullin, 15 Mitchell Woods. Coach: Dave Clay.
Referee: Mick Melino. Touch judges: Ian Lord, Karl Lupton. Old league rivals
RIVALRY built up on the rugby league pitch could well spill over in the third grade grand final between Ballina and Lismore City.
Well-known former league players Mick Koellner, Lincoln Raudonikis, Tony Durheim and Eddie Solomona will lock horns.
And it seems most old rugby league forwards end up playing in the centres in third grade.
Durheim and Solomona will link in the City centres, while Raudonikis will play inside centre for Ballina.
Koellner remains a forward through and through, in the second row.
Third grade, 10.45am:
BALLINA: 1 Nick Oaariki, 2 Adam Thomas, 3 Mark Charter, 4 Kevin Clarke, 5 Mick Koellner (c), 6 Geoff Parry, 7 Paul Hardy, 8 Brett McLennan, 9 Ross Tremayne, 10 Kane Scott, 11 Adam Mackay, 12 Lincoln Raudonikis, 13 Verne Ware, 14 Al Barrett, 15 Richard Hughes. Coach: Mick Koellner.
LISMORE CITY: 1 Stewart Edmonds, 2 Andrew Bailey, 3 Damien Keys, 4 Luke Palaziol, 5 Richard Rummery, 6 Damien Maher, 7 Vaughan Nilsson, 8 Ryan Graham, 9 Josh Creighton (c), 10 Guy Latham, 11 John Lucas, 12 Tony Durheim, 13 Eddie Solomona, 14 John Markwort, 15 Vaughan Gallen. Coach: Guy Latham.
Referee: Ian Hooper. Touch judges: Michael Claes, Tony Butcher.