Backs pave way for Pioneers win
SPEED and some extra polish out wide helped Wollongbar-Alstonville to a 29-19 win over Byron Bay in Far North Coast rugby union at Lyle Park, Wollongbar, on Saturday.
It was a brave effort from Byron Bay, which dominated in the forwards, while some individual efforts in the backline paved the way for the home side.
Byron threw the ball around well with fullback James Boozer finishing off a great individual effort from centre Jascha Saeck to narrow the margin to 21-12.
The Pioneers scored only once in the second half from a long-range try to centre Alex Gibbon which gave them a 26-12 lead.
Fullback Sam Kerry was their most potent in attack, scoring two tries in the first half, and he came close to a third when he was dragged down just short of the line.
His first came from a long-range effort combining with centre Matt Nean off their own tryline while he cut back inside for his second try just before the break for a 21-5 lead.
Kerry added extra points through a penalty goal when five-eighth Pete Gillespie dragged him down in the ruck and was yellow-carded.
They missed his direction when he was off the field while flanker Craig Wallace and No 8 Courtney Raymond also came from the field after working themselves to a standstill.
Wallace had to nurse a shoulder injury while Gillespie got back on before centre Romey Vassell scored under the crossbar to make it 29-19 with 10 minutes to play.
"They have some fast guys out wide but I thought our forwards were fairly dominant,” Byron Bay coach Jeff Watt said.
"We did a great job putting (five-eighth) Ben Damen under pressure and that forced errors out of the guys around him.
"I didn't think we were going to have enough time to win it at the end but they're a handy side and no one has got that close to them yet.”
Byron Bay scored the first try of the game when Vassell got an arm free to get a ball away for winger Mark Howard in the corner.
Howard lasted only a bit longer when he came off with a head knock from making a try-saving tackle down the other end of the field.
The Pioneers' first points came after a wayward kick from Damen ended in the arms of winger James Vidler to go to a 7-5 lead.
Vidler also finished early with a head knock with his side taking a 21-5 lead into half-time.
In other games on Saturday:
Casuarina remained on top of the ladder with a 29-20 win over Lismore.
Southern Cross University broke through for its first win of the season, edging out Casino 22-19.
Lennox Head defeated Grafton 43-37 in a point-a-minute tryfest on the Clarence.
Ballina downed Bangalow 55-19.
Wollongbar-Alstonville 29 (Sam Kerry 2, James Vidler, Alex Gibbon tries; Sam Kerry 3 conversions, penalty goal) d Byron Bay 19 (Romey Vassell, Mark Howard, James Boozer tries; Peter Gillespie, Tom Brooks conversions. Half-time: Wollongbar 21-5.
Casuarina Beach 29 (Mitch Planten 2, Webb Lillis, Jack Jones, Corey Morris tries; Michael Coates 2 conversions) d Lismore 20 (Gavin Tulk, Andrew Sky, Brenden Williams tries; Andrew Sky conversion, penalty goal). Half-time: Casuarina 14-7.
Southern Cross University 22 (Will Hawkins, Kirk Taylor-Brown, Matt Murray tries; Will Hawkins, Michael McMullen conversions; Will Hawkins penalty goal) d Casino 19 (Jake Roberts 2, Harrison Cusack tries; Harrison Cusack 2 conversions). Half-time: 19-all.
Lennox Head 43 (Sam Dwyer 3, Jacob Carter, John Clark, Callum Jones, Harry Bungate tries; Sam Fitzgerald 4 conversions) d Grafton 37 (Dwayne Duke 2, Zac Mason-Gale 2, Ed McGrath, Ryan Spies tries; Luke Worthing 2 conversions, penalty goal). Half-time: Lennox Head 22-17.
Ballina 55 (Tupou Lolohea 3, Luke Simpson 3, Leigh Foster 2, Brad Brown tries; Terry Ferguson 5 conversions) d Bangalow 19 (Otty Fifita, Tim Cohen, Blake Neilsen tries; Blake Neilsen 2 conversions). Half-time: Ballina 19-5.
Pointscore: Casuarina 33, Wollongbar, 30, Lennox Head 25, Ballina 21, Byron Bay 17, Grafton 17, Casino 13, Bangalow 9, Southern Cross University 5, Lismore 0.
Reserve grade: Mullumbimby 26 d Ballina 10, Lennox Head 29 d Grafton 12, Casuarina 14 d Lismore 7, Casino 30 d SCU 0.
Women's sevens: Evans River 44 d Grafton 41, Ballina 29 d Yamba 15, Wollongbar 30 d Byron Bay 0, Casino 30 d SCU 0.
President's Cup: Tenterfield 24 d Kyogle 15, Yamba 22 d Ballina 5.