Ballina closer to ending drought
BALLINA is one win away from breaking a 10-year premiership drought after defeating Byron Bay 44-24 in the Far North Coast rugby union preliminary final.
The Seahorses piled on 31 unanswered points in a dominant second half after taking a narrow 13-10 lead in to half-time at Crozier Field, Lismore, on Saturday.
Five-eighth Grant Knight kicked the penalty goal to put them in front before scoring under the cross-bar to give Ballina a 20-10 lead early in the second half.
The tight five began to assert their authority, getting Byron on the back foot, while the passing game and vision of Knight helped lead to another four tries.
Ballina last played in a grand final in 2010 with only flanker Andrew Burke, front-rower Syd Etuati and wingers Ben Robinson and Rick Randall left from that team.
"People have to remember we have a really young team and a lot of these guys are still learning, which is the exciting part,” Ballina assistant coach Andrew Fraser said.
"The good thing is they back themselves but I think we just need to be a little bit more patient next Saturday and the opportunities will come.
"Grant showed great maturity to bounce back from two early errors and at the end of the day it was a great team performance.
"It's huge for us and it's probably about time the club got to the big dance and took one out.”
The win sets up a rematch from the major semi-final against minor premiers Wollongbar-Alstonville, who are aiming for a fourth straight premiership.
Ballina will have the underdog tag in the grand final but can take plenty of confidence out of finishing off Byron Bay in such convincing fashion.
Late tries to five-eighth James Bulmer and centre John Laughlin made the scoreline more respectable after the Seahorses had led 44-10 with 15 minutes to go.
"We just wanted to keep them out of the contest and that was reflected on the scoreboard at the 65-minute mark,” Fraser said.
"Wollongbar have been there for three years so they know what it takes to win.
"At the end of the day we haven't won anything, we've just earned the right to be in the grand final, so hopefully we'll show everyone how hungry we are for it.”