Tight race into semi-finals
GUSTY westerlies wreaked havoc with goal-kickers in Coopers FNC rugby union on Saturday as the Wollongabr-Alstonville Pioneers moved to a share of third spot with a 23-21 win over the Casino Bulls.
The result added to the congestion in the battle for semi-final positions.
Grafton remains in top spot, 18 points clear of their nearest rival Ballina. But just four points separates the bulk of the field, with SCU and Lennox trailing the pack.
After their win on Saturday, Wollongbar-Alstonville and Casino are among four teams sharing third.
The Pioneers' stand-in coach, Ben Grayndler, said his team relished the win, leading 15-14 at half-time before falling behind, only to snatch victory with a try in the last four minutes.
But it was an earlier penalty kick, from right in front of the posts, that set up victory, with Casino just two points behind at full-time.
Casino were third going into the game, while Wollongbar-Alstonville were fifth, but Grayndler said his team had been a lowly seventh just a fortnight ago.
"We set ourselves a goal to win three in a row mid-season and we have achieved that," he said.
"Our young players are now starting to gel. We picked a young squad and have seen them slowly maturing. Now you have to take your hats off to them."
The westerly wind, gusting to 50 km/h, made life difficult, with long-distance penalty kicks falling wide of their mark.
But a crucial penalty right in front during the second half came home with the wind blowing from behind. Casino coach Mark Collison said it was a close, free-flowing game.
"There wasn't much in it," he said.
"They took their chances and scored. We created a few opportunities to score ourselves. The game could have gone either way.
"Wollongbar-Alstonville had a bit more pace out wide and their backs were better on the day."
Runaway competition leaders Grafton scored three tries to one in their 18-13 win over Coolangatta-Tweed in what was described as one of the best games of rugby seen on the Tweed in recent years.
The Barbarians went agonisingly close to ending the Grafton Redmen's winning run.
The game ended controversially five minutes early due to an error by referee Steve Williamson as the Baa Baas attacked the Grafton line.
Elsewhere, Yamba upset second-placed Ballina 21-6 and Lismore thrashed hapless Lennox Head 77-7.