Ballina’s Joel Roberts is wrapped up by the Northern United defence in the preliminary semi-final at Oakes Oval, Lismore, on Sunday.
Ballina’s Joel Roberts is wrapped up by the Northern United defence in the preliminary semi-final at Oakes Oval, Lismore, on Sunday. CATHY ADAMS

Ballina push forward

BALLINA will get a crack at Grafton Ghosts next weekend after holding on to beat Northern United 30-28 in a scrappy Northern Rivers Regional Rugby League major preliminary semi-final at Oakes Oval, Lismore, yesterday.

You wouldn't call it rugby league – apart from two five-minute patches – but whatever it was, Ballina ended up with more points on the scoreboard.

Evan Hickling scored a solo tryin the final stages to bring United within two points, but third-string goal-kicker Justin Bolt missed his chance to square it up from 15 metres in from touch.

The purists would have walked out of the game if they weren't supporting one of the teams –United spent more energy on foul play than on game play.

A series of blatant high-shots, a warning for tripping or kicking, pushes in the back, punching blokes on the ground and more backchat than the kid in the crowd whose mum wouldn't buy him another drink.

Northern United did it all.

Coach Chris Binge took aim at Cudgen for dirty tactics after beating the Hornets the previous Sunday but some of his men need to drop the ego and play footy.

David Briggs is an exceptional talent. He scored a try and set up two more in this match – his attack kept United in the game.

The centre three-quarter is possibly the hardest player to tackle in the competition.

But his petulant displays of unsportsmanlike aggression every time he is involved in a ruck need to be reeled in.

He also needs to learn to tackle.

Ed Killingbeck and Abe Crawford scored a brace each down Briggs' flank and other clubs will certainly have taken note with any edge vital in the finals.

Killingbeck was outstanding for the Seagulls but their best was tireless prop Jason Clarke, who had to run headlong into the fired-up United defence all game.

Paul O'Neill and Andrew Battese pulled the strings in unison for the Seagulls but it wasn't until after half-time that either side was allowed to play football.

Killingbeck's second try just after half-time put Ballina up 30-18 but then it was time for the Dirawongs to make their trademark charge.

Briggs and Alwyn Roberts – who played five-eighth with Roy Bell out injured – put a scare through the Seagulls camp with a series of breaks but the scramble was just good enough to keep the seaside club in front.

Captain Ben Crawford – who would have been forgiven for taking matters into his own hands after Briggs got in his face and then pushed him in the back – was proud of his team for sticking to the game plan.

“We just had to stay out of the niggle,” he said.

“I think United tried to intimidate our young team and when we stuck it to them they got a bit frustrated.”

The Seagulls will enjoy their win and reload for a shot at Ghosts at Grafton next Sunday.

“Ghosts will be red-hot favourites,” he said.

“But we will go down there and give it a shake.”

On Saturday, Cudgen eliminated Grafton Rhinos with a 44-30 win to set up a mouth-watering return clash with United.

The Hornets and Dirawongs will meet at Crozier Field, Lismore, from 2.45pm with the loser eliminated and the winner to progress to the preliminary final where they will play the loser of the Ghosts v Seagulls match.

Minor preliminary semi-finals: Reserve grade: Cudgen 22 d Grafton Ghosts 20. Under-18s: Mullumbimby 36 d Tweed Coast 0.

Major preliminary semi-finals: Reserve grade: Byron Bay 26 d Marist Brothers 6. Under-18s: Ballina 10 d Cudgen 2.

Next weekend:

Minor semi-finals at Crozier Field, Lismore, on Saturday: First grade: Northern United v Cudgen. Reserve grade: Marist Brothers v Cudgen. Under-18s: Cudgen v Mullumbimby.

Major semi-finals at McGuren Park, Grafton, on Sunday: First grade: Grafton Ghosts v Ballina. Reserve grade: Northern United v Byron Bay. Under-18s: Grafton Ghosts v Ballina.

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